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This is why we can’t have nice things

To be precise this is why we can’t have politicians who try to explain concepts from economics in a relatively grown up manner. When they give the more highminded strategy a go, along comes the Daily Mirror and the “pan-disability charity” Scope – whose Wikipedia entry is graced by one of those template messages saying, “This article contains content that is written like an advertisement” – to remind them why when attempting to discuss economics with the Great British Public the wiser course is to mindlessly repeat one pre-prepared soundbite. Daring to suggest that some groups might be on average be less productive than others, even in the context of saying that their participation in the labour force is a good thing, only brings on another mass bout of indignation dysentery. All one can do then is try not to breathe in too deeply until people have got it out of their system.

Quoth the Mirror:

Philip Hammond blames Britain’s low economic productivity on working disabled people

“The consequences of high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, will be felt for many, many years to come.

“It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

Quoth Scope:

Anna Bird, Director of Policy and Research at disability charity Scope, said: “These comments are totally unacceptable and derogatory. They fundamentally undermine the Government’s policy to get more disabled people into work, and the ambition set out by the Prime Minister just a week ago.

“The Chancellor must urgently withdraw them and offer a full apology.”

Quoth Mirror commenter “DiAne”:

Didn’t Hitler say something similar?

12 comments to This is why we can’t have nice things

  • Presumably the correct response to Mirror commenter DiAne would be to reply, “No, Hitler lied about it.” (Not being in the habit of commenting at the Mirror, I will resist the doubtless futile exercise of doing so.)

    In early 30s Germany, a society for the disabled once produced a leaflet instancing Joseph Goebbels as a supreme example of how disability could be overcome and lead to a life of achievement. When Australian Stephen Roberts (author of The House that Hitler Built) visited in 1936, he found that “Berlin still talks of the fate of that unfortunate society”.

  • Paul Marks

    I doubt that low productivity growth is due to disabled people. We have moved to a, relatively, low productivity growth and low wage economy because of mass immigration. Now a low wage and low productivity economy may be a price-worth-paying for mass immigration (and certainly a cheap labour policy has advantages), but we should be honest about it – and not blame the disabled. It is like talking about a “housing crises” and the “need” to destroy what is left of England with yet more estates – without mentioning that this is because of mass immigration. Talking about housing or wage rates (or productivity rates – the choice between just employing more people or for going for higher productivity ways of doing things) without being frank about the effects of mass immigration, is like discussing Hamlet without the Prince.

    Although, yes, a disabled person is likely to be less good at hard physical work (their rate of productivity in brute physical tasks is likely to be lower), the word “disabled” does indeed imply that.

  • Laird

    Paul, I didn’t read the statement as “blaming” the disabled; I read it as offering one, partial explanation for reduced rates of productivity growth. And to me it seems unarguable: although the term “disabled” includes a wide range of conditions (some of which have little or no impact on productivity), a large number of such people are without question less productive than their “abled” peers. And as their relative numbers in the workforce increase it is necessarily going to adversely affect measured aggregate productivity; that’s a simple mathematical relationship. Anyone who argues otherwise is either ignorant or pursuing some other agenda.

    Hammond isn’t saying that increased participation of the disabled in the workforce is a bad thing (quite the contrary, in fact); he is merely articulating a mathematical reality to which too many would prefer to close their eyes and clap hands over their ears.

  • Chip

    I googled and there are – incredibly – 3.4 million disabled people in the workforce, which makes me wonder how they define disabled.

    The same stats site turned up these gems.

    Of the 451,000 ethnic Bangladeshis, only 50,000 are employed.

    Of the 247,000 ethnic Chinese, 63,000 are working.

    Of the 1.4 million ethnic Indians, 368,000 are working.

    Of the 1.1 million ethnic Pakistanis, 160,000 are working.

    The government has a truly appalling immigration policy.


  • Chip

    Correction. Had another look on the laptop and I got the years wrong. The relative rates of employment between the ethnic groups is the same but the actual numbers are not correct.

    Don’t read spreadsheets on a phone.

  • Indeed, the reason France has such higher productivity levels than Britain is because the most unproductive in society are simply not employed. They instead languish in concrete blocks in the banlieues and plot jihad. It’s why the measurement of productivity should include the whole available workforce, not just those in employment.

    There’s another reason, too. Any money spent by the government is simply added to the GDP figure, pound for pound (or euro for euro). So all those tens of thousands of useless fonctionnaires snoozing away in the prefectures and La Poste are deemed “productive” to the precise tune of their cost to employ. In other words, if the British government wanted to increase GDP and hence productivity, it should simply hire another few million people to sit and do fuck all in the public sector on healthy salaries. Oh hang on: Blair and Brown already did that.

  • Of the 247,000 ethnic Chinese, 63,000 are working.

    I suspect in the case of the Chinese all 247,000 are working but the government only receives taxes from 63,000 of them.

  • tomsmith

    I called in to the Sheila Fogarty show on LBC one time to make this point (the show was asking why employers can’t pay a “fair” wage to disabled people).

    I remained calm and used fact based logical arguments. Ms Fogarty eventually shouted me down and switched me off without giving a chance to answer her last point. Following that about 5 people called in to say that I was a Nazi.

    The reality is that this is a subject that cannot be openly debated in Britain and where reality and fact is not allowed. This type of blind spot is crippling to our political system. I wish that intelligent people in public life would make this kind of point at every opportunity in order to try and overcome magical thinking in these areas. Sadly they usually don’t because they have too much to lose.

  • staghounds

    Over here we call this sort of statement a hatefact.

    Yes, technically true, but the agenda is more important than mere truth so pointing it out is an act of hate so heinous that the pointer out must be silenced and labeled an enemy.

  • CaptDMO

    From the US:
    One of the reasons I liked “The Full Monte” was the depiction of labor, and welfare(dole), including the high density housing where Gaz lived. A LOT of casual references that I suspect sailed over my US brethren’s heads.
    OTOH: It is my impression that too many “idle” folk, on BOTH ends of the labor/income bell curve,allows for WAAAAY too much time, to produce waaaaay too many studied experts, in “The proper use of other peoples money” in the”economics” chapter of political Science,and other non, and contra,-productive intellectual pursuits.
    (MUCH like US universities, and ME in retirement)

  • staghounds

    You get what you pay for. Pay for idleness,that’s what you get.

  • rxc

    “Pay for idleness,that’s what you get.”

    Behavior that is rewarded, gets repeated.