An important thing you need to know is that mainstream economists do not view you as a human being. Working-class people are regarded by them as nothing more than inputs in the production process; no different to that of machinery, steel, fabric, and coffee. However, the economist considers coffee to be more valuable than the workers employed to harvest the beans, package the coffee, and serve the coffee to you at Starbucks or Costa. Here, I’ll give you an example.
You’re less important than coffee
When a worker making £10 an hour gets the sack, his or her market value drops from £10 an hour to zero. Have you ever seen the market value of coffee drop to zero? No, you haven’t. That’s because mainstream economists and the market view coffee as more valuable than the people who are employed to produce it. The same inhumane, irrational thinking also applies to you the consumer.
Mainstream economists view you as a mere consumption unit. You are like a machine whose entire purpose is to go out and buy things to serve the economy, the species Homo Economicus So, you are either an input unit in the production process, or a consumption unit, but you are not a human being. That’s just one example of thousands as to why establishment economics is pure nonsense, and telling you what constitutes “work” is another example.
The problem with our current view of work
Essentially, the main problem with our view of work is that it is tainted with market-based nonsense which leaves us with a very narrow, ignorant vision of work, and deliberately so. You are told that work is always connected to earning an income. You get a job, clock in, clock out, get paid, and you are a responsible person. Everything else is leisure. That is an economic establishment fantasy. Here’s more of that fantasy for your entertainment.
The economist insists that individuals always strive to get the greatest satisfaction from their economic decisions. For labour, it means that satisfaction is determined by a trade-off between work and leisure. A worker only has so many hours in the week to do things, so the worker will choose the right balance of income and leisure which will result in the greatest satisfaction. The ability to eat, pay bills, and to survive doesn’t factor in the decision. It’s either, do I want to earn more income and consume more, or do I want more leisure time? Earning an income is, therefore, a choice. You can see how nutty this is already. But wait. It gets worse.
Suppose that the purchasing power of wages falls. In this case, the worker has little incentive to devote time to earning an income. What’s the point of working since the pound currently can’t buy enough things to meet the worker’s desired level of satisfaction? So, the worker will choose to work fewer hours until the pound’s purchasing power rises again, making earning an income worthwhile.
Establishment economic theory taints our view of what constitutes work
Previously in the series, we discussed the fallacy of composition – the mistaken idea that what applies on the individual level also applies on the level of the whole economy. The economist’s theory regarding the work-leisure trade-off which I described above is an example of the fallacy because it assumes that one individual’s behaviour translates to the behaviour of the entire workforce. So, if we apply the economist’s logic to the level of the whole economy during the Great Depression, we arrive at the absurd conclusion that the reason why there was so much unemployment during that period in history is because workers chose to go on an extended holiday.
Go ahead, laugh. I’ll wait.
That’s what we call absolute nonsense. (Of course, “nonsense” isn’t my first choice of words. I’ve got a better word that begins with “B” and ends with a “T”, but I can’t use it here.) And people are charged university tuition fees to be taught this rubbish.
Believe it or not, establishment economic theory taints your view of what constitutes work. It taints your notion of work in two ways. The first is how the economist defines leisure. Leisure is time spent doing anything except earning an income by engaging in the production of goods and services.
Laughably wrong. The deliberately narrow definition sets up a condition where work is limited only to something you are paid to do which can earn somebody else a monetary profit. Also, it forces you to accept that everything else outside of that activity is not and cannot possibly be work. It further blurs your view of work through the trade-off between leisure and work by causing you to assume that if a person is not spending enough time, or no time at all getting paid to make somebody else rich, then that person is deliberately choosing to do the wrong thing.
Inflate that ignorant logic to the level of the whole economy and you have the fallacy of composition at work. Hence, you can understand why many think that the reason why there is so much unemployment is because people are choosing to rely on benefits, living the life of layabouts instead of being responsible and industrious. And so, your family and friends become unwitting enforcers for the establishment, using shaming politics to push you into low-paying, uninteresting, low-quality jobs to barely scrape by and to avoid the stigma of being labeled “lazy”.
While the stain of “free-market” dogma exists, we will be completely led astray from the true nature of work. And, with decades of low-wages, abusive business models, financial insecurity, and a poor quality of life, many would prefer a UBI to having a job because Neoliberalism has ensured that people cannot envision a more dignified concept of work.
