Sunday, 4 January 2009

Mental health and welfare: a stamping manifesto

The tendency not to want to believe in mental illness festers across the Western world, and particularly in Britain, the nation that gave us Shakespeare, concentration camps and the stiff upper lip. From the friends and families of sufferers to the upper echelons of government, the suspicion that mental health difficulties are forms of weakness – simple personality flaws that could be eradicated if more of these mentalists would jolly well buck up – informs policy and influences behaviour. We need to look this institutional prejudice in the face and call it what it is: outdated, destructive and desperately unhelpful.

Over the past few months, I have interviewed a great many people suffering from mental health difficulties in the course of my work for the Independent and for One in Four magazine, and none of them are feeling optimistic about the New Year. All of them fear being forced back into work that they will not be able to cope with even if they find it; they fear government interference with benefits that they rely on for survival, and they are disappointed at the lack of positive changes the much-touted Welfare Reform Bill has brought.

In the face of what appear to be across-the-board rises in cases of serious depression, anxiety and other debilitating disorders, the response of our government in boom times has been to quietly shunt the sick onto a government poverty package and tell us to be grateful. However, as incapacity levels continue to rise, the DWP’s new Work to Welfare policy threatens to shunt us just as quickly back to the jobcentre, telling us that we’re scroungers who were actually making it up all along. This comes just as the little glut of crap menial jobs available before the stock market crash has disappeared. Nice timing, Purnell.

Many of the 40% of Britain’s 2 million IB claimants who are unable to work due to mental health difficulties already have a few problems with paranoia. But, as the noted social theorist Kurt Cobain observed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not after you. Because when any major political party talks about moving people off Incapacity Benefit, when they talk about instituting a system of interviews to ‘weed out’ benefit ‘scroungers’, we know that they’re talking about the mentally ill – those whose disabilities and challenges are most difficult to see and to quantify, often the poorest and most vulnerable members of society who have since Thatcher’s day been the first in the firing like when budget cuts needed to be made. I am, indeed, talking about Care in the Community, the policy decision also known as 'chuck the nutter in the gutter'.

Yes, there are more people receiving IB now than there were a generation ago. No, this does not mean that all of the extra people are skivers who’d rather sit around watching Trisha and drinking milkshakes. The sweeping social change that has transformed society in the past fifty years has led to an increase in the numbers of those deemed unable to work due to mental illness for many reasons. Not only has society become more treacherous and unpredictable and the working world more stressful (especially in stonkingly pro-market, anti-worker countries which exempt themselves from working time directives) but more men and women are expected to hold down full-time jobs which are increasingly focused in the service, information and fourth-sector industries, meaning that it’s more important for these employees to be entirely mentally and emotionally on the ball. Simply put: as the labour market is changing and becoming more mentally and physically stressful, the mentally ill, whose care has been successively eroded by government after neoliberal government, are being left out in the cold.

Mental illness is perhaps the subtlest and most frightening of all forms of social difference, because of its invisibility, because of the difficulty in quantifying it, and because it is not a binary condition: you’re not either mad or sane, there’s a whole spectrum involved. But the hatred and fear that the mentally ill face on a daily basis, the lack of understanding shown to them by the welfare state and criminal justice system, and the fact that they are perpetually the first targets of punitive budget cuts, adds up to a sum of institutional bias which belongs in a previous century.

Just look at Mind's recent report on mental illness within parliament itself. Twenty-seven percent of MPs, Peers and their staff have personal experience of mental health difficulty, and one in three said work-based stigma and the expectation of a hostile reaction from the media and public prevented them from being open about mental health issues. This is a problem that touches everyone, and it isn't going to go away if we collectively stick our fingers in our ears and sing a little song.

Employment law is another area where the Disability Discrimination Act has so far failed to translate into action when it comes to the mentally ill. The argument goes something like this: it’s more risky and more costly for company x to hire person y if they suffer from a mental illness – after all, how is company x to know that that employee y won’t fall behind on their work, start slicing themselves up by the water-cooler or march into the office one day spraying slugs of hot lead death into co-workers and clients? Simple ignorance is the first obstacle to greater understanding here: in fact, the mentally ill are statistically less likely to perpetrate violent crime, and far more likely to become victims of it. But a subtler prejudice against minorities is inherent to the hypercapitalist machine – because yes, it is technically less costly for a firm to hire an individual who is entirely mentally well. By the same logic, it is also better business sense to hire someone who is neither physically disabled nor a female of childbearing age. Yes, these people represent a financial risk to the company; no, this doesn’t mean that discrimination is a logical and acceptable consequence of that risk.

What happens when companies are allowed to set their own hiring policies purely on the basis of business sense is that a large amount of the nation’s talent remains untapped, and swathes of people who need to be in work more than almost anybody become dependent on the state. Individuals suffer, and the entire economic community suffers. Anti-discrimination legislation and hiring standards are not only essential for the advancement of true equality; they advance free nations both spirituality and economically.

The market, by itself, cannot deliver health, happiness and universal suffrage by treating people as commodity inputs. This is why, especially in a period of social transition like this one when our ideals and our economic and technological mores so often clash, government intervention is one of the only logical temporary solutions.

