Misemployment – Free Ebook

Whenever unemployment comes down – even if only very slightly – it sounds like really good news. It’s great that productive forces in the economy are growing and there’ll be a little more money in people’s pockets soon But if one gets more ambitious about human potential, the picture gets more complicated and darker than what governments make out. Unemployment means being, generically, out of work. But let’s coin a new word: MISEMPLOYMENT It means being in work but of a kind that fails to tackle with any real sincerity the true needs of other people: merely exciting them to unsatisfactory desires and pleasures instead; the way Primark, Patek Philippe and youporn.com might. This man is misemployed: Similarly, a man employed by the Sands Casino in Las Vegas to hand out flyers to tourists in order to entice them to use slot machines is clearly ’employed’ in the technical sense. He’s marked as being off the unemployment registers. He is receiving a wage in return for helping to solve some (small) puzzle of the human condition of interest to his employers: that not enough tourists might otherwise leave the blue skies and heat of main street to enter the air-conditioned halls of an Egyptian-themed casino. The man is indeed employed, but he’s also in truth dramatically misemployed. His labour is generating capital, but it is making no contribution to human welfare and flourishing. He is joined in the misemployment ranks by people who make cigarettes, addictive but sterile television shows, badly designed condos, ill-fitting and shoddy clothes, deceptive advertisements, artery-clogging biscuits and highly-sugared drinks. The rate of misemployment in modern economies is very high. While we may be genuinely grateful for any job we’re given, at the back of our minds we all – as employees – hope for something else: that our work can contribute in some real way to the common good; that we can make a modest difference. Governments have, with some success, been learning techniques to reduce the overall rate of unemployment. In the language of the field, they do this by ‘stimulating demand.’ Though technically effective, this method fails to draw any distinction between good and bad demand and therefore between employment and misemployment. The real trick to bringing down the rate of misemployment isn’t just to stimulate demand per se, it’s to stimulate the right sort of demand: to excite people to buy the ingredients of true satisfaction, to want the things that really matter, and therefore to give individuals and businesses a chance to direct their labour, and make profits, in meaningful areas of the economy. Employment figures aren’t irrelevant – they matter a great deal. They are the first things to be attended to. But these raw figures mask a more ambitious index we should get around to building in the future: one that measures misemployment and hence shows how intelligently and responsibly we are deploying human capital, that is, using up people’s lives.

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