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A sinking tide lowers all boats

Sweden, which has the seventh highest employment rate in the world, used to have a large, publicly funded employment agency, a state-sponsored job board of sorts.

During the last few decades, this agency has seen wave after wave of cuts to the point of uselessness. In the short term, this might seem like it makes sense for the right wing: one of the core fault lines between left and right has, throughout the 20th century, been whether labor should be a buyer’s market or a seller’s market. The fiscally conservative class can benefit if the working class is existing right on the edge. If workers can afford to manage their own time, or feel safe that they’re not going to get fired, or know that there is another job waiting if they do, they can negotiate better terms, salaries, and hours from their employers.

However, as inflation and crypto gambling has been making painfully obvious lately, numbers can get dissociated from value. If one apple costs a thousand dollars instead of a dime, yay growth? Numbers went up? But not really. Instead, one of the best indicators for the actual health of an economy is employment rate (counting meaningful, value-adding labor). It’s a statistic that can cut through inflation and crises.

“Trickle-down economics” was a myth that claimed that policies designed to benefit the ultra-rich would also benefit the working class. One slogan that was used to sell it was “a rising tide lifts all boats”. In actuality, a lot of value in an economy is being produced by the labor force. Depressing the tide lowers all boats.

When there are large, sweeping market changes (like a pandemic, a population influx, or disruptive technologies), having a way to quickly adapt the labor force is a way to make sure the economy as a whole is optimally productive, which also benefits the richest class. Cutting the employment agency might’ve been a very costly mistake.

“Employment rate”

I am trying to use some of the right wing’s vocabulary for this essay because it’s them I’m trying to reach. But seeing the number in question be referred to as “employment rate” reminds me of a curious tension: it is to the benefit of the employer class to present employment as the most meaningful way to spend time at the expense of other human endeavors and connections (well, second most, after consuming products from ads) while simultaneously the employer class wants to elevate their status with a cult of entrepreneurship that worships Musk and Jobs.