The Dim-Post

March 4, 2012

Common people

Filed under: economics — danylmc @ 7:09 am

Via DPF, Duncan Garner endorses the government’s welfare reforms, arguing that low paid menial work was good enough for him when he were a lad:

Currently there are about 15,000 jobs available in NZ on the Seek website.

That’s a fair few.

But many jobs are low paid and part-time. The last Household Labourforce Survey showed there were 15,000 more part time jobs last quarter, but 13,000 fewer full time jobs. It’s a concerning trend. Who wants 15 hours a week on crap money?

People need meaningful sustainable jobs. Flipping burgers is a job; it’s a start, we’ve all done this sort of work.

But it’s true for those entering the workforce for the first time in a long time that they need to start somewhere but they also need a pathway to show them the way out of those jobs too.

I often get accused by some who say I’m a media hack and what would I know about low-paid work?

Well I know something. I know I cleaned the Whitcoulls Queen Street store at 16 in my school holidays for youth rates – about $4.50 an hour at the time. I powder-coated curtain rails for $6.00 an hour in a Glenfield factory a year later. I put lids on toothpaste at the Avondale Redseal factory at the same time to help me pay for my first year at university.

DPF also worked hard as a young ‘un:
Like Duncan I cleaned a store while at school. But I was 14 and got $1.99 an hour for cleaning at Woolworths. I was so proud to be in regular employment, working every day after school plus Friday nights and Saturday mornings. And my first job after university was $22,000 a year only and at one point I was working part-time for $18,000 a year.
Firstly, very few of the jobs on the Seek website are part time (6%) and most of them pay really, really well – but far less than those same roles in other wealthy countries, which is why New Zealand businesses struggle to fill those positions. When low income casual jobs do get advertised they attract huge queues of applicants – so I think this ‘job snobs’ argument, in which there are loads of menial jobs but beneficiaries are too lazy to take take them is basically false.
Secondly, I also worked at low income menial jobs when I was a teenger, stacking boxes in a warehouse, etc. But I think there’s a huge difference between working that type of job when you’re a kid living with your parents, or a student who can look forward to graduating and earning a much higher salary, and actually working these jobs in perpetuity and trying to support your own family off these very low incomes.
We used to have an economy where even menial jobs had a career path. You worked in a factory and could aspire to a position as shift foreman, or found clerical work and eventually became head typist, etc, but those types of jobs don’t exist any more. Now we just have a large pool of menial workers who earn very low salaries and are among the first to lose their jobs in each economic downturn.
That’s not a big problem if you’re working one of those menial jobs when you’re a student expecting to transition into a high-earning career in the knowledge economy, but it’s a grim prospect if you’re a solo-mum anticipating decades of low-paid insecure menial work once you rejoin the labour market.

47 Comments »

  1. Looks like Duncan is positioning himself for his new talkback slot on Radio Live.

    Comment by Trader — March 4, 2012 @ 7:33 am

  2. Was Duncan’s opinion piece National Party spin? – it was made certainly made with the same false yarn and rhetoric binding.😉

    Comment by Mel — March 4, 2012 @ 8:51 am

  3. You’re not implying that Farrar works in the “knowledge economy” surely? What he peddles is the opposite.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — March 4, 2012 @ 8:54 am

  4. Some nice impartial commentary from a hack who’s own company landed $43 million of corporate welfare.

    Comment by The Fox — March 4, 2012 @ 8:57 am

  5. I don’t understand. When I read Kiwiblog, ‘Mainstream media’ especially TV3 and even more especially Duncan Garner is always completely agreed on as being socialist propaganda, and biased to the left wing. Is this some sort of weird covert op?

    Comment by Mike — March 4, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  6. The ‘job snobs’ argument has mainly been between politicians recently. The left saying how horrible it is that people may be forced “menial low paying jobs”, and the right saying the left are being snobby.

    As for the horrors of the modern career path, I think its the twin evils of automated satanic mills and a massive increase in secondary and tertiary education which presorts in a way that didn’t happen in the past. In any case how is the back in the old days story really relevant? Should we have being a permanent beneficiary a right because working at McDs is such an affront to human dignity? Of course while some people may have made it to head typist, I strongly suspect most menial jobs back in the day didn’t progress. Indeed given that many low skilled/paid jobs in the modern economy do have exactly the career path described makes this post from “secondly” onward as irrelevant a rant as the ‘when I was a lad’ stories of the corpulent commentators.

    One relevant point that must be made about the no jobs argument is that not too long ago there was a shortage for jobs paying supermarket wages and there were a lot of people on benefits not taking them up. It’s those individuals that we need the current reforms to deal with for when the labour market improves.

    Comment by Richard — March 4, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  7. “we need the current reforms to deal with for when the labour market improves.”

    so you’re saying we need to solve a problem we had in the past when there was low unemployment by forcing people off benefits now in times of disastrously high unemployment, just in case low unemployment returns in the future?

    Great idea. That way the government in the future can work on the problems we have now and after that invent a time machine and travel back in time to implement the solutions at times that actually make sense.

    Comment by nommopilot — March 4, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  8. “In any case how is the back in the old days story really relevant?”

    Because it’s useful to examine how the employment market has changed relative to the past when discussing changes to policies around employment and social welfare?

