Victor Quirk and Bill Mitchell on Unemployment as a Policy Choice

The videos posted below are to talks given last July at a Politics in the Pub session in Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia by Victor Quirk and Bill Mitchell of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), University of Newcastle. Both speakers emphasize the capacity of a currency-issuing government to ensure that full employment is maintained at all times. All that is missing right now is the political will.

In the first video, Victor Quirk discusses within the Australian context the historical opposition of the elites to full employment and their unstinting support, and since the mid-1970s the public’s perhaps unwitting support, of policies that deliberately maintain high levels of unemployment. Of course, the public’s support, whether unwitting or otherwise, has been encouraged by a barrage of misleading propaganda, motivated by various corporate and banking interests.

What was understood in the postwar period — that full employment simply required a policy commitment — has mostly been forgotten. As a consequence, what was demanded in the postwar period and delivered through policy — full employment — is no longer demanded or delivered. The acceptance of high unemployment has resulted in a more or less continual erosion over the last four decades in the quality of life and a relative decline in the living standards of the vast majority.

In the second video, Bill Mitchell discusses the fiscal capacity of the government to maintain full employment and the need for progressives and the public in general to free themselves of a destructive mythology that makes impossible a clear understanding of the real cause of unemployment.

An especially damaging myth is the make-believe and childish notion that government finances are like a household’s, suggesting falsely that a currency-issuing government could face issues of financial “affordability” that somehow prevent idle resources from being put to use or willing workers from being provided employment. As Victor Quirk stressed in the previous video, this is a convenient fiction for those who wish to undermine the living standards of all workers and widen the income and wealth gaps between the top 0.01% and the rest, but a fiction that unfortunately appears to be bought into by almost everyone at present.