Sunday, August 1, 2010

Is unemployment really the problem?

Editorial from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don’t get us wrong. We don’t want to play down the misery of those who have lost their jobs – or the many more who are going to lose their jobs – in the current slump. We know very well what losing your job so often means. Losing your home (well, you thought it was yours!). Even losing your family.

But think. If not being employed was really the problem, wouldn’t you expect everyone without a job to be in misery? But there are many people who don’t have jobs and yet live well enough. People who don’t need jobs.

Native people in the Amazon rainforest, for so long as they manage to preserve their old way of life, don’t need jobs. They have access to land, food, wood, medicinal herbs, other resources they need – to their means of life. When the logging and mining companies move in, they lose access. Sure, then they need jobs.

Most of us in the “developed” countries lost access to the means of life long ago. They no longer belong to us. They were seized by a small minority who claim to own them. These owners allow us access to things we need only in exchange for money. If we can’t pay, they would sooner have things go to waste – sooner leave houses empty, for instance, than shelter the homeless. They allow us access to productive resources only when they hire us to work for them. If we try to get access without their permission, they call us criminals and send their police and jailors to punish us.

These people – the employers, the owners of the means of life – are unemployed, every one of them. But it doesn’t bother them a bit! They live on the income from their property. They too don’t need jobs.

So unemployment is a problem only for people who depend on being employed in order to live. That situation of dependence is what we mean by the real problem.

Some of us try to escape from the situation of dependence by going into business for ourselves. But chances of success are small – even in good times, let alone during a slump. Many don’t seek escape at all but appeal to the government to create more jobs, hoping to go back to slaving away for others.

We socialists don’t appeal for jobs. We don’t want jobs. That doesn’t mean we’re lazy. We thirst for the opportunity to do useful work as free, equal, and dignified human beings – work to satisfy our needs and the needs of others. We want to be rid of an absurd system that artificially creates misery and wastes vast material, natural, and human resources. That is why we demand restoration of access to the means of life – their common ownership and democratic control by the whole community.