A small item in one of those free newspapers that end up on the seats of the world’s subway systems caught my attention yesterday. It was in the Paris Métro; I read it while sitting next to an old schizophrenic lady who was addressing her hallucinations with vehemence, while a female drug addict, who could have come straight out of Belsen were it not for the piercings through her eyebrow and right cheek, solicited alms from the rest of the not very understanding passengers.
The item informed the no doubt riveted Parisians that the unemployment rate in Great Britain had fallen to 6.9 percent and that the number of people in employment was higher there than ever before in history. Is this good news? It might seem so when viewed from an economically stagnant France, where the unemployment rate is considerably higher.
The day before I arrived in France from Britain, I happened to read in the financial pages of one of the sceptered isle’s slightly more cerebral newspapers that, recent economic growth notwithstanding, the gross product of the British economy had not yet regained its level from immediately before the crisis struck. In other words, if one put the two things together, people in Britain were working more to produce less.
The British, and no doubt many others, are unable to distinguish between work and activity. This is not really surprising, since they call anything work if they would not do it without being paid. Whether this work, as they call it, but remunerated activity as I call it, contributes to the production of anything of value, economic or otherwise, is not a question for them. If they wouldn’t do it without payment, it’s work.
I realized a long time ago that a very large number of people in a modern economy are paid to do things that not only fail to add to the economic product of the country, but on the contrary reduce it, insofar as they obstruct others from producing as much as they otherwise might.