Friday, February 24, 2012

Crimefare

You have to admire the grand strategy on the Tories.  It's really brilliant - if I was committed to producing an economy that can't even come close to employing everyone who needs work, I'd encourage young people to take up careers in crime too.

Put simply, firing everyone you possibly can and forcing them to compete for scarce jobs while cracking down on unemployment benefits is a masterstroke, if your aim is to crush all hope out of your opponents' electoral base and empower your own.  If you force people to stand on each others' faces by keeping employment opportunities massively below demand, it creates a self-reinforcing cycle of impoverishment, lowered wages and public resentment, setting everyone at each other's throats rather than your own.

So their new workfare wheeze is a devastating victory.  I mean, I've had some terrible jobs in shops, bars and restaurants.  The first job I ever had paid £1.52 an hour in 1995; I've scrubbed urinals, hauled tables and kegs, mopped up more barf than I care to recall, scrubbed a bajillion ashtrays, hosed down bins and worked in pubs where you have a genuine fear that one of the punters might assault you at any second.  Of course, I'd go back to any of them in a flash rather than try to subsist on the dole, which is what makes Workfare so wonderfully vicious.

Since the saving grace of crap jobs is a barely-adequate wage and the possibility of advancement, why not remove even these motivations?  They carry the serious possibility of encouraging optimism and self-respect, and a workforce that possesses these traits might want to unionise, or something.  They've got to go!  Hence, workfare - all the shitty labour and none of the recompense.

So now, we have millions of kids spilling out of school looking for their first job.  Realistically, they know those jobs are going to be dire and drudgerous for the first few years, but at least they pay.  Confront these kids with bullshit like workfare instead of a respectable start to an actual career, and they're going to instantly clock that the British workplace is an exploitative scam designed explicitly to immiserate them for the benefit of others.

If I'd been put in that position at the age of eighteen, I might have started to notice that other acquaintances of mine were making good cash by cutting corners.  Drug dealers, for example, can make hundreds of pounds a week tax-free by sitting on their arses playing Playstation.  A skilled shoplifter can boost an acceptable wage from the High Street with only a couple of days' work a week.  Countless criminal behaviours offer a quick buck, even if the long-term prospects are grim beyond description.  Crime delivers  the kind of instant gratification that, not coincidentally, is usually only available to folk who work in the City.

And here's the genius part - once kids get into crime as a career, there's usually no way back out into the world of legitimate employment.  Tot up a couple of convictions - especially crimes of dishonesty like theft - and you can forget gainful employment, forever.  Not only that, but as a criminal you're now outside public sympathy.  Nobody feels sorry for burglars, and why should they?  Nobody should have to worry that some light-fingered little twat is ripping off their telly while they sleep.

This set-up creates all kinds of benefits, if you're an ideological fruitcake.  It divides working class people amongst themselves and creates a massive tranche of undeserving poor; it encourages great waves of public resentment for people on benefits, since it's easier to portray such people as layabouts and villains.  That justifies even nastier crackdowns; it creates a demand for the kind of gleaming prisons and coppers in space marine outfits that's guaranteed to get your law and order voter stiff as a rolling pin.  It distracts everyone from the plain fact that you are to blame for the mess our society is in, and sends flocks of furious electors to the polls to vote for more of the same.

It's really an impressive system, if you couldn't give a damn about whether Britain is a pleasant place to live or not.  If your ideal scenario is a country dotted by gated communities full of Croesus-rich suburbanites, surrounded by a great roiling ocean of resentful wage slaves and feral scumbags, then the present government's strategy is working like a charm.

Ho hum.  I'll say it again - I don't expect capitalism to be fair.  The clue is in the name, isn't it?

It just surprises me that our current model of capitalism - essentially, setting up a massive, heavily-rigged  scam for funneling as much of its rewards to a wealthy minority as possible while keeping the majority of people on the verge of bankruptcy - is now the accepted norm.  You'd think that people would look at that and say, hey, this all looks kind of unsustainable and destined for disaster, doesn't it?

Well, maybe that's the whole point - short-term gain for long-term... Who cares?  We'll burn that bridge when we come to it!  I certainly can't imagine another explanation for why seemingly intelligent people would foist this kind of hilariously obvious sting on the nation.

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