Ref. :  000001132
Date :  2001-06-15
Language :  English
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Unemployment

Unemployment


Unemployment has become a project. This is not the unfortunate result of inappropriate economic policies. It is not the price to pay for the instability of the money, financial, stock or raw material markets. It is not the balance of public and private sector "mismanagements". Quite apart from that, we must understand its contemporary form as a global project.

In order better to assess the situation, a few figures. Around a billion people are without work or unemployed in the world, which represents 30% of the available "workforce". In several developing countries, the real unemployment rates are in the order of 40 to 50% and above. In these countries, close to 500 million workers cannot ensure for their family the income per capita of one American dollar per day (the so-called "poverty threshold"). In Latin America alone, nearly 200 million people, that is half the population, live below this line. Finally, in the group of countries classified as "the richest", where thirty years ago "normal" unemployment rates were around 3%, today they reach 12%.

These "indicators", which we could infinitely replicate, are marking out a new landscape, whose exploration demands different concepts to those we are used to. This is how, beyond the human disaster it generates, beyond the social destruction each can observe where they live, this is how it is actually possible to envision unemployment as a project. But how do we make this message heard? It is not simple! In fact, what project means is that unemployment is for our contemporary societies much more than and completely different to what it might have meant at the end of the 19th century or in the 1930s. Unemployment has become a project because today all private management strategies and public policies have integrated into their horizons, whether immediate or longer term, a change as profound as it is international of the balance (for workers and institutions) between work and leisure, employment and all the other forms of activity. It is a project because taking into account such a mutation has up to now served to validate and reinforce the old idea that citizens could dispense with a fairly paid job. This is for at least two reasons. The first, mainly applicable in the "developed countries", is based firmly on the observation that other "activities" could enable a citizen to be fulfilled, which would take away (or at least limit) the responsibility of public and private sector managers with regard to "real unemployment". The other reason, verifiable anywhere, but especially in "developing countries", is that new forms of "local and global" domination are being experimented with, where this would not normally be the case by vocation.

In fact, unemployment has become a "management method", indeed one for majority governments. Increasingly, what was once only "variable unemployment" has become a "priority" in all countries, on the one hand for "economic policy", on the other for public or private companies' strategy. Management method because, in the organised world, it is effectively unemployment and non-unemployment which is now being managed, much more so than employment, which appears only as a by-product (that is now the "balance"). Now it is "human capital", itself perceived as a stock, whose "flows" must be "optimised", preferably on the tightest schedule possible (such is the reign of "just-in-time")... But also government method, where, rather than "governance", as the beautiful language of our time calls for, because unemployment is no longer pushed out to the periphery (driven back by bad policy): on the contrary, it is at the very heart of any strategic decision. Unemployment is no longer the marginal consequence of a company or government policy: at present it is its regulator, if not its prescriber. It has indeed become "the priority of priorities", but in the cruellest, most paradoxical sense. To the point where the announcement of a "hiring plan" generates an instinctive mistrust, while expressions such as "redundancies", "paring down" and "social plan" are heralded as "creating value" on the markets... The whole of society has adapted in an exceptional way to what an individual personally affected by unemployment cannot - at least not without losing a substantial part of their identity. It has put up with "structural unemployment", ever higher and ever more "structural", and, in the end, with predominant, if not "majority" unemployment.

For all this, to claim that "globalisation produces unemployment", or, conversely, that it tends to reduce it, appears factitious, and at the same time misses the point. For between unemployment and globalisation, the links are more problematic than one merely "causing" the other. What has become globalised, from the G8 to China through to developing countries, is unemployment as the privileged economic instrument. What has become globalised is unemployment as a normative social activity alongside or in place and instead of other forms of social life, such as that fast disappearing concept of the "job for life" (the Japanese model). What has become globalised is unemployment as a threat from which no-one can any longer be exempt or hide, no matter what their education, origin or competencies. What has become globalised is unemployment conceived and presented as an attainable paradigm for humanity, in all its geographical and sociological forms, where once "employment" prevailed. In fine, and beyond all morality, what has become globalised is unemployment as experimentation of man and by man of something which in future may well play as important a role as "work".

So, for those who persist in claiming to be at times surprised at the "tides of unemployment", at others pleased with its "ebbs", we shall formulate this injunction: "Come down once and for all from the realm of dreams and finally join that of politics!" For, as a certain Hegel remarked in his notebooks as a young man: "The answer to those questions which philosophy cannot answer is that they should not have been formulated thus" And yet, "unemployment" is precisely one of these "questions".


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