The Work Of Idle Hands: It's "jobs, jobs, jobs - and the taxes needed to pay for them - that we must have if we really do want to "keep the Devil down in the hole".
THE DEVIL, it is said, makes work for idle hands. And what hot work it can be! This past week, in London, Birmingham and Manchester, his handiwork has been prime-time viewing. In the baleful light of burning shops and offices, hundreds of hooded imps have auditioned for their roles in the fires below. A sort of Britain’s Got Talent … for Arson, Looting and Riotous Affray – with Lucifer sitting-in for Simon Cowell.
His Infernal Majesty, you see, takes many forms as he makes his way to-and-fro upon the earth. Sometimes he travels in the guise of a wizened media magnate; on other occasions he stretches out in the scented garden of a Tuscan villa; but always, your best chance of encountering the diabolical is on those well-worn paths between the world’s banks and the world’s treasuries.
Money, you see, or, more accurately, the excessive love of money, lies at the root of all evil. So when the Devil speaks it’s almost always in the language of transfer payments, fiscal deficits, debt ceilings, quantitative easing and … moral hazard.
Who else but the Devil would design a system which regularly swings a mighty scythe through the job market and then, having cast all those cut off from their livelihoods into a pitiless bureaucratic labyrinth dubbed (with Orwellian malevolence) “Welfare”, left them with a sum carefully calculated to keep them in a state of acute and unrelenting fiscal anxiety?
And, since torture ceases to be torture the moment it becomes bearable, only a truly diabolical agency would then demand that the people it has just confirmed as unemployed immediately embark on an endless quest for jobs that either do not exist, or will only be filled by those already in employment. Failure to participate in this cruel and confidence-destroying process will, of course, result in the “job-seekers’” vicious bureaucratic harassment, up to and including the arbitrary cessation of their meagre dole and threats of legal action.
Not that the Devil lacks humour. Taking the likeness of middle-aged public servant, he recently proposed that the refined tortures already tested on the unemployed be now applied to the physically and/or mentally ill, the disabled, and those attempting, single-handedly, to raise a young family on the Domestic Purposes Benefit.
THE NATIONAL PARTY is, of course, an old hand when it comes to translating the best of the Devil’s jokes into government policy. And what makes Lucifer laugh the loudest is how very few political conservatives understand that this is what they are doing.
How he must have chortled to hear New Zealand’s prime minister earnestly inform National’s annual conference that his government was going to teach young people self-reliance by paying their bills for them. Or that the key to solving unemployment lies in training 16-18-year-olds (who have just spend 10-13 years in the education system) for jobs that do not exist. And what a belly-laugh the Devil must have enjoyed to hear Mr Key and his Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennet, confirm that in order to foster adult responsibility, 18-25-year-olds would henceforth be regarded as children.
WHAT THE DEVIL would not find the least bit funny, however, is the work of Dale Williams, the Mayor of Otorohanga.
Mr Williams has grasped the simple truth that the way to teach young people responsibility, integrate them successfully into their communities, and give them a sense of personal pride in their achievements, is to make sure that their communities put them to work on a decent wage.
Otorohanga boasts zero youth unemployment, and all the other indices of social dysfunction among its youthful citizens have plummeted. The secret to Otorohanga’s success lies not only in its understanding that young hands must not be left idle, but also in knowing the critical importance of putting them to work in their own community – the place they call home.
NONE OF THIS IS NEW. In 1977, two US politicians, former Vice-President, Senator Hubert Humphrey, and a Black American congressman from Los Angeles, Augustus Hawkins, jointly introduced the Full Employment Bill. Not only did “Humphrey-Hawkins” enshrine the right of every American to gainful employment, but it also provided that if the private sector, alone, couldn’t sustain full-employment, the federal government would intervene to fill the gap.
As originally drafted, the Full Employment Bill required a radical enhancement of the Federal Government’s revenue base – which, presumably, is why President Jimmy Carter’s soulless administration watered it down to a pale shadow of its sponsors’ original intent. In the new era of right-wing economics ushered in by Ronald Reagan, “Humphrey-Hawkins” became even less than that – a shadow of a shadow.
But, they were right. It’s “jobs, jobs, jobs” – and the taxes needed to pay for them – that we must have if we really do want to “keep the Devil down in the hole”.
This essay way originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 16 August 2011.