    Danyl has a good point: Garner and dpf both argue that low paying jobs are character building for young up-and-comers but are completely ignoring the fact that there are a lot of people living at the very limits – working long hours for meagre wages and with little prospect for advancement – who don’t have the luxury of being able to say, it’s OK because in a few years I’ll have a fat National Party/TV3 contract and I’ll be able to look back fondly at this passing hardship… Their argument assumes that everybody in a low paying job is transitioning their way up the foodchain, but the foodchain is pyramidal so their argument is flawed

    Comment by nommopilot — March 4, 2012 @ 10:08 am

  9. The real beauty of National’s PR is it sings so sweetly to the prejudices of its target audience, a fact no more starly illustrated than in Duncan Garner’s boorish middle class rant in favour punitive welfare reform. As a hook, line and sinker regurgitation of National party calss war rhetoric dressed up as welfare reform Mr. Garner has outdone himself. Middle classes sanctimony when it comes to discussing the “lesser classes” makes you want to puke at the best of times, but being so soon after Paul Holmes racist diatribe it is profoundly depressing to realise yet another senior journalist in this country has such reactionary and nasty proclivities of middle class and middle age that all it takes is a bit of sweet talking by the government to get him nodding along with all the fervour of preached to converted.

    The egotistical arrogance of the Garners and the Holmes is unbelievable. Both of them appear to genuinely believe they know what resonates with “mainstream New Zealand” (whoever that is – I suspect it is the sleek folk who have dinner parties in Parnell restaurants thinking they know what wage and salary slaves with big mortgages in bedroom suburbs think). Yet both of these men are on incomes well into six figures and wouldn’t last a month on a benefit.

    I don’t care if personally Duncan Garner is an easily led shill for thr government who isn’t half as clever and important as he thinks he is. But putting his peutrid diatribes out there as received wisdom that “mainstream working NZ (is) sewn up on this one” makes me sick.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 4, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  10. Government likes high unemployment. It destroys unions and keeps wages down. There will always be people to work for less

    Comment by indiginz — March 4, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  11. @ Duncan Garner – Well done sir! I applaud your National party class war rhetoric! Should we sharpen our spears now, or when we are at the doors of the villainous solo mum? And should we take her net-tax-bludging progeny into servitude, or should we invite them in for … supper…perhaps Soylent Green? (hey, if they want to eat the rich….)

    Yours rolling in moolah,
    Montgomery C Burns.

    Comment by bob — March 4, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

  12. @ nompilot so you’re saying we need to solve a problem we had in the past when there was low unemployment by forcing people off benefits now in times of disastrously high unemployment, just in case low unemployment returns in the future?

    First, there is no suggestion from anyone will lose their benefit if they are unable to find or take up a job. this is abundantly clear from the beginnings on this reform package. Second, unless you are saying that unemployment will never fall below the current (internationally favourable) levels, and there is currently no one anywhere that could get a job but won’t, and your argument is that these reforms are too early – then I don’t see what the actual substance is to your statement. Unless perhaps we currently have policy perfection in welfare that is.

    Their argument assumes that everybody in a low paying job is transitioning their way up the foodchain, but the foodchain is pyramidal so their argument is flawed

    Actually, neither of them actually said that. They said ‘they’ started out on crap jobs and moved on to something better. Their point, as I saw it, was less sophisticated than that. It sounded to me as if it was ‘I’ve done crap jobs so suck it up if you have to as well Mr Beneficiary’. Unless you’re proposing we institute a $35k GMI and robots doing all jobs considered menial then what is wrong with requiring those who can work to do so?

    Comment by Richard — March 4, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

  13. “First, there is no suggestion from anyone will lose their benefit if they are unable to find or take up a job”

    Actually, that is what these reforms are saying. They are changing the threshhold at which worktests apply and thus people will be required to take up a job earlier than they otherwise would have needed to – whether this is a good thing for the 5 year old (or 1 year old) child of that solo mum or not. They wi

    “unless you are saying that unemployment will never fall below the current (internationally favourable) levels, and there is currently no one anywhere that could get a job but won’t, and your argument is that these reforms are too early”

    Or just a that it’s a costly way to waste $130,000,000 to rearrange deck chairs on the good ship Unemployed while not substantially changing the underlying problem: No Jobs!!

    I’m sure there are people that are on the dole that could be working, but if there are they are currently in breach of the rules of their benefit so changing those rules is not likely to change this issue. It just means more people (solo parents in this case) will have these rules apply to them = more competition for scarce jobs = more downward pressure on pay = more people struggling on low incomes…

    “Unless perhaps we currently have policy perfection in welfare that is.”

    I don’t think that there is anything close to policy perfection. but that doesn’t mean that these changes will make things better in any way. I can’t see any evidence & have heard no good arguments to suggest they’ll have any positive effect at all.

    Comment by nommopilot — March 4, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  14. @nomopilot – fact check fail my friend. http://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/27_Feb_Welfare_Reform_QandA.pdf

    Someone only loses their benefit if they make no effort to find a job. The extra spending ( http://tinyurl.com/6sh498q ) appears to be largely childcare, training incentives/support and case management for young people. So either money that won;t be spent if there are no jobs or things beneficiary advocates say are needed. Although I wonder if you would suggest that spending on training is a bad idea as the underlying problem is no jobs?

