Tonight I saw one of those typical chase-the-dole-bludger-and-force-him-to-let-you-find-him-a-job stories on TT/ACA/whatever. The journo was reading out quotes from “viewers” to the poor guy as he ran down a mall. Bitching about how unfair it was that he got to live on the dole while the rest of us suckers/highly moral people work hard to make ends meet.
This isn’t new, of course, but it struck me that no-one ever makes the obvious connection between two very popular tabloid “stories”. Everyone, it seems, wants to force dole-bludgers to work, even though they don’t want to, and everyone, it seems, wants to make it easier to sack lazy employees who don’t want to work. In other words, it’s all well and good to be outraged that people are living off society’s dime, and not contributing to society, but what about the business owner who ends up paying them not to work very hard?
It’s a pretty human desire to want to punish people who do the wrong thing, who openly flout the rules. But as much as people might want it, public policy shouldn’t primarily be about that. As I argued in the thread-that-shall-not-be-named, it’s possible to dislike a person’s private choices, without wanting to see punishment meted out by the state.
I wouldn’t have a great deal of respect for a friend who refused to work for no good reason, and who didn’t contribute anything else to society: making art, volunteering for charities, whatever. But even if I knew someone like that, I can’t think of a single policy change that wouldn’t create even bigger problems for society than paying out a small amount of money, all of which eventually goes back into the economy. Certainly, I don’t see how shaming him on national television helps his employment prospects.
While it’s reasonable to take concepts such as incentive into account, it’s also important to take into account the effects of various policies on all members of society. Newstart payments don’t just allow the unemployed to survive, they also ensure that the unemployed don’t have to resort to crime to feed and clothe themselves. They also allow all of us to share the burden of supporting those who refuse to work, rather than somehow finding them jobs and forcing one employer to shoulder all the burden.
It’s important to note, as people involved in social work often do, that the long-term unemployed (as opposed to those who are unemployed for short periods) are rarely that way simply because they stubbornly refuse to work, preferring to receive a free bonus of a below-poverty-line income. Self-esteem, mental health issues, lack of social and job skills – there are many reasons. It is important to remind people of all of these things, and hopefully also to work at solving them. But it’s also important, I think, to ask those who refuse to acknowledge these truths why the poor businessmen should be forced to do what they refuse to.