THE ROMANS KNEW a thing or two about the common people. They too suffered from the problem of mass unemployment. They needed a way of stopping the masses from rising in bloody insurrection because they had no way of earning a living. They had done away with the need for free citizens to stoop their backs in manual labour by importing masses of slaves from their growing empire. We have done it by inventing machines and computers that take the drudgery out of life – fine words that ignore the fact that they also deprive ordinary men and women of work opportunities and (for some at least) their self-respect. Not for the Romans the complex benefit systems. Their solution was bread and circuses.
We think we’re cleverer than they were but we haven’t avoided the self-same pitfalls. We have actually made the problem worse. We have created a culture of dependency, where blame for any misfortune never lies at your own door. For us, it’s the fault of whichever politician commands the largest source of compensation funds. The Romans were not that stupid. Unlike them, we haven’t had the good sense to maintain our armed services and keep the draft. Nowadays we make absolutely certain that the most dangerous element of our society – the young, healthy, untutored and idle youth – is right out there on the streets while the testosterone levels are at their highest. Instead, we keep them ‘in education’, which is exactly where they don’t want to be (and, if employers’ complaints are to be believed, they don’t get).
To make matters worse. We’ve made ‘service’ and ‘hard work’ dirty words – on a par with ‘class’ and ‘race’. As a result thousands are left on the dole – sorry, job-seekers’ or disability allowances – who might otherwise have a useful function in life, freeing those with higher level skills not yet overtaken by machines to go out and make money, which in turn would allow them to give employment to others – if they want it.
Nobody – but nobody – will work for zero reward, even if it is only the glow of sainthood. Men and women with even moderately high salaries are so heavily taxed they can’t afford to employ servants, even if there were people around willing to do the work (other than immigrants keen to earn a place in our society). To make matters worse, those who might consider employment as servants (domestic facilitators – call them what you will – mainly immigrants, illegal or otherwise) find themselves earning only a marginal pittance above the levels of unemployment benefit (despite the introduction of the living wage), with all the drawbacks of having to work for a living. Even payment in kind, tips and other ‘perks’ are taken into account when assessing tax levels, so they have no incentive to declare their earnings at all and disappear onto the black economy, preferring to risk the wrath of the law rather than pay their due.
People throughout the developed world have come to expect a certain standard of living as of right. This is an idea fed to us by our daily diet of media mush. We get upset at the sight of the growing numbers in our midst – the people ‘society’ has failed – abandoning them to beggary on the streets of our cities. We are all made to feel guilty that such abject misery could possibly have a place on the streets of civilised societies, mirroring the awful conditions that we know exist (and some of us have witnessed) in the third world. That some of these ‘poor souls’ are deserving of sympathy and charity is true, but it is growing ever clearer that many more are in fact using the media image they deliberately create to exploit the charity of the many who live normal, relatively comfortable lives. Their true condition is not a result of enforced poverty either of means or of opportunity.
While Britain has been fortunate enough to remain reasonably prosperous over the years, the idea of welfare as the unfettered right of every man woman and child living in these islands regardless of their origins and length of residence has taken root. A people that was once relatively homogeneous has changed since the Second World War into a thoroughly mixed society, with most of the races of the once far-flung Empire, as well as the repressed nations of the rest of the world, well represented, living on our increasingly crowded shores, plus the economic migrants of the European Union with their freedom to seek work and domicile wherever they wish, without let or hindrance.