    I am also entirely willing to take you on your word on your last point. Although I had previously been a fan of support for childcare for low income workers and training support for beneficiaries.

    Comment by Richard — March 4, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

  15. And what of this?

    “BENNETT TAKES THE MIC

    Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was a late substitute as MC at her brother’s wedding when the first choice pulled out at the last minute.

    Ms Bennett said she had done the job before and taking over the role at the summer wedding in Northland was not a problem. But she said the best man’s speech was “far, far too long”.

    We are not sure if Ms Bennett was just getting a bit of revenge with that comment though. The best man was TV3 political editor Duncan Garner. “

    Comment by DeepRed — March 4, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

  16. Been to an orchard during harvest recently?

    Comment by Swan — March 4, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

  17. And once again, Minister Bennett & her ilk remain under the delusion that ditch-diggers and burger flippers can be turned into ICT analysts and engineers overnight. Economist Sam Bowles, who coined the term ‘guard economy’, would have to agree.

    Comment by DeepRed — March 4, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

  18. PS. I meant, “would have to agree with my theory”. I should also add the problem isn’t just a lack of jobs, it’s also a problem of jobs mismatch.

    Comment by DeepRed — March 4, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

  19. “…And what of this..?”

    Indeed. Still,beiing unethical, failing to disclose, and abusing your position as a supposed “neutral” political editor of one of our two main TV channels to stick up for your mate’s sister is just about par for the course for the mickey mouse media in this country. Aping their peers in business, I suppose.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 4, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

  20. Surely part of the problem is that many beneficiaries – who are barely surviving as it is – would be no better off or in fact worse-off if they enter into paid work because their benefits are cut proportionately. What is really needed in terms of ‘welfare reform’ is a system that provides a positive incentive for beneficiaries to find work rather than punishing them for doing so. The rate at which benefits are cut for beneficiaries in part-time work needs to be raised significantly, and the scale by which benefits are cut needs to be reduced. Somehow, I suspect this isn’t what Paula Bennett has in mind when she talks about “welfare reform”, however.

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — March 5, 2012 @ 12:13 am

  21. “What is really needed in terms of ‘welfare reform’ is a system that provides a positive incentive for beneficiaries to find work rather than punishing them for doing so. The rate at which benefits are cut for beneficiaries in part-time work needs to be raised significantly, and the scale by which benefits are cut needs to be reduced.”

    A universal minimum income system will acheive exactly this by have no high effective marginal tax rates at all. Difficult to understand why the idea hasnt even been discussed by the major parties.

    Comment by swan — March 5, 2012 @ 8:12 am

  22. The idea of an UBI (Universal basic Income) is superficially attractive, until you realise that it is most often put around by neo-liberal theologians as way to make an end run around the universal provisions of the welfare state. The bottom line of UBI is (in the minds of many on the right, at least) a way of absolving themselves and the state from any moral or ethical obligation to provide healthcare, welfare and education. After all, if you get $250 a week from the government and “choose” not to buy health insurance, who fault is it you are now dying of an easily cured infectious disease?

    The very idea of a UBI as a better alternative to a comprehensive welfare state must in the final analysis rest on a belief that somehow the welfare state is morally corrupting. I totally reject any such assertion. Accepting that the welfare state is some sort of undesirable thing and a constant problem represents the ultimate victory of viciously reactionary right wing propaganda, since anyone who has looked at women’s rights or the dire state of the poor before the welfare state (or simply read a Charles Dickens novel) would instantly grasp that the welfare state represents a major advance in civilised behaviour and the “applied Christianity” (to quote Mickey Savage) of social security, free healthcare and education is a force for moral good that far, far, far outweighs the odd individual who we fret might be freeloading on the system.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 5, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  23. Hold on Sanctuary,

    Jumping from the current welfare state sans UBI to a counterfactual where the entire welfare state is dismantled is a bit of a straw man dont you think?

    We currently have universal healthcare and education in NZ. So there are no “high effective marginal tax rates” in the form of in kind benefits that someone could pick at for efficiency reasons upon bringing in a UBI. There is no compatibility, or slippery slope issue with a UBI + universal healthcare + universal education system.

    Comment by swan — March 5, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  24. The problem I have with this argument is you only have to listen to Paula Bennett to realise that as far as the current government is concerned work is primarily viewed as a moral obligation rather than a rational exercise in selling your labour.

    Now, we all know the engine for Bennett’s moral radicalism is born from her being a parvenu in the middle classes. But the fact is that her values, for all the garish amplification she uses to to prove her new pedigree to her social betters, are an accurate reflection of those very widely held across the middle and lower classes.

    If the link between work and morality is as strongly explicit as it clearly is in our society – and is seen as the main legitimation for receiving an income (even though we never see full employment again, given the vast reserve pool of labour our over-breeding as a species has produced) – then what chance would their be that a UBI would be introduced without being surrounded by a thicket of moralising? I doubt that the likes of Paula Bennett would appreciate an argument that in a modern industrialised society a UBI is a triumphant victory of the right to be lazy.

    So it seems to me that if work and income is seen as first and foremost a moral obligation, then providing a UBI – an income (which most people think should be strongly linked as a reward for work, not just “given away”) – would almost certainly be seen by swathes of the middle and upper classes primarily in moral terms, particularly in allowing them to persuade themselves that it absolves themselves of the moral obligation to pay taxes to support any more state funding than is required to support the UBI.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 5, 2012 @ 10:08 am

  25. >A universal minimum income system will acheive exactly this by have no high effective marginal tax rates at all. Difficult to understand why the idea hasnt even been discussed by the major parties.

