Suddenly the inflation rate is too high again. It was all right when it was just enough to gently reduce working people's standard of living keeping enough cheap money floating about the economy so that the high rollers in the commodity markets, the inventory chislers, the condominium gamblers and the more rapacious money changers got richer. When the inflation rates get too high, however, it alarms the casino players and pressure is brought on the government to do something about a condition suddenly disadvantageous to the creditor classes.
In this moment of our history when the businessman has been re-enthroned as asource of wisdom, and when the profits-at-any-price expression "the bottom line" has become a cliche, the exiomatic solution to inflation is to fire people. Lotsa people.
In theory, unemployment is a politically risky policy. The firees and the laid-offs are supposed to grow angry and discontented, so much so that, if not put back to work, they may become rebellious, insurrectionary and generally fractious to the detriment of good order and the peril of property. By these lights the riffed civil service victims of the tax revolt, sacked librarians and cashiered clerks in assessor's offices can be expected to firebomb their regional Federal Reserve Bank or even their still-employed neighbor's bungalow.
In actuality, things seldom happen that way. Our unemployed are ordinarily docile, patient and well-behaved. Even during the Great Depression the out-of-work millions lined up nicely enough for slops and soup, although occasionally families being evicted on a mortgage forecl osure kicked up a fuss. Today when we're out of work, we go weekly and meekly to the hand-out window grateful for our bid of the dole and with no proclivity for listening to seditionists. During the last recession the out-of-work showed such good manners several university professors wrote articles suggesting unemployment compensation be cut.
The credit for adjusting us so well to the swoops and whoops of the business cycle should be given perhaps to our traditionally high unemployment rate for teen-agers and young people. We may be doubly fortunate that joblessness is especially high among black and lower-class white youths. They, after all, are the ones who are most likely to be laid off in later years. Thus early unemployment accustoms them to being out of work and on the bum. It inculcates in them a permanently jittery sense of insecurity about where the next meal is coming from. That makes them obedient when employed and quietly resigned when discharged.
It is true that higher crime rates are associated with higher unemployment rates. On the other hand, crimes committed by unemployed youths are committed against other low-income people, the indigent, the elderly and the mutually desparate. More often than not you'll find the victims are persons who failed to save for a rainy day or do something else early in their lives which should make us curb our compassion for their impotent plight. Prudent, sober people in better neighborhoods are rarely robbed and attacked by unemployed youths who wouldn't know where the good neighborhoods are even if they had the transportation to get them there.
Periodic lay-offs owing to the business cycle reinforce a sense of helplessness in the person deprived of gainful employment. That in turn buttresses social stability.
A person laid off because business is bad is possessed of two contradictory but emasculating thoughts. Thought No. 1 is that nothing he or she could have done no matter how hard he or she worked would have saved the job; thought No. 2 is that if he or she were really valuable to the management some way would have been found to keep him or her on the payroll. Nothing is to be feared from people with such a low, immobilized and futile self-image.
Hence those people who carp and carp and carp about the failure of our youth employment program are mistaken. The success of such program is that they fail.
Nevertheless, they must not be banded. Our people are brought up in need to feel that large institutions care for them. They need to know that Big Brother loves them, although at the moment national security and the arms race make it impossible to manifest that love in material terms. That's enough for us. We have learned to be comforted by recorded messages, by jobless employment programs, by suicide crisis center phone numbers with busy signals and referal agencies that hand us on and on and anon.
Full employment is destabilizing and dangerous; it's the thought of it that keeps us passive but cheerful.