Right at last

Too Right!

A regular column by John Black


?Work, the curse of the drinking classes?, my father used to announce every Sunday night as he mentally prepared himself for the start of the working week. There was a brief period between being old enough to understand what he meant and realising he?d stolen it from Oscar Wilde where this line had me admiring his cleverness. I should have known better. His next best line was ?here son, pull my finger.?

The line impresses even less now. A stock Wildean quip: flippant ironic inversion trading wisdom for wit.

Wilde, quaffing chateau de wanker in London drawing rooms, knew a thing or two about drinking but he knew bugger all about work.

Far from being a curse, work, for the humbler members of our society, can be a source of pride and essential dignity.

With the launch of Mana in Mahi (Strength in Work) the Labour Government recognizes this. Putting young people who have been on the dole for more than six months to work (three months more than originally promised) by paying employers a subsidy. Though the scheme is small (a 150-person pilot, expanding to 4000 people next year) and rife with potential hazards (employers ditching existing employees for cheaper subsidized ones, its voluntary nature) it is at long last, a step in the ?right? direction. The last time the government tinkered with welfare they removed the requirement for women seeking the sole parent benefit to name the father of their child now sucking on the state?s tit. Mana in Mahi is a welcome, if slight improvement.

There was a time, long, long ago when Jacinda was still playing with Barbie dolls (I bet Ken always did the dishes) that Labour governments were actually concerned with well, labour. Not climate change or legalizing pot or ensuring bald Canadians don?t say nasty things about Muslims but making life a little easier for the guys who collect the garbage or build the roads. Of course, those of us on the right will say the best way to do this is by getting the IRD off their backs and cutting the red tape that slows business growth. Schemes to get young people working (leading to apprenticeships and hopefully independence from the state) is laudatory from our side of the aisle.

In our current low unemployment climate, such schemes are not high priority. This will soon change.

The defining social policy issue of the coming decade is going to be whether or not to implement a U.B.I.? Universal basic income is a response proposed by both right and left (in different forms) to the rapid increase in automation made possible by recent A.I breakthroughs. The global management consulting firm McKinsey predicts 1/3 of Americans will lose their jobs to automation by 2030. One. Third.

And it?s only going to get worse. McKinsey claims

” […] currently demonstrated technologies could automate 45 percent of the activities people are paid to perform. […]”end quote.

As the Don says, this is ?uge.

America has 1.7 million taxi and delivery drivers and over 2 million truckers. Most middle-aged men. What are these guys going to do when Tesla perfects its self-drive automobile? Retrain and become florists? The Industrial revolution produced riots and the Luddites. The automated revolution could produce gangs of men all with mullets and named ?Lonnie?, going after software engineers with tyre irons.

It?s underway here too. Look at your local supermarket. Count the check-out girls (sorry, the check-out non-binary, gender fluid, your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine, oh man they just winked at me and now I?m really uncomfortable, people). The automatic check-out machines outnumber them.

In the U.S, Andrew Yang, author of a book on the coming labour market crisis caused by automation The War on normal people, is running for president (2020).

His single policy platform is giving all Americans between the ages 18 and 64, 1000 U.S a month, no strings attached. He?s a man of the left, but the conservative intellectual Charles Murray has made a similar call. Even the high priest of free market capitalism, Milton Friedman, was keen on ?a negative income tax?, which amounts to the same thing.

The devil is in the detail. Decoupling work from survival is a radical move and will both hugely expand the power of the state and the number of people dependant on it. The moral hazard is obvious ? even more 120 kg World of Warcraft addicted basement dwellers.

Why leave the house for a building site or an office when you get paid to stay home?

Work is essential for all sorts of psychological and social reasons. The satisfaction that you have a domain of competence is especially crucial to young men, as is social connections through work (the guys in the basement may never interact with a woman who isn?t Lara Croft or their mum bringing in their laundry.)

It?s not just about the money.

Let?s hope that?s something governments don?t forget.