Many external threats to full employment have been identified over the years.
Computers were supposed to lead to a life of leisure for us all and, I suppose you do rarely see a typing pool these days. However, in my (admittedly limited) personal experience, computers have generated more work (and, indeed, paper – another work-based evil they promised to eradicate) than any other invention in human history. Worse, we have somehow been persuaded to willingly carry the wretched devices with us – though I still tend to leave my mobile phone at home or have it (accidentally) switched to silent so that it cannot disturb my leisure-time equanimity.
Immigration has always been, and is still, blamed for loss of employment – though I suspect the data may not entirely support this position if properly analysed by a disinterested party. It seems that people make the effort to come here from abroad and find work, and then rub salt into the wound by often doing their jobs better than the locals. I’ve always thought immigration was a planning issue – which would help to explain why successive governments have, for centuries, made such a hash of it. It always seems that proper planning is anathema to governments of all flavours (as opposed to piss-poor planning which is like catnip to the political classes), and they would certainly never be caught implementing something which had been properly tested to check whether it was effective.
However, the latest threat to full employment would seem to come from within – it seems that many of us could soon be replaced by members of order Rodentia (and, as we “know” we are never more than eight feet from one of these). I read yesterday of the heroRAT project, which uses rats to save lives – clearing landmines and screening for TB in Africa at this stage (though, in this country we have already seen their move into the less heroic field of television presentation and the “saving” of TVam).
The founder of this project (a Belgian Buddhist monk) notes that rats make excellent labourers as they enjoy repetitive tasks, are highly intelligent and are small and lightweight – great for transport to site and working in places that larger, heavier humans would find rather tricky. They take nine months training from birth to being productive members of society, at a time when most humans are still a drain on societal resources, and are certainly a very long way from being economically productive (even before Lord Shaftesbury, 9 month olds would not have made decent chimney-cleaning fodder). I should imagine rats’ salary demands would be very modest and it would certainly be pretty straightforward to grow the workforce if demand picks-up. Rats also only live for 9 years (or thereabouts) and so as a workforce they should not contribute negatively to the forthcoming pensions time-bomb (cut the blue wire, says I).
At this stage, the heroRAT project is using the African giant pouched rat (which I assume comes with pockets) but this is only because they are very common where they are working – there should be no problem using our own indigenous rats as new members of the workforce. It would be easy to see this as a threat, with rats taking our jobs leading to soaring unemployment and the breakdown of society. Given that the rats are already living here (and probably out-number us) we can’t really send them home (whatever some politicians will try and tell you) – they’re already home, and most will have called the UK home for more generations than most of its human residents. No, I say we should embrace this rodent revolution! With so much work done by our ratty friends (and at such modest cost) perhaps the long promised leisure society can finally be delivered. Obviously, there is a risk that the rats will eventually take over the levers of power and become our masters – but, that will take ages (and by then I’ll be buried ‘neath the clay or have been used to heat a local swimming pool), so for now let us eat, drink and be merry!