It is not enough for the Ministry of Plenty Department for Work and Pensions to demand that mentally ill recipients of incapacity benefit find themselves a job in an employment market which was highly suspicious of them in the boom times and which is now rapidly contracting. What we need if we are to avert a genuine crisis both in employment and in public health is a radical restructuring of what it means to be a worker in the information age.

It is also not enough just to whinge about current policy without suggesting viable alternatives. We’re not just holding jobs and having dinner: the point of progressive debate is to work out how to create the better world that we want our descendants to inherit. So, what would a world with fewer stigmas against the mentally ill look like?

It would be a world in which employers and businesses recognise that mental disability, like physical disability, does make it more of a challenge for an employee to carry out a job of work – and that those challenges can be surmounted with understanding and reasonable adjustments Fifty years ago, the idea of having ramps on public transport, in offices and public buildings in order to help the physically disabled participate in normal life would have sounded preposterous and wildly costly – now it is more or less accepted that the physically disabled have just as much drive to work and live as the rest of us, and should be aided in that goal. The same attitude needs to be applied across the board.

It would be a world in which flexible and part-time working is not only available but a respected and well-taken up practice required of all employers, in order to help the mentally disabled, the physically incapacitated and those with caring duties, including parents, to stay in appropriate work. It would be a world in which part-time work is supported by government benefits, allowing the hundreds of thousands of people with mental health difficulties who cannot cope with full-time work to participate more fully in the economic and cultural life of the nation.

It would be a world in which the many laudable grants, higher education places, work schemes and training projects set aside specifically for the physically disabled and other minorities are matched by similar schemes for the mentally and emotionally disadvantaged.

Last but not least, it would be a world in which, for as long as necessary, large businesses were obliged to take on a set quota of people with mental health difficulties – say one in eight, helping to reflect the one in four citizens who will experience mental health difficulty at some point in their life.

This is about socialism, but it isn’t just about socialism. It’s about creating a world that is fairer and more efficient, carrying every citizen with it. If the government really wants to leave no one behind – if it wants to move more of the mentally ill into rewarding, taxpaying work, rather than simply pare more fat from the already scrawny welfare state – we need to dare to dream of a society in which everyone can participate.

******

And with that, I'm going to go and excercise another of my dysfunctional coping mechanisms and have a little cigarette. I'd offer, but you wouldn't want one. It's fucking menthol *cackles*.

36 comments:

  1. thankyou SO much for writing this.

    my mind and fears bottleneck on the subject.

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  2. I would leave an intelligent and thought-out comment, but I'm mentally ill. And I'm tired. And it's winter. And I'm miserable. And my medication dosage has changed, so I'm foggy and confused too. And I'm off to try not to be upset or angry at the fellow-volunteer in the charity shop who thinks that a "young fit" twenty-two year old woman like myself should be doing far more hours than she, at seventy-eight, is doing; and that her duty therefore is to guilt me into doing more hours than I'm capable of. Ah, joy.

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  3. Yes yes yes and yes!

    Particularly "It would be a world in which part-time work is supported by government benefits, allowing the hundreds of thousands of people with mental health difficulties who cannot cope with full-time work to participate more fully in the economic and cultural life of the nation.".

    This is really poignant for me.

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  4. Penny Red - what exactly do you think a market is?

    If this was really about creating a more efficient system - if it was more efficient to employ a woman of childbearing age rather than a man, companies would be lining up to do so. In fact, they are lining up, dependent upon the said womans particular skill set. The same goes for the mentally ill.
    It can't possibly be a good idea to force a business to take someone on who will do the job less efficiently. It'd be better to have the job done as efficiently as possible and then support the inefficient worker rather than the other way around... right?
    Furthermore, if people have talent and self confidence, it is unneccesary for you to find work for them, or decide how they should expend their labour.

    And... do you seriously think that modern labour is more physically and mentally stressfull than it was 50 years ago? What possible reason do you have for thinking this?

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  5. This is a really good post. Lots of good suggestions. The most important of which is the underlying one that it's time to move away from the Thatcher/Blair dogma that the only possible way to substantially increase employment (at the lower-paid end of the labour market) is to change people to fit work. It is also possible to change work to fit people (or at least find a reasonable balance between the two).

    If the government genuinely is going try and push people with mental health difficulties back into the labour market during a recession, it has a responsibility to use the increased economic influence that it will have during this period to reshape the labour market in a way that works better for workers - particularly vulnerable workers.

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  6. Should that be 'spiritually' rather than 'spirituality'?

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  7. "If this was really about creating a more efficient system - if it was more efficient to employ a woman of childbearing age rather than a man, companies would be lining up to do so. In fact, they are lining up, dependent upon the said womans particular skill set. The same goes for the mentally ill."

    Er...

    "38% of employers say they would not employ someone with a mental illness" - http://www.nhsemployers.org/practice/practice-4260.cfm

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  8. Penny,

    It's not just an issue for the mentally ill. All disabled people - and anyone who has the misfortune to become disabled at any point in their life will have cause to be very concerned about these 'reforms'.

    Curret DWP thinking is based on the ideas developed by UnumProvident aimed at demonstrating that: "Illness is a behaviour – ‘all the things people say and do that express and communicate their feelings of being unwell’ ... The degree of illness behaviour is dependent not upon an underlying pathology but on ‘individual attitudes and beliefs’, as well as ‘the social context and culture in which it occurs’. Halligan and Wade are more explicit: ‘Personal choice plays an important part in the genesis or maintenance of illness’." (see Jonathan Rutherford: 'The End of Welfare').

    It's not surprising that a private health insurance company already fined for non-payment of claims should seek to prove that most disabled people are malingerers, but it is disappointing that the Labour Party are such enthusiastic advocates of a punitive approach to welfare claimants when a genuine attempt to improve access to employment would not only be more humane, but might even be more cost-effective.

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  9. Mark: efficiency is not always cheap. What the market appears to have done is encourage people to go for the cheapest option instead of the most efficient option, and this eventually turns into a multilateral form of the Prisoners Dilemma, meaning that in actual fact market forces drive us AWAY from the best solution to a problem.

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  10. I just wanted to add: Penny, this is an excellent piece.

    As someone who has suffered mental breakdowns when in work, or in work-experience placement by the Job Centre, these issues are very important to me.

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  11. Penny you really need to read some John Gray. I'd start with the 'Delusions of Global Capitalism'. He's an anti-utopian. His point is simple. That these dreams of a better world whether socialist or capitalist are impossible. And most often lead to disaster.

    Your proposals would require so much direction and control from the state that life would become unbearable. And we'd most probably go bankrupt in the attempt.

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  12. Snowdrop explodes

    Firstly, I'm not sure that this does resemble a prisoners dilemma, but if it does, I think you'll find that people are perfectly capable of finding the win-win solution on their own, and that living in a market economy increases the likelihood that people will choose to do so. In fact, what are markets if not a massive iterated prisoners dilemma?
    Anyway, if it is possible for a mentally ill person to do some work more effectively than anyone else, then surely all intelligent people will be able to grasp this independently without the need for government legislation (no matter what the short term costs). Do you really believe yourself to be that much more intelligent than the average person? Or even than intelligent people...? The market will achieve the optimal outcome more effectively than ungainly central planning.

    Perhaps the fact that 38% of companies wouldn't consider employing the mentally ill indicates that it's important to have a stable and well person performing these jobs. Maybe it indicates these companies are less efficient than their competitors. Either they are making the right decision, or the problem will sort itself out. No need for quotas.

    Anyway, if current trends continue we'll all be mentally ill soon, so this will become a moot point...

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  13. I'm sure that those 38% are wrong. Most of them will already have "mentally ill" employees and either not know or not care.

    There was a famous sociology study in the 1930s where they phoned up motels across the USA and asked them if they would give a room to an Asian-American couple. 90% said no. Then they visited those same motels and they all gave them a room.

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  14. "Either they are making the right decision, or the problem will sort itself out."

    Well, it hasn't yet.

    Any ideas on how long it might take?

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  15. Excellent points.

    I'd just add that mental illness is a very gendered thing. Some illnesses, like depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or borderline personality disorder, are much more common among women. Many forms of destructive and self-destructive behaviour, especially anti-social personality disorder, are much more common among men.

    I guess what I'm suggesting is that society doesn't just 'respond' to mentally ill people in various ways, but may well actively create them in various ways.

    Also, in response to "It'd be better to have the job done as efficiently as possible and then support the inefficient worker"

    This assumes there are no inherent costs to division of labour (in this case, having one person specialise in sitting around doing nothing and being given things by other people, someone else specialise in producing). Strangely enough, lots of people think there are - including Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations.

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  16. Mark you're a troll. And shame on me for rising to this...

    What good points you've made - "The market will achieve the optimal outcome more effectively than ungainly central planning."
    I've never thought of that. Perhaps I will stop reading this socialist blog which inherently advocates social and economic interventionism because you've made me realise that the invisible hand is perfect at effectively and fairly distributing resources.
    /sarcasm

    Whenever we are dealing with factors of life that are difficult to quantify and measure, such as health & developmental education the market fails.
    Actual experience with labour markets tells me that they are not very efficient at making predictions about who or what type of character could do the job best because of the grossly imperfect information available.

    Your attempts to conflate free markets with free choice and that any kind of intervention in the free market would limit free choice and therefore insults peoples intelligence and autonomy is utterly stupid.
    It supposes that people always act out of desire to improve efficiency of both their company and the economy as a whole.
    Government interruption of the free market can limit the decisions a person can make, yes, but they can also increase the amount of decisions a person can make in instances where they correct failures in the market. If I am depressed I may also be intelligent enough to do a job but I may struggle to get a job, even as supermarket clerk if I need to disclose that condition as I may well do during the interview. Im an intelligent person but the "efficiency of the market" thinks it knows better than me and prevents me from getting the job I could do. Policies that incentivise the employer to work round the fact that sometimes i may need some time off due to my depression increase the number of choices I have, they would also increase the number of choices the firm has. I may even recover or improve my condition as i am becoming a functioning member of society again - increasing my choices, my employers choices and societies choices in the long term.

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  17. It certainly wasn't assuming that there are no inherent costs to the division of labour - I was assuming that if we are going to divide labour it'd be sensible to have the most efficient worker doing the job.
    I think we assume that both men are equally efficient at doing nothing.
    If the mentally well person can produce more, either the mentally ill person is going to have to work for longer for the same effect or we'll have less of whatever it is he is making.
    (Actually, theres nothing stopping him doing something else)

    Are you saying that the costs, in the form of alienation, created by the division of labour outweigh the benefits of increases in productivity?

    Are you arguing that more labour is a good thing?

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  18. "Are you saying that the costs, in the form of alienation, created by the division of labour outweigh the benefits of increases in productivity?"

    I think I am, yes. We passed the point where our principal need was greater productivity quite a while ago. Since then the main task of our society has been to prevent our productivity from making people content. Capitalism, after all, is often said to make sense because of 'the economic problem' of needs far outstripping resources. Any development that makes that less true is thus actively resisted by the market, which must either make people want more (e.g. through advertising), destroy the products (e.g. through war), or lock the products away from people (e.g. by distributing most wealth to the tiny minority at the top).

    This whole 'economic crisis' thing is bass-ackwards. If every person in the UK had to consume 10 or 20 percent less goods, it wouldn't make much difference to their lives. But our system is arranged so that this overall contraction produces severe poverty for some and the anxiety-producing risk of severe poverty for others.

    A good example is the food price rise of a while back. There is enough food for everyone to have plenty. The global economy deprives millions of access to it. The economist therefore recommended that we should - produce more food!

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  19. Edmund you reveal a typical socialist error. The error bieng that everyone who believes in a free market thinks the market works perfectly. If it did we would never have market crashes. Therefore if you think this you are a fool.

    The reason any sensible person supports capitalism over socialism is that, from experience, it is far less destructive to individual freedoms.

    One of the biggest restrictions we have on Labour in this country is the minimum wage. Which places an artificial cost on the price of employment for low skilled workers.

    Employers would be quite happy to come to a deal with a worker who required flexible working if they offered to work for less money. It works perfectly fine for most people in higher skilled jobs.

    In fact the company I work for has come to that deal with a number of its employees.

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  20. "One of the biggest restrictions we have on Labour in this country is the minimum wage. Which places an artificial cost on the price of employment for low skilled workers."

    That would only be relevant if, before the introduction of the minimum wage, people who were paid below the minimum wage level were housing, feeding and clothing themselves on their wages. This is not what was happening in the UK pre-1997. What was happening was that extremely low pay was being subsidised by income support and other benefits so that the very low paid could afford to exist. So taxpayers (obviously including companies that paid their workers above the minimum wage) were subsidising the profits of companies that paid their workers below what became the minimum wage.

    In real life, the question of what would happen in a pure market utopia is almost irrelevant because, as with utopian communism, it's impossible to imagine conditions where the pure market could even be tried without the use of brutal repressive force to maintain public order (at which point it ceases to be 'free' in any meaningful sense). You'd need a country full of utopian market ideologues who all maintained consistently those beliefs even when they ended up at the bottom of the economic pile to try it. Even with that in place, it's anyone's guess what would actually happen.

    Laurie's post doesn't propose getting rid of the fundamentally market-based system that we have it the UK, it proposes some pragmatic adaptations - building on other existing pragmatic adaptations - that may or may not work. My guess is that it would be more sensible to offer carrots (such as tax breaks) to businesses that have positive attitudes to mental health in general and to employing people with mental difficulties specifically, rather than looking to actually enforce a quota system but the general principle of government regulation to encourage positive social action by business is, in principle, a tried and tested staple of a democratic mixed economy.

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  21. Hmmmmm... Edmund... no matter the failings of business, I think we can both agree that the government is not going to be a more effective judge of a persons ability to do any particular job, so the interventions we are left with are imprecise methods such as quotas. Giving someone a job simply because the are mentally ill, is fraught with potential (fairly obvious) problems. Sure, perhaps this will enable some idiot savant to show his worth by totting up items at the checkout without the aid of a till, but equally likely is a less happy outcome (as if service in Britain wasn't bad enough already). Maybe the sometimes ill-informed choices of managers are better than preventing people from choosing at all.
    Lets say that you decide to give every business £1000 for every mentally ill worker they take on. We're either giving extra money to companies for no reason, or are paying more for worse service. As for all the mentally ill workers finding a place in society - what about those that they are presumably replacing?

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  22. Fair enough directionless bones -
    I agree that most people are materially well off and that an extra x-box isn't the most important thing. However, no matter how rich we become our time will always be valuable, and for that reason forcing inefficient practices upon people is immoral.

    Further, often people are the product. With regard to general happiness, is there a better way for us to demonstrate which services(which make up the greater part of our efforts) we want to
    recieve than the free market?

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  23. "it's impossible to imagine conditions where the pure market could even be tried without the use of brutal repressive force to maintain public order"

    Given that relative poverty and cultural values are a more significant cause of crime than absolute poverty is, why would law and order measures have to be any different to the ones which we have now?

    "the general principle of government regulation to encourage positive social action by business is, in principle, a tried and tested staple of a democratic mixed economy."
    *cough* *cough*
    Community Reinvestment Act...

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  24. Does James Purnell believe he is Jesus Christ incarnate?

    When he says to the sick, "Get up off your beds and walk (or I'll take your benefits away and leave you destitute and starving)." Well, I for one don't believe that it will work.

    This man will actually KILL many helpless men and women - some of whom will actually die on our streets - if his policies are adopted. What a truly black-hearted little wretch he is to be sure.

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  25. Mark.

    Please take your laxative.

    Thank you.

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  26. Has anyone questioned James Purnell's state of mental health?

    The over-ambitious litle shit seems sociopathic to me!

    (Could he be suffering from penis envy I ask myself?)

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  27. Mark:

    It'd be better to have the job done as efficiently as possible and then support the inefficient worker rather than the other way around... right?

    This argument does have some real-world merit, but it makes an assumption about the current state of the real world that is not warranted. We currently don't support the 'inefficient worker'; certainly not in the comprehensive way your argument would require to be functional. I believe that Penny pointed that out quite well; therefore, your reluctance to recognise it seems ideological, rather than pragmatic, on your part.

    Firstly, I'm not sure that this does resemble a prisoners dilemma, but if it does, I think you'll find that people are perfectly capable of finding the win-win solution on their own [...]

    Which win-win is that? The current western economic system is 'win-win' only, and precisely for the hereditary entrepreneurial class (that is, those who inherit a capital stake large enough to start not one, but three businesses; since it takes a couple of failures to learn how to get it right).

    For the middle class, who have to be entrepreneurs starting from a base of not inheriting a fortune, it's win-lose: you can either get lucky and have your kids being part of the hereditary entrepreneurial class, or you can go bankrupt if you're lucky. If you're not, it gets really bad.

    For those who start out one rung down from there (ie. inherited debt, such as 90-yr mortgages which are now family heirlooms in some parts of the US) it's lose-lose; the non-partisan economic analyses of the last 75 years say the poor are getting poorer, commensurately to the rich getting richer. There is no 'win-win' here, as you imply.

    Furthermore, if people have talent and self confidence, it is unneccesary for you to find work for them

    This, on the other hand, is just flat not true. There's too many closed-shop industries that are incredibly difficult to get into unless you've got an inside track (like acting); too many reasons someone might not get a job that have nothing to do with their talent or self-confidence (like being gay, or black, or a man with long hair).

    TBRBob:

    The error being that everyone who believes in a free market thinks the market works perfectly. If it did we would never have market crashes.

    In stating this you make a typical market-capitalist error. Market crashes are an integral, necessary, and predictable function of capitalist market economics. The modern economic era was invented by a boom-and-bust; the tulip market in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. They're not something that goes away when the market works; they're something necessary to make the market work. They are, economically speaking, the cull phase of natural selection.

    Penny is not the only person who wonders whether there are more effective ways of managing a global economy than a method which requires the regular creation of a vast number of new poor people.

    Employers would be quite happy to come to a deal with a worker who required flexible working if they offered to work for less money. It works perfectly fine for most people in higher skilled jobs.

    Higher-skilled jobs (by which I suspect you mean jobs which are a] needing a higher academic education level and b] jobs accorded a higher social status) can be worked part time for less money and still make a living wage (while only working part time). I used to have one. Most people I knew wished they were less stressed and less pressured but also wanted a PS2 (or, a bit earlier in my career, a Psion 5mx or whatever). Some people I knew worked part time for less money and made half as much again as I do now, working 1.5 standard jobs that are 'lower skilled'.

    The difference, however, is not between skill levels; my current work is craft based and involves very considerable skill, experience and judgement, but it also involves heavy lifting and manual dexterity. Because my previous job happened in an office and was computer-based, it is perceived as 'higher-skilled'.

    Mark:

    If the mentally well person can produce more, either the mentally ill person is going to have to work for longer for the same effect or we'll have less of whatever it is he is making.
    (Actually, theres nothing stopping him doing something else)


    Actually, there's lots of things stopping him doing something else, including the government, but I shall leave my response as imprecise as your statement.

    The analysis you're employing is intrinsically flawed, these days, because it only worked at all (and that, marginally) in a manufacturing-based economy, ie. an industrial one. Britain is post-industrial; the first nation to become so, as we were the first to industrialise. More of us, than not, don't make anything. Therefore, the metrics used to assess contribution need to be modified, away from material metrics (like counting things made) and towards more nuanced analytical models.

    Some things that are of value to a civilisation are not commoditisable, and not everything valuable to an economy is necessarily quantifiable in numerical terms. What physical product does David Beckham make more units of than, say, a skilled plumber? More importantly, what exactly does Oprah Winfrey make units of that are better for society than an actual therapist who actually helps people?

    no matter the failings of business, I think we can both agree that the government is not going to be a more effective judge of a persons ability to do any particular job

    Not sure about Edmund, but assuming I have parsed this sentence correctly I think I do agree with you. However, at least part of the answer has already been stated above, and by Edmund: providing incentives to business to use people that 'efficiency' says they shouldn't, government leaves choice in the hands of the individual employer and yet effects systemic change (in the long run). Incentives not quotas: one place I suspect I agree with you more than with Penny.

    One more general point; the first half of this thread is much involved with discussions of 'efficiency', as is our society as a whole. Efficiency is a mechanical concept best applied to mechanical functions; none of society, economics or the weather fit this description. Efficiency does no good, in the chaotic real universe, unless it is combined with effectiveness; and effectiveness is defined by the user. Effectiveness is a function of how well something fulfills its design criteria, and the criteria can and should change over time.

    We are still trying to make our socio-economic analysis work while applying Victorian design criteria to an Internet socio-economic continuum. We need to start re-examining what design criteria we want our modern society and economy to meet; because if we can't find some better ones than Disraeli could, we're suffering a potentially lethal lack of ambition as a species.

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  28. Well TRRRob, I was responding to Mark who made several statements that certainly implied he hadn't heard of market failure. It is a common, if mind bogglingly idiotic, mistake.

    "what exactly do you think a market is?"

    "if people have talent and self confidence, it is unneccesary for you to find work for them, or decide how they should expend their labour." = if you fail you must be talentless and lacking confidence



    "if it is possible for a mentally ill person to do some work more effectively than anyone else, then surely all intelligent people will be able to grasp this independently without the need for government legislation" - certainly suggests that the decision of the unchecked market was correct and it is an insult to everyone's intelligence to suggest otherwise.

    As far as I'm concerned I've never seen a socialist state so I can't talk about their experiences. Unless you count the environmentally conscious, socially equal, virtually crimeless, economically stable (if, admittedly, not booming) Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Finland - which I consider to be great success stories.

    But anyway John Q Publican has made enough eloquent points for me to stop

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  29. JQP: You are entirely awesome.

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  30. Uh, John - the poor are getting poorer? Over the last 75 years?
    Perhaps the gap between rich and poor has increased over the last 75 years - I doubt it - but there is not a chance that in absolute terms people are poorer than they were 75 years ago. Thats the win-win - the fact that by working together we have managed to increase our wealth by an incredible amount. You could also say that every single exchange that takes place within a market is win-win. If it wasn't, it wouldn't take place.
    And what exactly is this fate worse than bankrupcy of which you speak?
    Again, what you're outlining here doesn't seem to me to be a prisoners dilemma, but an observation that not everyone can be super-rich. :*(

    In the case of closed industries, isn't it a case of the market not being free enough?
    Its not hard to become an actor it's hard to make any money from it. Theres nothing stopping anyone acting in the park and collecting some money (except the government) but what we do have here is a surplus of people wanting to perform the job and a lack of demand for the service.
    Regarding racism: is there actually a link between racism and poverty? Perhaps the victims of racism need to start their own business.

    I'm not exactly sure what you mean by effectiveness here, but if effectiveness is the satisfaction created by some action, then surely a market is the simplist way for people to express their preferences.

    Edmund- Lets assume that up to this point employment policy towards the mentally ill has been a case of market failure. Lets assume that the government has clear evidence that mental illness has no negative effect on work performance.
    Why wouldn't business be aware of this?
    Why would it be desirable for the government to enforce change rather than to allow the market to correct itself?

    Lets assume that there *is* evidence that mental illness effects workplace performance, but that the government(you) feel it will increase the gross national happiness to have these people stack shelves.
    Well- I'd say that when we're dealing with areas of life which are difficult to quantify and measure - attempts at government planning fail. Thats because it's impossible for a central authority to predict what will lead to increased happiness for the individual.

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  31. Mark:

    Uh, John - the poor are getting poorer? Over the last 75 years?
    Perhaps the gap between rich and poor has increased over the last 75 years - I doubt it


    Your comments seem to imply that you are thinking only of the poor in the west and the rich in the west. The people of Somalia, for one, are poorer than they were two generations ago. Except for the few who are now much, much richer.

    I understand your point, though: yes, I intended to convey that the gap between poor and typical in Britain is lower than it was in the 70s, and the gap between typical and affluent is much wider. I didn't express myself clearly, as you say.

    Regarding racism: is there actually a link between racism and poverty? Perhaps the victims of racism need to start their own business.

    Interesting comment. In this country a high percentage of victims of racism already did start their own business: the most common incidence of active or violent racist behaviour is directed at corner-shop or Post Office owners, many of whom (in the last thirty years) have been not ethnic Anglo-Saxons. Unless you count racist behaviour between school children... You also talk as though starting one's own business was a choice available to everyone. In this economy, it is only available to those who have capital: at which point, I refer you to my earlier commentary.

    I'm not exactly sure what you mean by effectiveness here, but if effectiveness is the satisfaction created by some action, then surely a market is the simplist way for people to express their preferences.

    If I've not been clear last time, I'll explain again; effectiveness is the extent to which a system or machine fulfills its pre-defined success criteria. A 100% effective solution fulfills all success criteria. My point, in the last post, was that the criteria for success are user-defined; and we, the people, are 'the user' when you're talking about a socio-economic establishment.

    Regarding how markets compete; my main product experience is within the high-tech sphere and two examples will illustrate my point to anyone with a long enough memory. VHS vs. Betamax; USB vs. Firewire. In each case, very obviously (it's easier to measure with tech) the market selected the cheaper over the better solution. My observations suggest this is the general rule with markets; the automobile design market certainly suggests so. Without government enforcement, not one of the safety measures which have become standard since the 1970s would exist, and cars would still cost about two grand.

    In fact, about the only significant instance of this not happening is Windows vs. MacOS vs. BeOS: Windows is poorer and more expensive. No, wait, the underlying hardware was so much cheaper, that the market selected the cheaper option instead of the more technologically advanced one. Hmm.

    Lets assume that up to this point employment policy towards the mentally ill has been a case of market failure. Lets assume that the government has clear evidence that mental illness has no negative effect on work performance.

    Why would one wish to assume either of those things, particularly the second one?

    Someone with a mental health disorder (an example: agoraphobia) who happens to be a very skilled accountant may find it extremely difficult to find work, in spite of the fact that internetworking technology has advanced to the point where there is really no need for a document processor to be in the same open-plan office as the business they work with, and yet employers are increasingly trying to reverse the trend towards satellite contractors, because it diminishes the control management has over employee working practices. For some reason, we've been convinced that's a bad thing...

