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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Why Philip Green's fall should bring down the honours system – but won't

Sir Shifty may fall in disgrace, but our ridiculous system will endure. No matter what's happening in the rest of politics.

Sir Philip Green’s Efficiency Review (2010) is his Das Kapital and it is still, happily, online. You can, if you wish, smirk at his recommendations to the government, which were solicited by David Cameron, I imagine, because when he stood next to Green he looked not like a 17th-century woodcut but like a tall, handsome semi-aristocrat.

“There is no motivation to save money or to treat cash ‘as your own’,” Green grumbles, before complaining, “There are inconsistent commercial skills across departments.” I am weeping with laughter at the whole report. But I’m not one of those BHS employees watching their pension ­vanish as the hideous cushions, throws and bedspreads pile up on the Green family yacht Lionheart. I instantly rename the yacht 14-Day Return Policy No More.

The days when Green could write efficiency reviews for people to ignore are gone. It is said that he could lose his knighthood, because that would be exciting and pointless. If so, I hope the ceremony features the formal rending of a garment from the BHS sale bin – perhaps a torn sock will be flung at his head? The Queen will not be happy, because de-knighting makes the ancient system of patronage look as ridiculous as it really is. Do intercessors between man and God make mistakes? Would they raise a man the Daily Mail now calls “Sir Shifty”? (I checked whether there was a Sir Shifty among the knights of the Round Table who flogged the Holy Grail to a passing tinker. There was not.)

Lord Melbourne advised Queen Victoria not to attempt to make her husband, Albert, a king, for if the people knew that they could make kings, they might unmake them. Green will discover this in his tiny way. But the elites should not hide their baubles. One fallen knight will not destroy the system (and I cannot think that Green will take £571m from his Lionheart cushion budget to save his knighthood by replenishing the BHS pension fund, because a knighthood is, in essence, just a tiny Bentley Continental that you wear over your nipple). One fallen knight should destroy the system but it won’t, because human conceit and docility are without end. Green will be shunned. Nothing will change.

One might have hoped that the Brexit vote would have alerted Cameron to the abyss between the electorate and the elected. (Even Alastair Campbell, chomping against Brexit, seemed to forget that he was as complicit in the alienation of voters as anyone else: government by sofa, teeth and war.) The response was glib, even for Cameron, a man so glib that I sometimes think he is a reflection in a pond. Brexit hit him like someone caught in a mild shower without an umbrella. He hummed at the lesson that history dealt him; he hummed as he left his page. It was the hum of the alpha Etonian caught out in a mistake, yes, but it was still a bloody hum.

His next act was to increase pay-offs to favoured courtiers against civil service advice and at public expense; then, it was reported, he nominated his spin doctor Craig Oliver and his former spin doctor Gabby Bertin for peerages, because the upper house needs more PRs. He has learned nothing. I wish him a relaxed retirement in which he will, apparently, write his four-page memoir, David Cameron: My Struggle (sub-subtitle: Eton Mess?). I hope he does not attempt to deny “the prosciutto affair”, because there is no need. It was not true. It was too pure a metaphor.

So the honours system, an essential part of our alienating politics, alongside dodgy donors, duck houses and George Galloway, endures in its worst form as conventional politics fails. It is a donkey sanctuary for political friends and Bruce Forsyth. I am not suggesting that everyone who has been honoured is dreadful – some lollipop ladies deserve to be patronised with an OBE (when there is no E any more), I am sure, and the lords, some of whom are excellent, are the functional opposition now – but the system can no longer be defended by the mirth potential of watching politicians ponder what light-entertainment celebrities might swing a marginal before being posthumously accused of rape. We must find something better before the house burns down. Perhaps a robust parliamentary democracy?

The problem is best expressed by the existence of a specialist consultancy called Awards Intelligence, which engages in “VIP brand-building” by soliciting awards. It sells “awards plans” from £795, which I could well imagine Philip Green perusing as he bobs about aboard Lionheart, were it not too late. The Awards Intelligence website tells us so much, though obliviously, about the narcissism of modern politics that I am tempted to reproduce it in full. But I will merely report that it asks:

"Did you know that you can join the House of Lords on a part-time basis as an Independent Crossbench Peer or a political peer affiliated to one of the main politial parties – even if you have ongoing work, family or community commitments!"

The message from Awards Intelligence, which boasts of a 50 per cent success rate, is clear: the legislature is part-time, it exists to “instil trust, add credibility and provide a platform for you to have your say” – and it can’t always spell “political”.

Sir Shifty and Awards Intelligence do not constitute the worst crisis in the history of honours, dreadful though they are. During the First World War the royal German cousins were stripped of their garters, so that British soldiers would not have to kill men of higher rank. But it is time for the Queen to stop pinning toys on nipples. They are part of a political system sweeping us, swiftly, towards the night.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue