No one gets ‘something for nothing’ says George Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne stated recently that as of next April, no one will get something for nothing. He didn’t mention that promise comes with a big caveat.

Chancellor George Osborne

Gorgeous George said – no, that’s George Galloway. Bilderberg George said this at the weekend in his speech to the Conservative Party conference.

He was talking specifically and indeed only about what he and everyone else calls the long term unemployed. There is a lot to this bluster but the bottom line is the long term unemployed will be required to attend a job centre five days a week instead of once a fortnight, or accept a place on some sort of work programme - which can include literacy training, or perform unpaid “community” work.

This sounds good in theory, to those who believe so-called full employment is desirable and that the perceived idleness of the long term unemployed should not be tolerated. Before taking this any further though, look at the two photos below. Who are these men?

A scan from Tom Watson’s magazine: Jim
Conley, the man cleared by the law but blamed
by history for the murder of Mary Phagan. Leo
Frank’s lawyer as good as branded him
subhuman, yet after his release from prison for
aiding Frank, no woman of any race ever
accused him of impropriety until his death in

Small time habitual criminal Jamie Robery.

The first is, or was, Jim Conley, who was branded a murderer by the ADL, but let’s forget that here. In 1913, Conley earned his living basically by pushing a broom. As a Negro in the segregated Deep South, he was at best a second class citizen, and a man of his low estate was more likely a 3rd or 4th class one. A man of simple pleasures, he liked beer, which led to him falling foul of the law either by being drunk in public or getting into fights with others of his low estate.

Although a hundred years ago the standard of living was much lower than it is today, it was possible for a semi-literate man at the bottom of the food chain, one who probably didn’t dress or even smell too good, to eke out a living working a 55 hour week, and get drunk at the weekend so he could forget his misery.

That is no longer possible, certainly not in America, definitely not in Britain, and probably not in most other highly developed nations either, including Western Europe, South Korea, Japan, and increasingly the tiger economies of the Far East.

True, there are a few people such as costermongers and builders’ labourers who manage to make a decent or even a good living, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Often such people have family connections; labouring jobs can be both extremely hard, irregular and often itinerant work.

The employment situation in the UK, the US and elsewhere is so bad that often graduates are found working in menial jobs, a bit like the aspiring actress who waits on tables, and ends up becoming simply a waitress.

Now look at the photograph of the second man. His name is Jamie Robery, and like Jim Conley you would probably cross the road to avoid him, even more so. Certainly if your car were parked nearby you would keep your eye on it. Earlier this year, Robery was given a 24 week sentence for theft from a motor vehicle. Aged 33, he was said to have 42 convictions to his credit.

Where a hundred years ago a man like Jim Conley could find and hold down gainful employment, would anyone in his right mind employ Robery or a man like him? He could possibly find odd jobs here and there, cash in hand, but who would pay him a living wage? And guess what, any odd jobs he could find would see him chased by benefit snoops. It is not true to say though that he and men like him will not get something for nothing in future. Robery has probably already been released from his 24 week sentence, but chances are that if he is not already back behind bars, he will be soon. So he gets free board and lodging while providing gainful employment for police officers, court officials, probation officers and prison staff. But it doesn’t have to be like this; there is a real alternative: Basic Income.

Now let us return to George Osborne and his no one gets something for nothing claim. Is that true? Yesterday it was reported that the European Union had squandered £2.4 billion on advertising in 2008. Other examples of profligate waste included £265,000 on cocktail parties in one year, and £160,000 on a fitness centre for dogs. One that was never opened.

Then there are stockbrokers, men – and a few women – who may work long hours but produce absolutely nothing. Then there is the pensions rip off; recently the Office of Fair Trading announced a clampdown on these, but people would be better off managing their own pensions, as some do.

Let us now consider the biggest scam of all, Quantitative Easing. Often called printing money electronically, QE is not a new phenomenon; check out this article for a description of what actually happens together with a little historical context. Since 2009, the Bank of England has created £375 billion as part of its QE programme. Where has all that new money gone? The answer is to the banks, who have been sitting on it, or investing it elsewhere. After all, if you are given money for nothing ostensibly to lend to industry, doesn’t it make sense to invest it safely with another bank at a humble 2% rather than lend it out at 10% to a company that might default?

The economy needs new money, but how is that new money to be created: as a debt by the banks, by the central bank and given to the banks so they can lend (ie sell) it at interest, or as it should be, spent into circulation by the government itself via new capital projects or simply as a Basic Income to all?

This latter is the only real solution, it would eliminate the poverty trap, allowing other state benefits to be gradually withdrawn, and lead to the creation of all manner of low paid temporary, permanent and one-off jobs which with the elimination of said poverty trap would be far more appealing. This would even lead to the currently unemployable being able to find work here and there.

If this is the real solution, what will George Osborne’s non-solution lead to? More bureaucracy to start with, and even to more dishonesty. The existing welfare-to-work programme has come under fire for fraud. There have been cases of these organisations putting in invoices for work not done or even for clients who don’t exist.

What will happen to people who are docked their benefits or even have them cut off? Obviously some will end up in prison or on the street, and let us not forget the riots of two years ago, which may have been ignited by the death of Mark Duggan, but there were underlying causes of the violence that had nothing to do with either the shooting in North London or police racism.

The bottom line is that George Osborne’s solution is no solution at all because he hasn’t a clue what is the real problem. This latest attempt to control or even to police those at the bottom of society will create only more problems, and more jobs for the boys, in particular those who produce nothing but are rewarded handsomely for keeping the great unwashed in misery.

[The above op-ed was first published October 1, 2013.]

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