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Porritt Major

Just what is it that they teach at Eton?

Heading up the field is, of course, the Obama ‘big bang’. $888 billion in all, of which around $150 billion could be said be genuinely green or sustainable. Over the longer term, the US President is talking about $150 billion just for clean energy and energy efficiency over 10 years – with the "double dividend" of up to 5 million jobs.

Hasn\’t anyone told him that jobs are a cost of such schemes, not a benefit?

And, given that this bloke is in fact a government advisor, that he influences how your and my tax money is spent, can someone go around and explain it to him? Forcefully, if need be?

11 thoughts on “Porritt Major”

  1. Jobs aren’t a cost when the unemployed gather burning brands and march on London, burning your house down in the process.

  2. I’ve been thinking for a while this is only part of the story. If I sell you a widget, it’s a cost for you but a benefit to me. One person’s sale is another person’s purchase. If I sell you my labour, that’s a benefit to me and indirectly to my suppliers, the shopkeepers and bartenders who get most of my money. But my labour is a cost to you.

    Porritt there is talking about both inputs (money) and outputs (energy, energy efficiency, paid workers). I don’t support this scheme, but transactions have two sides.

  3. from my own limited experience of the Eton-educated, what they inculcate in their charges above all else is an absolute and unshakeable self-confidence

  4. Tim

    I follow your blog and generally agree with you.
    However – and I ask this in a serious spirit of enquiry – can you go further in explaining your line that jobs are a cost – more specifically, do you mean that they are nothing but a cost, or do you recognise that there is some extra-theoretical, post-bottom line benefit to employment which is worth subsidising to some extent, and that it’s merely the question of the extent which is important?

    Clearly, I understand in dry economic terms that jobs are a cost – if I employ 10 men to build a car, the cost of that labour is a factor in the eventual price I need to charge. If I can reduce that number of men to five I can reduce the cost etc.

    You often make this general argument in relation to supermarkets, too.

    But is not the reductio ad infinitum of your argument that it would be a good thing for all possible tasks to be performed by machines and systems, and not by people (machines not requiring wages, benefits, not falling ill or taking sickies etc etc)?

    And would that be a good thing in your view? If not, why not?



  5. Charles:

    Neither tools nor machines perform tasks. People perform tasks and in many cases may be aided by tools, some of which are machines.

    It is a very generally accepted truth that tasks performed with the aid of tools (which include machinery) are more productive (i.e., cheaper: more, better, or faster) than without.

    The tools do not reduce the number, size, and quality of tasks which may be accomplished by people; they increase it enormously.

    Nor could it ever be possible that the need of human labor be eliminated through the use of machinery (to believe so would be to believe that human need and wants are capable of full and complete satisfaction).

    Actually, the employment of tools (including machinery) is a testament to the value of human labor and its expense. It says to the replaced worker “Your particular performance is more highly valued for some other task.” It does not tell the worker what that task is or where it might exist; for that information, the worker must look to the market.

    It is obvious that, from the “combined view of
    everyone,” i.e., “the market,” that, other things being equal, more in the way of product and less in the way of expense is better. What reduces expense in securing the result is good, precisely because the resulting surplus (whether of material or labor resources) can now be used for the satisfaction of other, as-yet-not-satisfied human wants. In that sense, life has become fuller and less troublesome and expensive for everyone, though the displaced worker is put into the position of being obliged to seek other employment.

    It is also obvious that, in producing various goods and services for the general public, a government is under the same limitations as any private enterprise when it comes to the use of labor. Every waste means that another task remains unfulfilled and that the price of what there is for everyone is therefore higher and there is less of whatever it is. Here, the difference is that the private enterprise will incur losses as the result of competition, while the governmental function, at worst, will experience dissatisfaction (for which eventuality they shall have employed thousands of the best and brightest in the construction and distribution of their perennial “most reliable output,”: that of excuses and propaganda) and, possibly, some change in their composition when next voting takes place.