    Secondly, some businesses have figured it out, and are doing very well: I would point you towards Google's attitude to the respectful treatment of employees. But that only helps those companies: it doesn't help everyone else.

    Thirdly, the main reason someone who suffers from depression won't get a job is prejudice, not practice. It is assumed that a person who is depressed will be a risk. It is assumed that a person who is bi-polar will be inefficient. Neither of these things is necessarily true. Both are true sometimes.

    I doubt anyone reading this has not worked in an office with a fully able-bodied, and at least functionally if not politically able-minded, person who was so slack they made everyone else's job harder by being there. That's personal professionalism, not medical history; but people do like to make assumptions.


    Lets assume that there *is* evidence that mental illness effects workplace performance, but that the government(you) feel it will increase the gross national happiness to have these people stack shelves.


    I find it intriguing that you assume mentally or physically disadvantaged people will be seeking the lowest paid and lowest status kinds of work. Why not a part time academic research post, or work as a pub cellarman, or a journalism position, or a secretarial job in the NHS; all of these are jobs currently held, and held well, by people I know personally who qualify is mentally, or physically, disabled: or both. I could also list "merchant bank security consultant", except, well, no job any more and not much hope of getting one.

    Well- I'd say that when we're dealing with areas of life which are difficult to quantify and measure - attempts at government planning fail. Thats because it's impossible for a central authority to predict what will lead to increased happiness for the individual.

    Here, you and Laurie seem to be agreeing. The whole drive of the original post here was to suggest that rather than attempting hierarchical, effectively coercive systems to try and remodel the people into the correct shape for the working lives they would have led last century, government should be seeking alternatives for making 'work' look more like the people of this century are going to need. They should be providing an imaginative range of options which allow business to use more of the total human resources than are currently being exploited: to briefly dip into the Conservative lexicon.

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  32. John

    While i'm sure that you know far more about technology than me, isn't the market model you've provided something of a false dichotomy? The actual cheapest option would probably have involved us all continuing to use something resembling a spectrum - while the most expensive, gold plated, fully knob loaded system which opens internet explorer in 0.0 seconds flat, clearly wouldn't be considered, because it isn't cost effective. What you're actually outlining is a battle between closely matched systems, one of which was judged to be more cost effective than the other, non?
    We should have no expectation that everyone will drive (or want to drive) a ferrari when a mini will do.
    The same is true for the employment market - if markets always selected the absolute cheapest option, would people go to university or engage in training? The idea of something being cheap in absolute terms has no real relevence, because nobody would ever make a decision on that basis. This must be a discussion of efficiency (or cost effectiveness), including a consideration of potentially non-financial, social costs.

    The arguments for government intervention in the labour market to facilitate the employment of the mentally ill seem to be: 1) That unreasoning discrimination prevents highly skilled mentally ill workers from contributing to society and that 2) the cost analysis by market participants fails to account for significant social costs and further that these failings can only be righted by government intervention.


    Firstly, the highly skilled mentally ill-worker. Does discrimination really blind companies to the advantages of employing these people and if this discrimination does exist, will it make a difference? I actually believe that the modern, relatively anonymous internet age serves not only to make it easier for the agrophobic accountant to work within a company, but also for him to work entirely independantly of one as well. We also have the example of ethnic minority groups who have worked themselves and their families into wealth despite facing discrimination ( aided by anti-racism laws, but not by quotas.)* Is it neccesary for the government to intervene here? Personally i'm not convinced that it is. I'd also suggst that your social circle and the hiring policies of google put pay to the theory that this kind of discrimination exists in the first place. There may well be a mistaken belief in some quarters that the mentally ill are incapable of performing jobs as effectively as the mentally well, but by and large, evidence to the contrary will be accepted.

    Secondly, the non-financial costs of companies hiring policies towards the disabled. I have a problem with this for three reasons. Firstly, I am not convinced that it is more effective to interfere in the hiring policies of companies than it it to allow them to employ whoever they choose and pay for any social costs through taxation. Secondly, i'm not convinced that working in a company well be beneficial to the mentally ill. Thirdly, i'm not convinced that this couldn't potentially have extremely negative implications for consumers (and therfore for society at large).
    Finally, even if we decide that it is valuable for the mentally ill to gain employment, doesn't the existence and popularity of fair trade, organic food and carbon neutral whatever demonstrate that consumers are entirely capable of making decisions regarding the social costs of certain products indepentently of government guidance?
    And I do agree that hierachal coercive systems are generally bad - there was much in the original article which I agreed with. I just don't see how you propose to reduce coercive hierachy by promoting the biggest and most obnoxious coercive hierachy of them all...

    PS The shelf stacking example isn't evidence of my contempt for the mentally ill - I was just responding to an earlier example given by Edmund.


    *I reckon the real troubles are caused by caste systems rather than racism per se.

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  33. What you're actually outlining is a battle between closely matched systems, one of which was judged to be more cost effective than the other, non?

    Non. Cheaper != cost-effective unless the two things compared achieve parity. The examples I chose do not: one was cheaper, and as a result thereof was worse. The market picked it anyway.

    Cost-effective means making an equivalent product at less cost. The whole point of my examples was that they were not making equivalent products, and they still became the market standard because they were cheaper.

