Home » Quick guides » Economics In One Lesson » X/ The Fetish of Full Employment

The economic goal of any nation, as of any individual, is to get the greatest results with the least effort. The whole economic progress of mankind has consisted in getting more production with the same labor. It is for this reason that men began putting burdens on the backs of mules instead of on their own; that they went on to invent the wheel and the wagon, the railroad and the motor truck. It is for this reason that men used their ingenuity to develop 100,000 labor-saving inventions.

All this is so elementary that one would blush to state it if it were not being constantly forgotten by those who coin and circulate the new slogans. Translated into national terms, this first principle means that our real objective is to maximize production. In doing this, full employment—that is, the absence of involuntary idleness—becomes a necessary by-product. But production is the end, employment merely the means. We cannot continuously have the fullest production without full employment. But we can very easily have full employment without full production.

Nothing is easier to achieve than full employment once it is divorced from full production. Many humans live in miserable poverty without anyone being unemployed. Armament programmes and wars can provide full employment. Prisons, chain gangs and slave labour can provide full employment. Coercion always can.

Wages and employment are discussed as if they have no relation to productivity and output but it matters how much of what is produced. There is not a fixed amount of work to be done and make-work schemes which disorganise production are counterproductive. The progress of civilisation has made less labour necessary, allowing the elimination of child labour, greater leisure and longer retirement.

The real question is not how many jobs there shall be but how much of what shall we produce and what, in consequence will be our standard of living? The problem of distribution of wealth is solved more easily if there is more to distribute.

We should place our emphasis not on full employment, but on full production as the goal, which requires maximum employment along the way.

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