    In this (last-mentioned) is also to be seen the principal reason for the focus on “jobs created.”
    All those employed by the government or in sectors whose main client is the government see the creation of additional jobs as “protection” and enhancement of their own; the prospect of an increase in government jobs is, likewise, attractive to those who might wish to gain such employment (whether now employed or not).
    Lastly, the prospect for more government jobs is of interest to those comfortably unemployed
    and desirous of the continuation of the status quo. The three mentioned groups all form a political “bloc” on whose votes can be counted by the proponents of increased government activity and employment.

  6. Thanks Gene.

    Trust me, I’m no big governmentista. I simply wonder – and I am wondering, not saying that this is the case – whether or not there is a point at which the theory, of all these people being freed up to do better things, comes into conflict with reality, which is that few of them are able to do this.

    Take, for instance, bookshops. (I assume here that books themselves will still exist.)

    Within 20 years, I think, there will be no bookshops. There will be huge warehouses staffed by minimal numbers of engineers who oversee the machines that will pick, package and dispatch them to readers.

    Yes, there will need to be delivery drivers (until such point as delivery driving is automated) but the tens of thousands of people currently employed in bookshops will no longer be required.

    I understand that this might free them up to do other things, but will it?

    What will the 50-year-old assistant manager retrain for, for instance?

    Is it your argument that this is irrelevant, and that we are talking about the efficiency of life and that the 50-year-old assistant will simply find something to do or starve?

    And what of the social interaction that happens in shops – this will go to. Is there any cost to this loss, whether solid (people become withdrawn) or evntuating (withdrawn people do things which have economic costs – school shootings and so on. I appreciate this is an extreme example, but still.).

    I understand that there are many issues – Ludditism, the failure of our education system to prepare people for change in order that the theory might be more practical – but I wonder whether this concept of the ‘job as cost’ is as firm as I thought it was (and Tim and you still seem to think it is)?


  7. Charles:

    All of the points you raise are valid: they exist. But, that being said, it does not follow that it is the function of government either to retard material progress or to recompense those whose economic or financial position shall have been diminished by the particular improvement. It is a plain fact that every change, not just paradigm-shifts, injures the interests of some while benefiting others, esapecially those who’ve been either remarkably slow or remarkably fast to appreciate the nature, direction, and magnitude of such change.

    It is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless, that the very essence of life is, no matter the number of satisfactions attained, that perfect satisfaction is forever beyond our grasp.

    It is also a fact that the ordinary human being, the much-catered-to “common man” is a very adaptable chap. Whether digging a ditch, toting a column of figures, framing a house, driving a truck, analyzing chemical samples, or serving in any of the capacities under the “law enforcement” banner, he can do an at least adequate job, due allowance being made for physical and cognitive deficits, etc. What’s more there are many categories of employment that are almost always short of hands, even though some may require a certain period of training to attain whatever is the income level the market has connected with that requirement.

    Almost everyone is capable of appreciating the pain or discomfort attendant on the loss of a decent, accustomed job and its associated income. But only the seriously misguided can view a system of semi-support which interferes with and blunts that individual’s inwrought impulse to improve his situation as ” a good thing”; part of such misguidedness is the constant barrage of propaganda from those political elites whose purpose is served by the very existence of a large bloc of unfortunates who have given up on themselves (wholly or in part) as any other than “unwanted” entirely dependent on benefits doled in their direction by those they believe to be serving their need.

    The choices are actually clearer than you think: it’s down to corrupting your fellow man when he is vulnerable (because we’re all corruptible, especially when we’re vulnerable) or allowing him to improve (because we’re all improvable).

  8. Thanks Gene.

    Again, I take your points; again, I am as much against the self-serving political elites who are ruining this country as you are, I imagine.

    However, I am simply saying that there is some middle ground where – as Tim concedes on his newer post on this – the cost is worth paying because the benefit, though not obviously tangible, is there.

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