Lazy Luddite Log

29.1.09

Dolling Out Wordcount

Back around the turn-of-the-century I was on Newstart and involved in a 'Work For The Dole' project putting together a 'community newsletter' (with a circulation approximately the same as its staff numbers). We published anything from album reviews to fashion advise but I specialised in writing on-topic - I penned discussions of employment and welfare issues. One item in particular looks topical right now with the whole 'financial crisis' in the media. So I am reproducing it here...

For the bulk of human history most members of society were directly involved in work for sheer survival. People worked on the land, cultivating the food that they, their families and communities needed. In more recent times, however, production methods have changed so that only a few of us have to be involved in the producing the food and shelter that we all need. The rest of us have been freed to do other work in providing an ever-growing range of products and services. But we all still need to eat and we all still need a home. That costs money and for this reason everyone needs to work or be supported by someone who does.

Sometimes work is difficult to come by. Furthermore, there are those who, because of their age or disability, cannot support themselves financially. There was a time, not all that long ago, in which these people were simply left to fend for themselves. Many were supported by family or friends. Others had to rely on the kindness of volunteer-run charity. Many lacking work became destitute. In times of economic hardship (recessions) in which work became more scarce, poverty would become a huge and ever-present issue that caused crime and disruption.

During the Great Depression (1929-193?) the unemployment rate reached a shocking 33% or more. With one in every three adults lacking work, poverty was rife. And it had a nasty habit of spreading throughout society. If a factory in financial difficulty sacked a large number of its workers then they and their families would have to spend only on the bare essentials. Local shops around the factory would loose customers and have to sack workers themselves. Many of these shops would even have to close. Demand for products of the factory would reduce further and so the process would go on. In 1929 the entire world was swept by this creeping virus of lost work and lost customers. Unemployment grew quickly to assume crisis proportions. Something had to be done.

Till that time responsibility to care for the poor was left to the family or to charity. But during the Great Depression the problem became too big for them to manage by themselves. Governments had to take a role in addressing unemployment. They had already been paying modest pensions to war veterans and the aged, and it was decided that the same could be done for the unemployed. The first unemployment benefits were called 'Sustenance Payments' (the 'Susso' for short) and only gave enough to keep people from starving.

Since then things have improved. It was recognised that, in order to live and contribute fully to society, people must have a certain minimum income that allows for a bit more than just food and rent. It is no coincidence that since the introduction into modern societies of a welfare system, nothing as severe as the Great Depression has taken place. The unemployed may cease to be workers but, because of unemployment benefits, they continue to be consumers, and so help to keep the economy working. And because the poor are not destitute, crime and a general disillusionment with life are minimised. Similar payments for the disabled, the aged, students and parents with dependent children all help to keep society and the economy in shape.

Welfare services are, like public schools and hospitals, paid for by taxes. Those who do earn an income help those who currently do not, via income tax. Those who consume a lot help others to consume, via sales taxes. In this way, members of society, with the government as go-between, assist one another in times of difficulty. Welfare recipients benefit directly, but tax-payers also benefit from the stability and general well-being that social security provides. It is an expense, but it's one we can afford, and it's something worth having if we want to live in a civilised society.

Note that all that was written for a very general audience (nonetheless I find its simplicity a bit embarrassing in looking back at it). Still I can always deny that it was me - I used the nom-de-plume of 'Daniel Sebastian'. Snigger.

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14.1.09

Curious Century

I recently saw The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button in which the central character (played by Brad Pitt) reverse ages (bodily) from decrepitude to infancy. This peculiar concept is the side-effect of a supernatural wish-fulfillment described in the movie. It is a stirring and moving film and well-worth seeing. The make-up effects alone are impressive.

The overall effect of the film is to see a whole lifetime depicted in just a few hours. I enjoyed this aspect as several decades of the Twentieth Century were evoked in the many scenes of the film and last century fascinates me. I even was fooled by the supernatural aspect of the story into thinking that the 'time-traveling' of the central character was itself supernatural. I had to remind myself that the other central character (played by Cate Blanchett) also experiences the passage of decades in the same way and she is aging normally.

So life is depicted in a forward direction despite the gimmick of the story. We all experience this traversing of time. We all witness changes. Moving at normal speed (rather than the skipping of chunks of life as happens in movies) we sometimes miss those changes as they are too gradual. Sometimes however we do notice - in so many movies as in non-fiction one notices how different the world seems before and after World War II (and that is so also in this movie).

I have witnessed all or part of four decades so far. I wonder what is next in store.

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