    Yes, it’s too obvious. I put it down to the battle between Worker socialism and Capitalism, both of which place all of the value of humanity on the paid work they do, without realizing that the ideal outcome in the world would be for no-one to need paid work, when technology does everything. Every human being in the world today is a beneficiary of the millenia of human industry and discovery that have gone before. They could all share in it, quite easily.The only way people can actually be forced to work is by being starved, made homeless, denied access to healthcare and education, at which point they will do literally anything for money. But if these things are not denied, they will do only the work that either they like to do, or they are paid well to do (which means business has good reason to actually improve work conditions). Which might not actually mean not doing much work – quite the opposite, people are far more incentivized by the prospect of prosperity than they are by the fear of poverty or slavery. The ancient Romans knew this, finding that paid workers were much more productive than slaves, and freehold farmers even more productive again. The USA also found it, that slavery didn’t mean productive farming.

    And yet societies will hold onto their disgusting old traditions, even against economic good sense. There are many reasons for this – one is because relative wealth is felt more keenly than absolute wealth. If you have someone slaving for you, you know that you’re a really powerful person relative to them. You might actually be poor yourself, but you can take that out on the slave. Husband/wife slavery had a very similar motivation, even the meanest peasant could lord it over his wife.

    I think this thinking is still around – that people like to see other people doing shitty work for them, because it brings home that they don’t have to do that work, so they must be important people. Even if they’re actually at a similar wealth level to someone doing that menial work, but getting paid fairly for it, in a wealthier and fairer society. Beneficiaries upset these people because you can’t go into their shop and act like a cock just to make them run around for you, or sit idly by sipping a cold wine whilst they dig you a trench. Or, if you can’t handle the cognitive dissonance of that (“Hey, I’m a NICE guy”), you can take it out on them by never coming to their shop, and bad-mouthing it to other people, so they suffer anyway, but you don’t have to get your hands dirty. Just don’t renew their toilet cleaning contract – surely there’s someone more desperate who will do it for peanuts.

    So you personalize the relationship of the beneficiary to you, how you’re paying for them. And you make up a backstory about either your own hardship, or the wonderful moral lessons of doing unpleasant work. It’s very important that you don’t upset the narrative on this by actually attempting to live on the same money as them, though, because you might start learning a whole different backstory about what hardship really does do to people, how it makes the very worst kind of person out of you, how it encourages dishonesty, taking advantage, violence, how your children suffer, your health suffers, how people withdraw from you, how random upsets like a vehicular breakdown become earth shattering events. You never even have to know about these outcomes because you can remember the time when you flipped burgers yourself as a kid, and then went home to a nice warm happy house and a meal, a bed, and school in the morning, and feel that the burger flipping was sharing in the life of a full time burger flipper who is trying to support a family. You *know* what it’s all about.

    In the end, work is something humanity is struggling to come to terms with. Instead of it being about producing things society needs, it’s about “suffering enough”. The idea of a work without forced paid work, which is totally achievable and has been for a long time, frightens a lot of people. They actually can’t even imagine it, and feel that it must be horrible. Isn’t society much better controlled when people are chained to their workplace financially for most of their lives? Wouldn’t it all go to hell if everyone had too much spare time? And, under the surface, the attitude that can’t be admitted, wouldn’t that mean I can’t be upper class any more? What could anyone aspire to?

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 5, 2012 @ 10:55 am

  26. >The very idea of a UBI as a better alternative to a comprehensive welfare state must in the final analysis rest on a belief that somehow the welfare state is morally corrupting.

    I don’t agree. As swan says, you’re tying two things together that don’t have to be. A UBI doesn’t have to kill all of the welfare state. It can just reduce a lot of it, and it actually removes the stigma of welfare, which is, whether you or I like it, stigmatized. It can’t be stigmatized when everyone is on it.

    >what chance would their be that a UBI would be introduced without being surrounded by a thicket of moralising?

    It surely would. But that might die off quite rapidly when society doesn’t collapse, and people don’t even stop working, except in the worst jobs, which would have to put their pay rates up, or improve conditions in other ways, to retain staff.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 5, 2012 @ 11:03 am

  27. @ #24 hear hear, that man! you have painted out a society that I would personally aspire to live in

    @#25 “that might die off quite rapidly when society doesn’t collapse”

    The real root problem underneath everything is the inequality of the value of people’s time. That the economy makes one person’s hour worth $500+ and another’s $15 means there will be inherent inequality in society that can only worsen over time. I do think there should be a differential, based on skills (hello drs, nurses, teachers etc.) and such but the degree of inequality can’t help but create a society where the old class systems still cling on. Somehow the lowest wages need to rise and this needs to be offset by the highest of wages being brought back to earth…

    Good luck trying to convince those with any kind of policy-formulation powers of this though when they are all paid well into the six figures…

    Comment by nommopilot — March 5, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  28. Yeah. There’s not many people who want to work 15 hours per week on crap money. I would. But I’d still be getting a benefit to top up my income, so I could afford to live, which is realy the whole point of life isn’t it Prime Minister? Living? And for that, we need jobs, affordable housing and groceries, cheaper electricity, etc.

