Skidelsky is not, actually, an economist

We might call him an historian, a political economist possibly – as Spud calls himself – and even a biographer but:

Robert Skidelsky, in a chapter of a new book, The Return of the State, sketched out some ideas for what the UK government should do, including taking responsibility for all procurement affecting the health of the nation; a public sector job guarantee for the unemployed; ensuring sufficient demand through redistribution rather than relying on personal debt; and capital controls to reduce government dependence on international credit markets. In the current climate, none sound nearly as unfeasible as they would have done five years ago.

Food affects health – as we keep being told – so government is going to buy all the food? Worked well for the Soviets.

But it’s the capital thing that is lunatic. We run trade deficits. Therefore we import, not export, capital. So, we impose capital controls and we have less capital in the country. We also tax all the capital off the rich folks to redistribute to increase demand and – well, who in buggery has capital left to lend to the government?

18 thoughts on “Skidelsky is not, actually, an economist”

  1. Has he worked on an NHS procurement? If he hasn’t then he doesn’t know anything of the subject matter.

  2. These “capital controls”, that was when you were only allowed to take £50 with you on a foreign holiday, right? Of course, we are more Progressive nowadays and the proles won’t be permitted foreign holidays, so this won’t be a problem.

  3. Why would a government able to print all the money it will ever need have to worry about “international credit markets”?

  4. “The Return of the State, sketched out some ideas for what the UK government should do…”

    They always do ‘sketch out’ their ideas.

    “The government should make everything work and everyone happy and give everyone a great well paid job and then we would all live happily ever after”

    Any idea HOW they would do that?

    “No”

  5. I seem to have fallen asleep and have found myself in some sort of waking nightmare. These morons are going to kill us all.

  6. “lend to the government”? Why on earth do you think thay have any intention of handing it back?

  7. “Even the unemployable..?”

    I’ve never understood the whole ‘job guarantee’ thing. What does such a scheme do with people who don’t want to work? Who don’t even bother to turn up to it? Can you get sacked from your JG job? Because if you aren’t prepared to give the workshy and the malingerers the elbow and no money then how is it any different to the welfare system we have? Ultimately any JG system has to have a ‘do this or else’ element to it, if that is absent then it becomes a free money for doing nothing scheme, like the welfare system now, just more generous.

  8. Jim +1
    Can just imagine the bleeding heart liberals at the Graun et al banging on about how some poor single mother with six kids was made to do some dreadful job by some exploitative capitalists and couldn’t look after the kids blah blah blah evil Tories blah blah.

  9. “Skidelsky Is Not, Actually, An Economist”: you can say that again. I sat next to him at dinner once and took the chance to quiz him on Keynesian economics. He didn’t seem to know much. My “intelligent schoolboy’s” knowledge of the subject seemed deeper. On the sort of simple microeconomics that would be familiar to the owner of a sweetie shop he didn’t seem better informed either.

  10. @Jim

    There are some job guarantee schemes that have been practically implemented, the biggest (I think) is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Rural_Employment_Guarantee_Act,_2005

    The deal for rural workers (who are vulnerable during an agricultural downturn, poor crop season etc) is that if they volunteer for it, they can get 100 days of low-pay unskilled labour on public works projects. Though the point of the scheme isn’t really to get public works done in an inefficient way, that’s entirely secondary to the poverty reduction. The idea being that people will only claim this work when times are bad on the farms, but it’s there if they need it.

    Not sure what the British equivalent would be. Litter picking? Some menial desk-based work like transcribing Victorian census forms or birth records? No doubt we would need to provide more options for people unable to perform heavy manual labour than the Indian scheme bothers doing.

    The thing I don’t understand is what would be done about people who arrive for work but don’t really do anything while there. Managers in “real” jobs have disciplinary powers and ultimately the option to fire if needed. If the work is “guaranteed” can you really ban them from turning up for their day’s pay, thus violating their human rights and condemning them and their children to poverty etc etc?

    Something else I wonder…. if there’s no measurable output, why not just clock in on the morning, the chap managing the scheme tips you the wink, you deposit say 25% of the daily wage with him to keep him happy, you bugger off home, the manager clocks you off at the end of the day and makes sure your payment goes through… Nice little scheme for both of you. So would need a certain amount of monitoring for corruption. Not sure to what extent that’s an issue the way it works in India.

  11. “The thing I don’t understand is what would be done about people who arrive for work but don’t really do anything while there. Managers in “real” jobs have disciplinary powers and ultimately the option to fire if needed. If the work is “guaranteed” can you really ban them from turning up for their day’s pay, thus violating their human rights and condemning them and their children to poverty etc etc?

