Saturday, November 26, 2011

Financial Armageddon - National and Personal Responses?

The Beatles pop group I think it was, sung that; "a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure." Work can also give the worker a dignity and feeling of self worth but by the same tokens the high value of a having a job   can give rise to exploitation particularly by those who can offer a chance of employment in times of long dole queues.  Possibly the  balance struck by employment protection laws in many western countries between encouraging the creation of new jobs and protecting the rights of workers favours workers' rights a little over much and places too little emphasis on  their responsibilities. However workers tend to be the weaker parties to employment contracts so most employers should be able to cope.

Western nations appear at risk of suffering from serious financial meltdowns but their ordinary citizens still assume (as witness the waves of strikes affecting several countries) that the state will provide as much after financial armageddon as before. It is noteworthy too that those who protest against what they term globalisation  have little to suggest as alternative ways of  providing employment or helping the disadvantaged beyond clobbering wayward bankers.

 In the UK whatever is suggested to bring state spending and state income more into balance causes outcries of selfrighteous indignation from both the political left and right and even greens (Brighton). Any government which listened  to the people and read the whole spectrum of opinion even in the more informed newspapers would be at risk of doing absolutely nothing which  possibly  explains the Eurozone countries'  continuing indecisiveness.

Raising taxes in the UK is never going to be popular - 'I pay too much already' - will be the outcry. Cutting welfare state benefits likewise will cause others to complain of 'the poorest being hit the hardest' and even government attempts to mitigate local council tax increases may be spurned as the Green party is doing in Brighton. Upon analysing each of these reactions more than an element of good compassionate or logical justifications for them will be found but  sadly  such  do not  pay the bills.

Current mindsets are  the  product of years of relative increases in national wealth when democracy and debate caused the balance between state spending and income to  switch  (usually moderately) to and fro   in reflection of the prevailing political climate. Citizens have in the past been encouraged to feel that they have a right to a basic standard of living and that  the State should increase this  in line with individuals' needs if not wants especially for those not in   work. Those in receipt of income from work or  non-state sources tend to want to keep  the state's cut in check.

 Global things financial  have  substantially changed . Individual mindsets have yet to change to reflect this. An absence of cash is often resolved by borrowing but where lenders have little cash or themselves go on lending strike how then is payment to be made? The UK government is not going to run out of cash anytime soon but belt tightening will inevitably hit many who  already  feel poor. That brings me back to the issue of whatever is proposed to try to balance the country's finances there will be vociferous complaint from one quarter or another.

The arguments of Brighton's Greens are too full of local government-speak for me to unravel  but Westminster City has a Tory run council on a completely different part of the political spectrum to Brighton's Greens. Westminster is proposing to levy car parking charges for most of the nights whereas currently its car parking charges mostly apply during daytimes only. Westminster is on the whole, an affluent part of London hugely well served by public transport day and night.  Raising money by a  new levy on car parking  would hardly hit the poorest hardest. The new levy could even result in people reviewing their quite significant personal   financial priority being given to car ownership and encourage less costly alternatives such as car clubs which abound in London or heaven forbid, night buses.

However the outcry against this proposed new car parking charge is enormous. The London Evening Standard newspaper is against it so are many churches who fear that their congregations will even be  deterred  by car parking fees from attending  services. That viewpoint  sadly says little for  the depth of religious fervour - the devil needs only to don  traffic warden attire to secure the closure of cathedrals and churches in Westminster then?  Theatre owners are hardly any better with talk of people shunning West end shows if they have to pay to park their cars. In my view this is nonsense as commercial car parks have  always charged for out of office hours parking. Again there is a dearth of suggested  alternatives  beyond more talk of  banker bashing.

But government spending and taxation are only part of the problem. Individual mindsets too as I have mentioned need changing. Unemployment particularly among young people is far worse now than was the case when the Beatles sang their song. Nonetheless recent news reports indicate that some young British job seekers may not be as hungry for employment as their counter parts from countries which historically were not as wealthy as the UK has been. This  disparity I fear may explain some of the restrictive mindset affecting  UK but not Eastern European workers. The was an article recently  about the Pret a Porter sandwich food shop chain. According to the news report the majority of young workers in many of its  shops come from Eastern Europe even though the vacancies are open to all including British youth to apply for. The old mind set needs to be changed.

Nearer to  home the school of which I am a governor has been seeking two recent graduates to go with Jesuit Missions to undertake work voluntarily for a few months with a poor school in Zimbabwe. Accommodation and some pocket money would be provided yet no one so far has come forward despite the fact that a 6 months stint in school work in Africa would not only be beneficial to the UK students as well as to the local children, but also would I think look impressive on the UK  students' CVs, which in turn could facilitate their job searches on return to the UK.

Even closer to home, maytrees min. upon graduating determined that she need to earn some money  to fund a few months student  travel before taking on longer term employment. After tramping the streets and malls for days and asking shop managers for any available  work she secured some  hard but paid retail work.  That in turn seems to have assisted with the quest (over several weeks and months but just  possibly successful) for longer term employment upon the traveler's return in 2012.

Possible conclusions to be drawn from the above therefore are that dignity as well  the need to earn one's daily bread and day of leisure, derive from employment. Unemployment is therefore a scourge on society. Society does need to provide financial safety nets to cushion the tragedy of  unemployment but the young  person has to play his or her part by rolling up sleeves by strenuously seeking and taking on any available work even if that means initially a lowering of  aspirations.


  1. One of your very best posts, Jerry. I agree with everything you say but could never have put it as well as you.
    I think all of us, not just young people, have got to understand that we can hammer at the door of the State until we're blue in the face - the fact is there's nothing the other side of the door!

  2. TX Barnaby - You are too kind though.

    I fear that there are some hard financial times to come - worse than most people in the West born after WWII (inc. just, yrs truly) would in the normal way of things have yet experienced. Possibly with the benefit of hindsight Harold MacMillan's; "we've never had it so good", applied a few years after his time. Again with the benefit of hindsight it was probably too good for our own good. Now the bill is coming, which we all have to pay.

    Meanwhile the Chinese establishment, with its vastly different and to me anyway alien-looking, religious, political and economic systems, is waiting in the wings...


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