    I think it’s really important for the Government to start some SOE’s at this point, in forestry and fishing, perhaps farming, because it won’t cost the Government nearly as much as it would a private entity and so the returns could be very good (for an economic downturn, an estimated 8% – 10% is quite an impressive return) and it would obviously provide employment, with a focus that could possibly be on targeting those that have been on and off benefits for three or more consecutive years.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — March 5, 2012 @ 11:58 am

  29. Sanc’s right about a lot of the UBI-proponents being “eliminate-welfare/personal-choice” nuts as well. Fairly certain ACT had a long-standing policy of privatised healthcare and unemployment insurance alongside a UBI.
    But Morgan’s Big Kahuna concepts didn’t include the removal of state provisioned services – he just saw the UBI as a replacement for all direct cash benefits, rather than healthcare/education etc etc along with it

    Comment by garethw — March 5, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

  30. >The real root problem underneath everything is the inequality of the value of people’s time.

    I don’t think so. That’s insoluble, and I don’t even think it should be solved. Some people are much more productive than other people, and that’s just a fact because people are different, both in their talents, their training, and the setup they are working in. The question is about why that should mean the unproductive person deserves hardship. Considering that talent, training and setup are mostly are results of a lucky start, when, where, and to whom you were born, it really doesn’t make any sense at all that after getting all those advantages you should also get the ongoing relative advantage that you can force the unproductive person to work (unproductively) to further consolidate your relative advantage, especially when it actually keeps the unproductive person unproductive. Far better is that your relative wealth, visible from the luxuries you enjoy, should inspire that unproductive person to find their talent, or train themselves, or move to working with better tooling.

    Or just stay comfortable, do whatever they do, mostly passing on their money to people who are productive, so that those people can have luxuries. If, at the end, all of society decides they actually have enough to live on from all of the excess production of society, a not at all impossible situation, then what would actually be wrong with that? But I don’t think that would happen. Human nature is a spread, and there will always be highly motivated people who want more and more. That’s great, and it’s especially great for them. They will keep everything moving, and will still be highly rewarded for doing so. I’d expect, on average, people would mostly be super specialists with a lot of spare time and a lot of money, or generalists with all spare time and enough money. As their talents and motivations dictate. Or their illnesses and disabilities.

    As Social Credit always said, their vision of society – an aristocracy of production, and a democracy of consumers. It’s a very different socialist vision in the end to worker-oriented socialism, that has no aristocracy, but everybody has to work, not necessarily on what they’re good at, and probably getting paid the same no matter what. and no differentials in wealth which mean a very weak diversity of products, living arrangements, beliefs, etc. This has actually been tried quite a few times, and while it’s better than feudalism, and possibly the fastest way out of that, it’s not a model for developed societies to follow. The other way has never been tried, although welfarism kind of approximates it, in a way that’s way, way out of date.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 5, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  31. >Fairly certain ACT had a long-standing policy of privatised healthcare and unemployment insurance alongside a UBI.

    Well even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 5, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

  32. ACT also believe the world is not flat. That has not led to a general flattening of the earth.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 5, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

  33. “there will always be highly motivated people who want more and more. That’s great, and it’s especially great for them.”

    the trouble is there are also more and more humans but there aren’t more and more planets. If no limits are placed on the degree to which “wealth” can be “extracted” by the rich folk then the human race is going to experience ecological disaster (which is much closer than our society is prepared to acknowledge).

    As for this idea of an aristocracy of production: Like I said, I do think there should be a differential in the value of a person’s time but I don’t think this should be allowed to get so great that one person working for a week is said to produce the same value as someone working for an hour. A certain degree of social inequality creates a competitive environment which is probably healthy but when the differential becomes too great the gap becomes intractable.

    How can we avoid a society with entitled classes of people looking down on others when our economy says that Jenny Shipley’s consultancy skills are 50 times more valuable than someone cleaning a hospital?

    Comment by nommopilot — March 5, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  34. >A certain degree of social inequality creates a competitive environment which is probably healthy but when the differential becomes too great the gap becomes intractable.

    It’s never been anything but intractable, and yet society has functioned right up until now. The problem isn’t the existence of super wealthy people, it’s the massive numbers of people with nothing. That can and should be easily fixed. Only a brutal insistence on valuing human work, when the natural outcome of industrialization is to destroy human work, keeps a vast pool of humans in ridiculous squalor. Keep raising the bottom, and the average will rise. The top can still be much higher. I’m not one who buys into the idea that super wealth should not be allowed. It doesn’t bother me, so long as society is providing a good living to everyone.

    >Like I said, I do think there should be a differential in the value of a person’s time but I don’t think this should be allowed to get so great that one person working for a week is said to produce the same value as someone working for an hour.

    I think such differentials in real productivity happen all the time. But that mostly means the lower paid person is in the wrong job, or not tooled up. I’m not so sure about minimum wages – they make sense now, because welfare is not universal. But if it was, I have to say I might really actually like working for a low wage, doing something I’m totally incompetent at, just because I like the work, or want to learn, or I’m not much good at anything else, or even just because I like doing a bit of work and the socialization that comes with it. So long as I wasn’t being forced to do it, I’d expect wages would settle around what was fair for the kind of work it was.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 5, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

  35. “I think such differentials in real productivity happen all the time.”

