And you know the myth I mean.   You know, there is loads of ‘hidden unemployment‘ that reflects some sort of Labour fiddle, taking the gloss out of the frankly wonderful unemployment figures (certainly compared to the gleeful alarmism of the Conservative press last summer).

Here is the TUC’s graph-strewn reply.

Eight million economically inactive people in 2010 simply doesn’t mean what it did in the 1990s, let alone the 1980s or 1970s. If we ask what proportion of working age people are economically inactive we get quite a different figure … Compared with the levels reached in the 70s and 80s recession (and, to a lesser extent, the 90s recession) current levels look comparatively respectable. Indeed, the latest figure, 21.5% in Nov – Jan 2010, is still very slightly lower than the 21.6% level inherited by the current government in Mar – May 1997.

The image of an out-of-work, skiving Britain, a pale and pasty offspring of its once glorious, manufacturing past, is one that fuels the miserabilist image of decline that then feeds the ‘philosophy’ of particular conservatives, of Left AND Right,  including Phillip Blond (“To those critics who will accuse him of romanticism and nostalgia, his defiant reply is the first page of the introduction: things were better in the past, and it’s not nostalgic to say so”).

They also draw attention to the reasons for being inactive:

two factors have been particularly significant. One is the growth of the working age population, already mentioned. The other is that there has been a substantial increase in the number of students, from 1.4 million in 1997, to 2.3 million today. The proportion of the working age population who are economically inactive for this reason has been accelerating over the past ten years

It is hard to remember how things were, even with giant surveys to help us.  My ‘infallible’ method is to remember what satire used.   Do you think they invented Wayne and Waynetta (Facebook page)?   Do those people so outraged about what they can see on the Daily Mail front page think ‘The Fat Slags’ were our imagination?   Do those who fret about union militancy remember programmse like Bleasedales’ GBH?

On a similar topic, the excellent Anatole Kaletsky takes issue with Tory economic pessimism:

if they genuinely believe that Britain has suffered 13 years of shocking economic mismanagement since 1997, that reducing debt is an overriding moral obligation and that the country is now on the brink of bankruptcy, then Dunkirk-style sacrifices must be demanded. In that case — which might be described as the Greek scenario — the Tories are grossly irresponsible to promise tax cuts or protect spending programmes such as the NHS, not to mention foreign aid, bus passes and winter fuel payments. If, on the other hand, the Tories are trying to come to terms with modern Britain as it is, they must acknowledge that considerable economic, as well as social, progress has been achieved under Labour and must stop making silly comparisons with Greece and other countries that really are on the brink of fiscal disaster. In that case, they should admit that the all-out financial catastrophe that genuinely threatened the nation in the winter of 2008-09 has been avoided and that some credit should go to the sensible decisions made at the height of the crisis by Mr Brown and Alistair Darling. Taking this less pessimistic view about Britain’s economic predicament would have four big advantages for the Tories. First, it would correspond to reality,

For the other three, read the Times before it gets too expensive!

(Sorry for ranting off topic: I’m charging my batteries for a potential discussion with some miserabilists on air).


8 thoughts on “The TUC swipes away a miserabilist myth

  1. I thought miserabilist referred to those who want to ban smoking, electricity, salt, alcohol & anything remotely supportive of fun. ie LibDems.

    I take it you & the TUC think all the people on disability really are disabled. What do you attribute this historically unprecedented level od illness to?

    1. As far as disibility is concerned, perhaps we’ve just got much better about treating depression as an illness, instead of saying “snap out of it”, plus I think there are some studies which say that depression itself, independent of diagnosis, is on the rise (but I might be wrong on that one).

      1. I agree. Personally, for various reasons, I think depression is just about the most serious and difficult illness there is.

  2. I’m sure there are studies showing depression, or indeed smoking deaths, sea level, injuries from salt, or almost anything the PC brigade want is on the rise. That is not the same as it being objectively true & it is difficult to see an objective reason why people in the last, polio & rickets ridden, Depression had less objective reason for depression.

    1. I thought the essence of depression is that it does not have an objective reason. That is why it differs from being unhappy sometimes for good objective reasons.

  3. “the excellent Anatole Kaletsky ” – best April fool I have seen so far today – better even than the idea of Blair’s face on banknotes!

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