More Tory disinformation on the economy

Now, Iain Duncan Smith is at it.

More misinformation from another cabinet minister at the Tory jamboree in Cardiff. Iain Duncan Smith told the conference that unemployment was less of a problem than some have suggested. "It's short-sighted to say there aren't any jobs at the moment. The fact is, there are around half a million vacancies in the economy at the moment," he said. "It's not the absence of jobs that's the problem. It's the failure to match the unemployed to the jobs there are."

OK, let's take a look at this dumb claim. It is true that there are two and a half million unemployed people and half a million vacancies; so there are five unemployed people chasing each recorded vacancy. But to put that in context, exactly two years ago, there were two million unemployed and 677,000 vacancies -- or one vacancy for every three unemployed people. So, at the very least, it is harder to find a job than it was two years ago, as there aren't enough jobs. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that out.

It turns out that capitalist economies need some unemployment to allow for the rebalancing away from goods that people don't want to goods that they do. That means there is an available pool of labour for these new firms to hire from. It is also efficient for an economy to allow people to move between jobs they don't like to ones that they do. That is why we subsidise search. The problem comes when unemployment durations lengthen, as they have recently. Today, a third of the unemployment durations are more than 12 months long, compared with 22 per cent two years ago. Skills deteriorate when no jobs are available, which is why recessions hurt.

A further problem is that there is a mismatch between the skills the unemployed have and those required for the vacancies. There is also the problem that the vacancies are in one place and the unemployed live elsewhere. There are jobs available as experienced brain surgeons in London but the unemployed are 22 years old, with no experience and no qualifications and live in Middlesbrough. Nearly a million of the total stock of unemployed people are under the age of 25. How exactly are they going to fill the vacancies that require experience? The only way to get a job is to have experience but the only way to get experience is to have a job.

Over the past two years, overall employment fell by 210,000 while employment of those aged between 16 and 24 fell by 351,000. In contrast, the employment of those aged between 25 and 34 increased by 171,000, while that of those who are 35 and over fell by 30,000. This doesn't look like a failure to fill available vacancies. The jobs have gone. Plus, the government is reducing funding for training, so that is going to make it harder to solve the mismatch problem. And there is a public-sector hiring freeze. Too many unemployed, chasing too few jobs.

The problem is the lack of vacancies, not the fact that the unemployed don't want to get on their bikes. It is not their fault, as much as you might like it to be. The unemployed are there involuntarily and not by choice. Sorry Iain, back to the drawing board. There just aren't enough jobs at the moment and things are going to get much worse -- and soon.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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Jeremy Corbyn's fans must learn the art of compromise

On both sides of the Atlantic, democracy is threatened by a post-truth world. 

Twenty years ago, as a new and enthusiastic Labour MP, I wrote an article for The Observer in praise of spin. I argued that if citizens are to be properly informed and engaged in their democracy, politicians - and in particular governments - have a duty to craft their messages carefully and communicate them cogently. It was a controversial notion then but less so now that we have entered the era of post-truth politics. In the old days, we used to "manage" the truth. Now we have abandoned it. 

We’ve probably come further than we think, for when truth is discarded, reason generally follows. Without a general acceptance of the broad "facts" of any matter, there can be little basis for rational debate nor, therefore, for either the consensus or the respectful disagreement which should emerge from it. Without a commitment to truth, we are free to choose and believe in our own facts and to despise the facts of others. We are free too to place our faith in leaders who make the impossible seem possible. 

We condemn the dictatorships which deny their citizens the right to informed and open debate. But in our own societies, unreasoned and often irrational politics are entering the mainstream. 

The politics of unreason

In the UK, the Leave campaign blithely wedded brazen falsehood to the fantasy that Brexit would cure all ills – and millions of voters enthusiastically suspended their disbelief.  “We want our country back” was a potent slogan - but no less vacuous than the pledge to “make America great again” on which Donald Trump has founded his election campaign. On both sides of the Atlantic, people want to take back control they know they never had nor ever will.

Both campaigns have deliberately bypassed rational argument. They play instead to the emotional response of angry people for whom reason no longer makes sense. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, democracy’s critics have warned of the ease with which reason can be subverted and citizens seduced by the false oratory of charismatic leaders. Trump is just the latest in a long line of the demagogues they feared. He may not make it to the White House, but he has come a long way on unreasoning rhetoric - and where he leads, millions faithfully follow. He has boasted that he could commit murder on Fifth Avenue without losing votes and he may well be right.

But if Trump is extreme, he is not exceptional. He is a phenomenon of a populism of both right and left which has once more begun to challenge the principles of parliamentary democracy.

Democracy in decline

All over Europe and the United States, consumer-citizens are exasperated by democracy’s failure to meet their demands as fully and as fast as they expect. If the market can guarantee next day delivery, why can’t government? The low esteem in which elected politicians are held is only partly the consequence of their failings and failures. It is also evidence of a growing disenchantment with representative democracy itself. We do not trust our politicians to reflect our priorities. Perhaps we never did. But now we’re no longer prepared to acknowledge their unenviable duty to arbitrate between competing political, social and economic imperatives, nor ours to accept the compromises they reach - at least until the next election.

We have become protesters against rather than participants in our politics and, emboldened by hearing our chosen facts and beliefs reverberating around cyber space, have become increasingly polarised and uncompromising in our protest. 

The Trumpy Corbynites

Which brings us to Labour. Despite the obvious political differences between Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump, there are striking similarities in the movements which have coalesced around them. For many of their supporters, they can simply do no wrong; each criticism provides further evidence of a corrupt establishment’s conspiracy against them; rivals, including those who share many of their beliefs, are anathematised; unbelievers are pursued across the internet; inconvenient facts are reinterpreted or ignored; rational, civil debate is shut down or drowned out. 

There are other similarities in these insurgencies: both mistake slogans for policies and mass rallies for popular support; both are overwhelming and quite possibly destroying their own parties – and both, ultimately, are movements without practical purpose.

Trump may give vivid expression to his followers’ grievances but, other than building a wall along the Mexican border, his plans for government are obscure. Similarly, while Corbyn and his supporters know what they’re against, they have not yet articulated a clear vision of what they’re for, much less how it can be achieved. For many of them, it is enough to be "anti-Blairite". 

But in disassociating themselves from a Labour prime minister’s mistakes, they are also dismissing their party’s achievements under his leadership. Their refusal to acknowledge the need for compromise may well enable them to avoid the pitfalls of government. But government’s potential to bring about at least some of the change they want does not come without pitfalls. In wanting it all, they are likely to end up with nothing.

The art of compromise

Democracy cannot be sustained simply by what passionate people oppose. And though movements such as Momentum have important roles to play in influencing political parties, they cannot replace them. Their supporters want to be right - and they often are. But they are rarely prepared to test their principles against the practical business of government. The members of political parties want, or should want, to govern and are prepared, albeit reluctantly, to compromise – with each other, with those they seek to represent, with events -  in order to do so. Parties should listen to movements. But movements, if they are to have any practical purpose, must acknowledge that, for all its limitations, the point of politics is power.

We have to trust that the majority of American voters will reject Donald Trump. But closer to home, if Labour is to have a future as a political force, Corbyn’s supporters must learn to respect the historic purpose of the Labour party at least as much as they admire the high  principles of its current leader. There isn’t long for that realisation to take hold.

In the UK as in the US and elsewhere, we need to rediscover the importance of common cause and the art of compromise in forging it. The alternative is a form of politics which is not only post-truth, post-reason and post-purpose, but also post-democratic. 

Peter Bradley is a former MP and director of Speakers' Corner Trust, a UK charity which promotes free speech, public debate and active citizenship.