    I don’t think incomes at the moment reflect real productivity so I think this is a false economy. What humans produce from their work and who the benefits of this work accrues to varies so greatly that there is no real way to calculate these kinds of things (I’m sure the economists have all sorts of metrics but…)

    “Externalities” are the big problem. Because productivity essentially doesn’t account for a number of things and therefore skews the value of different activities in all sorts of stupid directions. At this stage in the development of global civilisation it is necessary to acknowledge ecological limits and I think this needs to be done by creating economic limits: both to the amount of resources consumed by individuals and the distribution of resources globally.

    It is widely acknowledged that the population of the world cannot be brought up to the current living standards of the richest 10% of the population with the planet’s current resources. At some point there will need to be a recognition that those of us living in societies consuming above their means will need to accept that our consumption habits will need to change. This will happen either the hard way: ecological/economic collapse or the (slightly) easier way: whereby we find ways to change to allow us to maintain a decent quality of life despite reducing the amounts we consume.

    A UBI would be a great option to explore because it would enable a lot of people to decide to use their time in ways that are valuable on an individual scale yet not “economically valuable”.

    Personally I do think those individuals you speak of who always want more, more, more are a problem. If you are a suit working 60 hour + weeks for your huge salary, you are robbing either your family (if you have one) of quality time and other people of the opportunity to work (assuming you spend that entire 60 hours doing useful work that needs doing rather than taking 2 hour long business lunches charged on you company expense account). There are too many people prevented from living a balanced life because so many people have not enough money to use their large amounts of spare time fulfillingly and too many people who have not enough time because they are forced into the “paid work is the meaning of life!” paradigm discussed earlier.

    Comment by nommopilot — March 5, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

  36. nommo @ 33 “the trouble is there are also more and more humans but there aren’t more and more planets. If no limits are placed on the degree to which “wealth” can be “extracted” by the rich folk then the human race is going to experience ecological disaster (which is much closer than our society is prepared to acknowledge). ”
    Where does it say ADD UBI, SUBTRACT Enviromental Protection Laws? All your arguments are “yes, but” and the “but” is a condition that is happening with or without UBI, so can’t be a reason for not trying UBI.

    “I don’t think this [differentail] should be allowed to get so great that one person working for a week is said to produce the same value as someone working for an hour”
    It’s not SAID, it just IS. Peter Jackson can achieve in a handful of weeks what I doubt I’ll do in my lifetime. Your “should not be allowed” just sounds like tall poppy syndrome to me.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 5, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

  37. “It is widely acknowledged that the population of the world cannot be brought up to the current living standards of the richest 10% of the population with the planet’s current resources.”

    I suspect most of us are enjoying better living standards than the richest 10% of folk from a few hundred years ago, and the planet is still here. And there are more of us now. But you are right about consumption patterns: people and governments have to move to spending only what they’ve earned.

    “a decent quality of life despite reducing the amounts we consume” Is that really the answer? I thought UBI and modern living allows us to work less to allow us to earn what we need (Ben Wilson’s freedom from effective slavery).

    “Personally I do think those individuals you speak of who always want more, more, more are a problem.” Want more stuff, or what to achieve more? I think you are missing what motivates many high achievers.
    “If you are a suit working 60 hour + weeks for your huge salary” This isn’t your average high achiever. Your average high achiever may not even be in paid employment. And many folk in suits are not in fact high achievers. I myself wear a suit for my salary, and whilst I don’t work quite 60 hours a week, i do feel like a wage-slave. A UBI may not change things much for me… except the fact that if I lose my job, my wife won’t have to get pregnant to ensure we become eligable for state assistance.

    A UBI could make people truer to their heart: a lower risk way to throw in the towel on corporate life and try landscape gardening, or whatever your passion is.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 5, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

  38. >I don’t think incomes at the moment reflect real productivity so I think this is a false economy

    If you’re talking “all other things being equal” (education and tooling can be equalized, anyway) then it’s probably less of a difference, although there are still going to be people who simply can’t do certain things at all, or only at an incredibly slow rate. So there is still a huge range. The deaf can’t transcribe an audiotape, it’s that simple. A very well trained typist listening to a clear tape in their native tongue on subject matter they are familiar with might do the job 40 times faster than some using a second language could ever hope to.

    But I’m just comparing apples with apples. I think you’re not even talking about that – you’re comparing the hourly rate of a merchant banker with that of trench digger, and suggesting there’s no way the banker is worth 1000 times as much per hour? Or for a more extreme example, Bill Gates, at the height of his fortune was earning over $100/second – even when he was asleep. When you get up to amounts like that you’re not talking about the hourly rate, really. It’s simpler to ask if there’s a limit to how rich a person should be allowed to be. I’m undecided – I think a lot of time and energy can be wasted worrying about the super-rich and how to cut them down to size, without really improving real outcomes for anyone.

    >At some point there will need to be a recognition that those of us living in societies consuming above their means will need to accept that our consumption habits will need to change.

