John Singleton, The Australian, March 31, 1977, p. 8, in the “Forum” box.
It is now becoming almost public knowledge that Australia has an unemployment problem. Even the politicians have noticed the figures. 346,663 Australians on the dole are pretty hard to ignore. I mean, they all get a vote, don’t they? But the solutions the politicians feed the media and the media, in most cases, swallow are guaranteed to do only one thing: make the problem worse.
The A.L.P.’s old warhorse solution was put best by silver-haired, leaden-minded Clyde Cameron, who stopped hating Gough long enough to give us his own personal opinion.
“The 40-week year,” says Clyde. That’s the answer. When people explain to dear old Clyde that it is almost impossible for business to make a living now in between strikes, sick pay, minimum wage laws, loadings, 20 per cent inflation and other more blatant — if more honest — forms of taxation, Clyde is not even perturbed:
“They said the same thing about the 40-hour week,” says Clyde, wandering off happily back into the past to write poison pen letters and continue happily in life, having solved the unemployment problem to his own satisfaction, and that of every other unthinking, old-time, turn-of-the-century A.L.P. stalwart.
Last weekend the A.L.P. announced their latest scheme to cut unemployment.
They suggest the women who are unemployed should be hired to do research into the women who are employed. Seriously. Which is like getting half the population to dig holes and the other half to fill them in.
Everyone is employed. It is just that everyone also starves.
The Liberal Party solution is equally injurious, if typically more circumspect.
Our great free enterprise Prime Minister creates a whole new department and a whole new minister (which is a former back-bencher who now gets paid more) to do nothing else but worry about the fact that Australians are working less, producing less, getting paid more and, naturally, going straight down the gurgler.
He even has a tame Treasurer who is actually prepared to say that the problem has peaked and, heaven help us, he may even believe it.
And to your garden-variety politician, the only concern is not the poor genuine unemployed — their only concern is to escape or redirect blame or even dare suggest that no blame should fairly be levelled at anyone as anyway it is all part of an international trend. Like Abba, or something.
In fact, the only immediate solution to unemployment is clear to anyone who can think logically, but it will not happen until things get even worse for one simple reason: politicians don’t care about people. A person is no more than a vote.
In fact the only immediate solution to unemployment in Australia is the immediate abolition of all minimum wage laws.
It has to be realised that wages are no more than prices. In this case the price of labour. Wherever the Government steps in and fixes prices of anything (e.g. milk, eggs, air fares, wages) demand naturally falls.
And so it is today with milk, eggs, air fares and jobs.
Our lovely governments have fixed the prices too high, so we have a glut of milk, eggs, empty aeroplanes and full queues at the dole office.
But over the past few years in Australia vigorous union activity and lily-livered governments have kept wages going up at the same rate as unemployment.
Every time someone gets a rise, someone else has to lose his job to pay for it.
The capacity of industry to pay has been completely ignored so that:
- Thousands of companies are bankrupted each costing all employees all their jobs.
- Thousands more companies are forced to pay off staff to absorb the cost increases.
- And tens of thousands more employees lose their jobs as expensive automation become more economic than labour. And less strike-crazy.
But if wage levels were allowed to fluctuate then the pressure of people bidding for jobs would drive the price of labour (wages) down.
It might then even be possible for business to make profits to re-invest so that companies would need more workers and wages would automatically rise again.
The only possible argument against this simple logic is that employers would exploit the workers and keep their wages down. But this argument ignores the fact that every employer of any worth will always pay more for workers who are really prepared to work.
The opportunity for exploitation is negligible compared with the opportunity for employment. Without minimum wage laws the better worker would be paid more than the lesser worker.
There would be immediate opportunities for those who suffer most from union-blackmailed, government-accepted minimum wage laws: old people, young people, the handicapped, disabled and unskilled.
But instead we can look forward — with dread — to the full effect of the recent CPI increase being passed on under indexation. The inevitable result will be more bankruptcies, more unemployment.
It will be easy, then for Clyde Cameron to push for a 40-hour year. For Lynch to claim that runaway inflation is really not so bad. Street can talk about turning the corner and Fraser can tell us all to work harder on his way home to the farm.
It’s easy for them. Their jobs are secure.
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