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Unemployment: Lessons from history

Stumbling and Mumbling chart below puts today’s unemployment data into long-term historical perspective. Using Bank of England data, it shows the unemployment rate since 1855.

What stands out here is that a highish rate of joblessness is quite normal. It is the 1945-73 period of full employment (for men!) that is historically odd, not today’s joblessness. In fact, between 1855 and 1939 the unemployment rate averaged 5.1% – higher than the claimant count rate is now.

Stumbling and Mumbling reckons there are several important messages here:

1. Marxists are right

2. The idea that free market policies can generate sustained full employment lacks any historical foundation

3. Claims that the welfare state has created a culture of dependency in which folk don’t want to work look silly

4. Unemployment is not merely a cyclical problem. It is more permanent than that

5. If we want full employment – and we should – we need something like the post-war settlement

6. If full employment is impossible under capitalism, the question arises: how can we mitigate the misery it causes?

via Stumbling and Mumbling: Unemployment: a brief history.

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