    The market does not select the best, it selects the cheapest. Or, in the case of premium markets, the one with the highest ROI to the venture capitalist. Take your pick. Neither calculation has anything to do with how good the product is.

    The same is true for the employment market - if markets always selected the absolute cheapest option, would people go to university or engage in training?

    I'm not sure you understand the labour market. You're talking about job qualifications. Those are a cost of entry which vendors (ie. people selling skills) are expected to provide. The buyer (employers) does not expect to pay for it. That is the cheap option; for the employer.

    You can't get through the door of the market without those things already on hand, ie. you've already had to pay for them; how is this not cheaper than your employer being expected to cover the cost of your training? That's how we used to do it. It was a good system for the actual people; but not so good for the entrepreneur.

    This must be a discussion of efficiency (or cost effectiveness), including a consideration of potentially non-financial, social costs.

    See, now we're talking the same language. Social costs which are paid by those who don't have capital so that those who do can get more. That's exactly where we came into this.

    I actually believe that the modern, relatively anonymous internet age serves not only to make it easier for the agrophobic accountant to work within a company, but also for him to work entirely independantly of one as well.

    Oh yes, absolutely. It should; but it increasingly doesn't. The .com boom saw a huge surge in companies experimenting with remote working, but, somehow, the only people who seem to be allowed to do that these days are salesmen... huh. Seems Dilbert was right all along.

    The reasons it would be a good idea for there to be some form of incentive to business to get off its collective ass and realise that a slower profit curve is more sustainable than boom+bust, are that if a higher percentage of your total skill resource are contributing, and thus getting paid, they're also consuming more than they can if they're on the street, and secondly, that it's the right thing to do. When technology caught up with society in the 19th century, it spawned the most spectacular age of social activism I can think of. Barnardos, a great many schools and hospitals, etc. were founded by those who had profited from the industrial revolution and were disgusted by its human cost. And it worked; particularly the schools and hospitals bit. Healthier people, higher educated, made us into an economic powerhouse that it took two world wars and a carpet-bombing campaign to derail. Where is the equivalent social conscience which reponds to those our new society is leaving behind? The idea is not to shuffle disadvantage around, its to have less screwed people each time around until there aren't any at all.

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  34. John-

    Cost effective doesn't neccesarily mean providing an equivalent product (or equivalent service) at a lower cost. It means performing the task you *need* done, at a lower cost, which is an important distinction. It also means determining whether any extra performance you recieve is worth the extra expenditure.
    The government (anybody operating on vaguely logical principles for that matter) does exactly the same thing. Lets look at the national health service. Presumably, we'd have better medical care if 50% of the people in the country were doctors and as soon as we suffered from a sniffle we could get a consultation. It'd also be cripplingly expensive. In the case of business, suggesting that they choose products on the basis of cost alone, without reference to quality, is to accuse them of insanity. Are you suggesting that a man wanting to write a letter would buy a pea rather than a pen, because the former is cheaper?
    Furthermore, as alluded to in my previous post it is only a narrow view that gives the impression of the market always selecting this absolute cheapest option. All around us there are examples where the cost of extra performance *is* considered worth it - salmon rather than sardines, bicycles rather than walking, computers rather than minds and fingers. Ironically, ROI *is* a measurement of the efficiency of an investment. People choosing investments on the basis of cost alone without reference to the company which they represent (as you seem to be suggesting) would require such a high degree of stupidity as to be almost impossible to imagine. It would also result in all shares being exactly the same price. Regarding the labour market - the costs of training and education are passed onto employers. If they weren't then not only would people not bother to recieve training, but again, everyone would be paid exactly the same amount.
    So, if we are to do our fellow (wo)man the courtesy of assuming their sanity, we must abandon the view that the market is generally incapable of assessing the price/quality trade-off and instead refine the argument to more specific areas where there may be some failure.
    In my previous post I outlined the areas I believed provided a possible justification for government intervention and also the reasons why I wasn't swayed by them. I'd like to suggest once again, that unless there is very clear evidence for the social benefits of intervention, it would indeed be immoral to compel people to support these policies ( even if only through taxation).


    "Oh yes, absolutely. It should; but it increasingly doesn't. The .com boom saw a huge surge in companies experimenting with remote working, but, somehow, the only people who seem to be allowed to do that these days are salesmen... huh. Seems Dilbert was right all along."

    hmmmm... then perhaps big companies are going to loose out in the long run?


    "The reasons it would be a good idea for there to be some form of incentive to business to get off its collective ass and realise that a slower profit curve is more sustainable than boom+bust, are that if a higher percentage of your total skill resource are contributing, and thus getting paid, they're also consuming more than they can if they're on the street, and secondly, that it's the right thing to do."

    Wasn't that what Mr.Brown used to say? Anyway, sounds like a bit of a fudge to me- if there is sufficient demand for everyone to be in employment, will the government have to intervene and if there isn't, won't any mentally- ill workers simply be replacing a mentally well worker? Why would it be preferable for everyone to be in part time work rather than 50% working full time? Are you assuming that people can only work through existing companies?
    As Oscar Wilde once wrote "It is to be regretted that a portion of our community should be practically in slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by enslaving the entire community is childish." - I think that it being the "right thing" is far from clear in this case.

    Finally, what happened to social conscience? Probably nothing, but if you insist - governement and the welfare state.

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