    Hard to predict the future on what will happen with production and consumption, because the really key driver is technology, the future of which is unknown. Doing things exactly as we are now, yes, you are right, there are limits that must be reached if the population continues to grow exponentially. But technology has produced an exponential growth in production too. Perhaps there is an end to this, perhaps not. I do not know. The limit of the earth’s resources is not a given either. We may yet be able to exploit extra terrestrial resources, but we’re talking about totally unknown technology there (although it’s always fun to speculate about).

    Just as an example, despite the fact that oil has got steadily more expensive throughout my life, I notice that cars have also got steadily more efficient, and also more powerful. Perhaps there will be a reasonable rapid jump to electric cars without any substantial drop in performance – indeed I went to a lecture not too long ago by Ian Wright showing how his electric supercars can outperform any petrol engine in many dimensions, with the right software. Interestingly, he’s aiming to fund it all with electric drive trains for trucks that save delivery companies enormous amounts of petrol. He was just hoping to crush the idea that electric means weak and pathetic and we have to accept everything is going to get less good as the energy crunch comes on. It might not work out like that.

    But this I will give you without argument – changing consumption habits is not necessarily accompanied by real suffering. There is an awful lot of human energy spent making useless wasteful things, that have to be consumed. People who manage to discipline themselves on that and cut back are very often better off for it, and not only financially. But consumerism is a powerful force – I only believe that it would become less as people had more spare time through a drop in financially enforced hardship. I can’t prove that. In a thought experiment from a distant future, where robots do all of our work, would it really be bad to be a greedy consumer? I don’t know, I’m not going to judge it from this time.

    >Personally I do think those individuals you speak of who always want more, more, more are a problem.

    I’d only agree in so far as their wealth can buy political power. This is certainly something that has to be curtailed in any democracy, although practically I think again, the best thing is to lift the bottom. If everyone is freed from time slavery, they may well become more politically engaged. This could result in dropping the power of elites, although people are seldom that simple – democracy can still vote in fascists. My own belief is that as people are freed from want, they will stop valuing super wealth, and the opinions of the super wealthy, and it could become something that is a distant memory, as kings are for the developed world. Plutocracy could also fade away from there just being too many people with too much money. Maybe. Put it this way – even the richest American can’t own a slave now, nor can they murder with impunity. Hell, the president can’t even get a BJ.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 5, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

  39. “I’d only agree in so far as their wealth can buy political power.”

    I think you undestimate the degree to which the wealthy own politics and I think you are overly optimistic about how easy it will be to change this: as if those who currently have power will somehow accept a gradual fade into irrelevance.
    time slavery (and of course debt-slavery) will not end under the watch of the super-wealthy precisely for this reason. It is not in the interests of those with vast amounts of money to free the population from their proper places in the scheme of things. they want us making money for them, not doing whatever it is we want to do.
    those of us who grew up with a steady diet of science fiction are always going to be imagining worlds where technology brings about utopic changes for society but it hasn’t happened so far: the automobile brought the promise of freedom but mostly they just sit in traffic slowly crawling to and from work so that they can be paid for.

    We have a lot of technology now which could enable a more equal society. There could be wind turbines and/or pv panels on every home. there could be electric cars in every driveway. there could be whole new towns being built with eco-infrastructure and warm, affordable houses. there certainly shouldn’t be poor kids going to school unfed. It’s not a problem of a lack of resources or technology: it’s a problem of unequal distribution and the lack of political will. the super wealthy are a much bigger part of that problem than the poor, and they are more empowered to solve it.

    I’m not arguing for a communist society, but I think that there should be limits to wealth. We live in a country where the rich white guys in charge lecture us about the need to tighten our belts while the finance companies they own charge ruinous interest rates on loans to the poor whose incomes (from other companies they own) cannot cover basic needs let alone the dream of owning a home.

    “Put it this way – even the richest American can’t own a slave now”

    No, because slavery has been outsourced to china and the third world. much tidier. the rich continue to command the poor to serve their needs, they just don’t have to feed or house them or even see them anymore.

    Comment by nommopilot — March 6, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  40. Given that PV and wind turbines cost a lot lot more to build and install, have lower power availability, and tend to break down more than centrally served electricity, I’m not sure how you can claim the massive wealth transfer from ordinary people to fund such things is going to provide anything near equality. And electric cars? Good grief. That’s a sure way to debt slavery.

    The ability to provide cheap power from a reliable grid has been one of the massive achievements of the last 150 years in terms of the health and opportunity benefits it provides to society in terms of equality. It has probably fulfilled far more utopic dreams than you think. And you want to throw that away for an image?

    Comment by insider — March 6, 2012 @ 10:44 am

  41. @ nommo

    Cheap, centrally served power has been one of the great equalisers over the last 150 years along with open access to education and health. It has probably fulfilled more utopic dreams than you imply. Home PV and windmills are more expensive and less reliable so would be a massive reversal of what has been achieved. To what end? A branding image? And as for electric cars…guaranteed to increase debt slavery. (PS looks like a moderation issue may have ate an earlier version of this- apologies in advance)

    Comment by insider — March 6, 2012 @ 10:51 am

  42. Completely agree with the points made in the main post,. Low pay is fine if you’re on your way somewhere else. But as a career it will be awful. With so many skilled jobs going to China and elsewhere and many other jobs replaced by automation or call centres in the Philippines or India, the range of options for kids these days is pretty narrow. I have had two children start work on the low-wage, lop-sided employment contracts for low-skilled incompetent managers…..and they are now extremely cynical about paid employment as a result. The money they earn just isn’t worth the grief. The money isn’t too bad….It’s the incompetent managers they have to endure while working who cause the real trouble. one daughter was made the store manager at a local shopping mall and didn’t get a pay rise or any other recognition for the move to being on-call in case anyone else failed to turn up….and they did that a lot.

