Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Stop The World!

It's not just Tories who fall into the trap of wanting to stop the world. Writing about the sad and untimely death of his economics tutor, Andrew Glyn, Chris Dillow links to an old post of his:

During the miners' strike, Andrew Glyn argued that the slogan "coal not dole" made economic sense. He said unprofitable pits should be kept open because the subsidy the government gave them was less than the tax-payer would spend on dole payments to unemployed miners; these, he thought, would not quickly find new jobs.
And it turns out that they didn't. Steve Fothergill says that, of the 213,000 mining jobs lost since 1985, 90,000 have not been replaced. What's more, many of the jobs that have been created in the former coalfields have come only recently; more than 50,000 since 2001.
And even these new jobs have required government help - so one set of subsidized jobs has replaced another.
All perfectly true, no doubt. This would also have been perfectly true of attempts to prevent the loss of jobs in, say, the weaving industry, had a welfare state existed in the nineteenth century. What hasn't been explained, so far as I have seen, is why it would make sense to freeze employment and industry in what would become an increasingly distant and irrelevant past, in order to avoid some immediate costs.

This could be because it makes no sense at all to do this. It's just a cry of "Stop the World! I want to get off".

3 comments:

Super Electro-Magnetic Midget Launcher said...

I think you're off-base about the "increasingly distant and irrelevant past" part. If you can effectively freeze employment and industry, the past need not become distant or irrelevant at all. Look at the caste system in India, for example. Or feudal Japan.

A Dillowist (Glynist?) social order can be perfectly viable, as long as you don't mind centuries of profound human suffering, with periodic colonization by more adaptable cultures for comic relief. The key to making it work is to apply your principles consistently. It's not enough to keep miners digging unprofitable coal out of the ground; you've got to keep a lid on other energy sources, so coal stays profitable. You can't just stop one change here and one change there. You've got to stop all change.

chrisdillow said...

I fear there's a misunderstanding here. What matters is how quickly displaced workers find other work. If the sacked miners had done so quickly, Thatcher's pit closure programme would have been rational. But they didn't. The sacked miners, on average, stayed on the dole for years. So taxpayers paid out more than they would have, had they been required to continue subsidizing mines.
Neither I nor Andrew were arguing for freezing employment in some past pattern; phased pit closures, with help to miners to find alternative work would have been quite acceptable.
The point is just that the idea of a flexible economy in which displaced workers swiftly find other useful work is sometimes a fiction - one that was used in this case to disguise what was really just class warfare.

Peter Risdon said...

Neither I nor Andrew were arguing for freezing employment in some past pattern; phased pit closures, with help to miners to find alternative work would have been quite acceptable.

That's fair enough, I'm happy to acknowledge that I misunderstood you (though the point might stand for some other commentators).

But it wasn't, at least wasn't just, class warfare. Scargill regarded it as a political strike, and was taken at his word. At least some miners lost their jobs because their union dragged them in (without a ballot) to a deliberate confrontation with the elected government.