    Something else I wonder…. if there’s no measurable output, why not just clock in on the morning, the chap managing the scheme tips you the wink, you deposit say 25% of the daily wage with him to keep him happy, you bugger off home, the manager clocks you off at the end of the day and makes sure your payment goes through… Nice little scheme for both of you. So would need a certain amount of monitoring for corruption. Not sure to what extent that’s an issue the way it works in India.”

    Which is why I say there should be a welfare system that gives out free money, all you have to do to get it is go to a big warehouse somewhere local and sit on a chair for 6 hours and then you get your free cash. The advantage of this is that it makes getting welfare a ‘job’, you have to do something boring and a bit degrading to get your money. But anyone can do it, sitting in a chair is not beyond the dimmest member of society. It makes people get up and ‘go to work’ like those in paid employment, its non-gameable because you can’t pay someone to take your place because then they can’t go for themselves. Everyone has to be somewhere, they can’t be in 2 places at once. Its utterly flexible, you would be paid daily, so only have to go on the days when you have no other work. It could be tied in with classes for teaching basic skills, and have IT facilities for job applications and CV writing etc. But there would be no requirement to do anything other than sit there for 6 hours to qualify for the money. It could also be set up regionally, so the payments reflected local living costs.

  12. @Jim

    I can’t imagine such a thing ever being politically palatable, but it’s a coherent plan, perhaps plagued by the question of the social atmosphere that develops on the site. If it’s crowded out with people who are forbidden from chatting, playing on their phones or whatever, you might not be very far from prison-riot atmosphere as the hours tick down before they can collect the cash and leave. (And you’d never know how many people were going to attend on a particular day, so drafting in appropriate crowd management staff would be a problem.) On the other hand, if it were just a merry social occasion where you let people do whatever they want, within reason, there’d definitely be a public outcry about “what are we paying these people to do”. In fact I think there’d be a lot of popular pushback over that so long as e.g. litter was going unpicked or whatever menial job the Great British public would prefer these people to be set the task of.

    You’re definitely right it’s an advantage to have something totally non-gameable, and that attending skills classes etc should only ever be optional. When I worked in adult education, some of my colleagues had to teach basic skills courses that people were sentenced to attend. Petty criminals where the hope was if they developed their basic numeracy and literacy, there was an outside chance (or so went the theory) that some employer might just take them on. In practice, not a lot of learning went on in those classes. (Incidentally I think for a decent chunk of the long-term unemployed taking some form of skills classes – not necessarily maths/English – would be a sensible idea, more so than doing casual labouring. The problem with “turn up whenever you’re at a loose end” is that it makes scheduling delivery of classes essentially impossible, but it’s plausible to imagine people taking computer-based classes where you can learn at your own pace (possibly at the expense of not being able to learn a practical subject which might be more relevant than a more bookish one).

  13. @MBE: yes the social atmosphere would be a critical issue to manage. I would advocate against making it too prison like, because I consider the advantages of the scheme (its ungameablility, its flexibility to get money to people who need it when they need it, but still allow people to work, and the discipline it would engender in people by instilling a ‘got to get up to go to work’ attitude) are greater than having to defend it to the Daily Mail readers for being too soft. I’d rather defend such a scheme to them, and have the scheme running, than try and defend it from all the usual suspects (BBC/Guardian/generally Lefty types everywhere in government) and end up not getting it going in the first place. After all we don’t say that people who are on benefits can’t socialise during the day when everyone else is working do we? So I see no issue with allowing the units to become social hubs. As long as everyone has to check in and can’t leave until their ‘shift’ is up, then I think that’s enough discipline to make it still not that appealing to the average person on the street. Obviously no drinking or drugs would be allowed, I’d have police on site at all times as well to maintain a reasonable level of behaviour. It would be a good place for them to keep an eye out for wanted criminals anyway.

    The problem with litter picking and all other forms of workfare is that a) it costs a fortune as the people have to be managed by paid employees, b) no-one wants to be there so the work done is usually crap, c) you have to force people to be there, with penalties and disciplinary hearings etc etc. The beauty of my scheme is its self policing. Don’t turn up, no cash.

  14. Make the Jobless Payment Collection Point a 3 hour walk from the nearest car park. Some might run it to save time. Bit harsh on the disabled though. For older job-seekers there could be a 2 hour point.

  15. Paying people to sit around all day doing nothing has been extensively trialled with great success in the Public Sector, hasn’t it?

  16. Paying people to sit around all day doing nothing has been extensively trialled with great success in the Public Sector, hasn’t it?”

    Yes but they spend their time ‘at work’ trying to stop everyone else doing productive work as well as sitting around. At least my way keeps them off the streets and out of the way of the rest of us.

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