    Her experience wasn’t isolated. My other daughter found exactly the same thing at another place. It was *very* different to how things were when i was their age. Ask DPF if he would work a week of undefined length on shifts of undefined length at minimum wage and no overtime. OH…and he has to spend about 20% of his earnings buying the products of his employer to wear or he can’t work there at all.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — March 6, 2012 @ 11:18 am

  43. The last post brought up an interesting point. Brand loyalty is all the rage these days. If you work in Supermarket A and shop at Supermarket B, this is really frowned upon. But what if Supermarket A is more expensive that Supermarket B? No-one cares about that factor, you’re just pointed out as being disloyal to your employer, so job promotions and pay rises are not really likely to come your way … unless you’re an “upstanding member of the local community” which gives you an exemption. You can not only shop at Supermarket B but you can be useless at your job at Supermarket A and still get praise, recognition, a promotion and a pay rise.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — March 6, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  44. @Daniel Lang: corporate logos these days seem to have become misused as some kind of gang colours for the materialists.

    Comment by DeepRed — March 6, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

  45. >It is not in the interests of those with vast amounts of money to free the population from their proper places in the scheme of things. they want us making money for them, not doing whatever it is we want to do.

    That’s not necessarily true. Sometimes it is in the interests of the wealthy for their whole society to be wealthy. That means there is even more wealth available to them for their products, whatever they are. You are likely to be much richer as a rich person in a rich society than a rich person in a poor society. The only thing you won’t have is such a *relative wealth* differential. When a society is obsessed with relative wealth, then beggaring it actually makes sense, which is why it is such a pernicious attitude.

    It’s not guaranteed that the rich (and society as a whole) will always value relative wealth above all. It’s not guaranteed that they won’t either, though. I couldn’t really prove anything about what would happen under a UBI until it is actually tried. Which is a very good reason to try it.

    >the automobile brought the promise of freedom but mostly they just sit in traffic slowly crawling to and from work so that they can be paid for.

    There’s some truth to that, but it also undervalues the automobile immensely. The auto meant people *could* live far from where they worked. For many, and for a long time, this was seen as a very good thing. Many still see it that way. The auto did not *force* people out into widespread suburbs, it *encouraged* that. You can still live in the city if you want, but you will have to live in much less space. A lot of people value that space that the auto has given them. You are also ignoring the other things autos are used for – commuting may be the bulk of miles traveled, but there is still immense utility in the other trips that we can take in them, going to practically everywhere in a country at quite a low cost, in a very short amount of time. They’re still a wonder of the world, as far as I’m concerned. But I am one of the people who has engineered their life so that practically all of my auto trips are like that – I work from home, so I don’t commute at all. This is also enabled by the auto, and another technological wonder, the internet.

    >It’s not a problem of a lack of resources or technology: it’s a problem of unequal distribution and the lack of political will. the super wealthy are a much bigger part of that problem than the poor, and they are more empowered to solve it.

    Sure, but they have very little incentive to solve it. They’re not actually a very dynamic group at all. They don’t need to be. I don’t think looking to them for solutions, or punishing them for their luck, has very good returns for the efforts spent. They’re masters of evading such controls. But they all die in the end, their fortunes move on to different people, and are built or squandered, so it goes. Eventually the end of most great fortunes is not being pulled down by the masses, but by being outgrown by them. The vast fortunes that are currently being amassed by a world drowning in debt are well within the potential of every sovereign government that makes its own currency to reign in, without breaking any contracts whatsoever. If the debts are payed off, the swollen banking industry will go broke very quickly if it isn’t able to downsize or put all of it’s money into useful investment. A debt jubilee like this would kill no rich persons fortune by itself, but it would cut off their income from activity that is essentially useless. The effect on the economy for poor people, however, would be incredible. And it is well within the power of poor people to vote in a government that would even do a small amount of this. Indeed they would only need to vote in a pressure group that held the power balance, in NZ, to achieve this end. It would make a welcome change from the pressure groups whose only financial plans are ruinous for the poor.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 6, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

  46. “When a society is obsessed with relative wealth, then beggaring it actually makes sense, which is why it is such a pernicious attitude.”

    totally agree. I hope you’re right that this may change and I do think that in the long term this may be so.

    I am often very discouraged by what seems like a slow pace of change and some very large and intractable problems for our civilisation, but occasionally I get the feeling that I’m just an impatient human living from day to day and things are actually changing very very fast on a societal scale.

    as for the automobile: I agree they are remarkable magicks and love a good road trip as much as the next nommo – I just hate to see the way in which the magick is squandered in the name of burning precious, scarce, oil in effigy to the god of traffic jams.

    Comment by nommopilot — March 6, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  47. >I just hate to see the way in which the magick is squandered in the name of burning precious, scarce, oil in effigy to the god of traffic jams.

    Yeah, I won’t do it. Last time I commuted further than 2km to work was 1997. Some people do seem to like commuting, though.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 6, 2012 @ 11:14 pm


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