The nutty neoliberal establishment worldview
Neoliberalism is the dominant ideology today which affects the lives of everyone. It constructs a fantasy world with the economy as a sovereign entity, wholly separate from a central government that has no money of its own, and our purpose in this life – the entire reason why we were born – is to serve the economy. We do that by getting a private-sector job from which a rich person can make a monetary profit. Any other type of employment is considered to be a wasteful, make-work job that doesn’t serve the economy and blows an irresponsible hole in the government’s finances. Therefore, the privatisation of public services has been a persistent goal of politicians for many years.
Those same politicians (and some economists as well) will tell you that we must sacrifice in order to ensure that the economy stays “healthy”. In rough times, that means the central government must also sacrifice by tightening its belt and imposing punishing austerity measures. Some will get the sack, some will lose their homes, and yes, some will die. But, it is all for the good of the economy, you see.
The economy is not a natural force in the universe that we are to serve. As I discussed earlier in the series, the central government is the exclusive currency issuing authority, and through that power, it established both a monetary economy, and created the conditions needed for markets to exist and develop. As the monetary authority, the central government’s mandate is to use its currency-issuing and regulatory authority to properly manage the economy that it created to ensure the well-being of society. Thus, the economy is a man-made activity, and its purpose is to serve us, not the other way around. Work determines what sort of an economy we have. We will now discard the economist’s deceptive definitions of work and leisure, and examine what work actually is.
Work Correctly defined. A broader scope
In reality, work has no connection in any way, shape, or form to earning an income. Correctly defined, work is energy and time expenditure to engage in a particular task, with or without monetary compensation, regardless of what that task is. That’s it. Humans work. Work is what we do. In fact, all living things work.
Breathing is work. Sleeping is work. Eating is work. Giving birth is work. Thinking is work. Recovering from the flu is work. Watching TV is work. Painting a portrait is work. Writing a book is work. Composing music is work. Sculpting a statue is work. Teaching is work. Playing an instrument is work.
Given our new perspective based in reality, we can now challenge the establishment’s false notions regarding work. Are we still willing to believe that, somehow, Manchester United footballers are actually expending time and energy because they are paid, but a group of unpaid people playing football in a park are not expending time and energy?
Is a builder actually experiencing both the passage of time and energy expentiture because he’s being paid to hang a door, but a homeowner putting in his own door isn’t because he’s not being paid? Is money the key to the physical law here? Does money somehow cause time to move forward, and cause the builders body to expend energy? But, somehow, for the homeowner, I guess time is just standing still, and his body is not generating energy because no pay is involved and no rich person is profiting from it.
Are we to believe that a person employed by a private firm as a paid carer for a disabled child is doing valuable work, but someone caring for their own disabled child without pay is just faffing about?
And there’s the problem, laid bare for all to see. Most of us consider work to be valid and useful only if an employer can make money from the person’s labour. That ignorant, narrow vision is not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for you, and it’s not good enough for a sophisticated, modern society.
Redefining work for communities rather than capitalists
A business owner or a CEO is a single entity, but we tend to forget that society is also a single entity. Before this installment of the series, you may not have seen work as anything except an activity from which a single, private entity can earn a financial profit. Hopefully, now it is possible to see the concept of work in a broader, realistic picture.
We now understand that any activity we can dream up is work. So, let’s create jobs out of those activities. What if society paid the footballers in the park to produce organised football leagues for children, and adults? What if society paid them to produce fun and useful football-related activities for disabled children and adults in their communities?
What if society paid people with good DIY skills to teach others those skills, or to use those skills for community restoration projects?
What if we paid artists to teach community members how to paint and sculpt? Or what if they were paid to produce art work to beautify their communities?
What if society became an employer and paid people in their communities to address issues such as clearing urban blight, constructing nature trails, protecting valuable natural habitats, planting flowers, landscaping, caring for the elderly, working with children, and anything else we can think of?
Think of something, anything, that your community could do with right now, and I’ll show you a good job just waiting to be created that will lift a willing person out of poverty.
On this correct view of work, as you can easily see, there are now massive societal possibilities. Almost anything can become a useful, productive job. There will be more jobs we can create than we have people to do the jobs. Once you fully understand the above, the impossible becomes possible and ignorance is replaced with insight.
By introducing such a scheme, we will be doing far more than just creating good jobs. We will eliminate a core economic policy of the establishment that has devastated Western economies. A thing called, “NAIRU”. What’s NAIRU, you ask?
I will answer that question in Part VIII, and trust me, you aren’t going to like it.
Up Next: Part VIII – The NAIRU Economy