Thursday, 30 December 2010

Redistribution of production

Another article about Japanese NEETs (Not in Employment Education or Training)...

When I read articles like this I can't help thinking that one day a better society will come, where many people who today feel miserable for being out of work will be able to find worthwhile things to do rather easily, even if they are unemployed - things like writing, or cooking, or building things, or taking care of others, or just helping in with whatever - and all that would be valued. It would not be looked down on as idle or useless or as mere preparation for "real" work.

The precondition for that, however, is a redistribution of resources not only for consumption but also for production. Not production of whatever, but of things that will be valued by society, that will be recognized as good and important. People today who are unemployed do have access in a certain sense to means of production - they have their brains, their muscle power and perhaps even tools and material to work with - but what they don't have is the possibility of producing things that will be valued by society. No matter how hard they work, they will be looked down upon as a burden for others. Distributing money - the means of consumption - is certainly necessary to help these people get by in today's society, but it won't be enough since it won't free them from dependency.

The word "dependency" must be used with care. Employed people too are dependent. The dependency I am talking about is not dependency on welfare or the benevolence of other humans. I am talking about being dependent on the labor market. The root of that dependency is plain to see. Historically, people only became dependent on the labor market when they lost access to the means of production, for instance by being driven from the land through enclosures. The so-called idleness of the unemployed is a symptom of our dependency on the labor market just as much as the work (or overwork) of the employed. Liberating them from their idleness by grooming them for another bout of precarious employment by job-coaching will not free them from this dependency.

This is no advocacy of self-sufficiency or independence from the productive activity of others. The problem is not the division of labor per se, but having access to the means of production. Let there be division of labor - that's fine!

The solution is not to limit oneself to activities that sell. Such a world would be intolerable. We know it isn't true that only such activities are valueable. The solution can only be that every meaningful and useful activity be awarded value.

That would include activities like music, poetry or drama, or the writing of books and blogs, or household work, or planting flowers and vegetables, or caring for the elderly, or the building of barricades (Benjamin's favorite example of unsalaried work), or Marx' famous "criticizing in the afternoon". All of these are activities that usually don't sell - but we all know that they are worth a damn. It isn't true that they are valueless.

If our deepest hunches don't accord with the facts - desto schlimmer für die Tatsacken!

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