Education – It Keeps Them Off The Streets

Woodcut from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia depictin...
An Image Representing Dignity, Somehow

With the launch of SOLAS, a new state agency combining job-finding, skills, and further education, I’m growing more and more suspicious that Ireland’s government is planning compulsory training for those on welfare. I have little objection to such schemes if they’re about equipping people with useful knowledge, preparing them for real jobs, making workers up-to-date and competitive.

However, I remember the 80s.

I remember Fás – like it was yesterday – and its predecessor agencies. I remember their much-ridiculed schemes. Training people to use telephones with the help of bananas. I get a horrible sense of déjà vu.

Useless education is counter-productive in so many ways. Being forced to attend tedious lessons when you would much sooner be doing something interesting is bad enough when you’re a child. To have it done to you as an adult is doubly as depressing, because it’s compounded with infantalisation. Any gain in dignity such schemes are supposed to convey needs to be weighed against that.

Another downside is that it takes people out of the black economy. Yes, I meant downside. To be blunt, the black economy is necessary. If everything was done by the book, very little would get done at all. People need services at a lower price than the legal economy can provide, particularly in times of recession. And, particularly in times of recession, those on unemployment assistance are often in a position to provide those services. This frees up what would otherwise be complete economic gridlock, where hardly anyone could afford to pay anyone to do anything.

But also in times of recession, the black economy can grow so much that it begins to compete noticeably with the legit one. I submit that that is no bad thing in the short term. But governments don’t like it of course, for the natural reason that the black economy is, by definition, ungoverned, and they are more susceptible to the protests of legitimate business than they perhaps should be if economic recovery were the only priority. So enforced education, and other timewasting exercises like makework schemes, function at least in part to tie people up and prevent them competing.

Back in the 80s, one solution mooted for this and other related problems such as the ‘poverty trap‘ was a national basic income, so that people on welfare would not be competing with those outside the system. Perhaps it’s time to look at such ideas again.

Poles of Steel

Bus Cartoon

In Dublin again. Beginning to get to know the transport system, though that didn’t stop me being more than half an hour late for a meeting yesterday. I waited at the train station for ages, but they kept going past without stopping. Even when I held my hand out.

Another bit of the money we spent while we had it has reached fruition: A modern bus information system is just coming on stream, with handsome stainless steel signs displaying waiting times. (You can get the same information online too of course.) The first ones have appeared along the quays. Great – one of those rare things that remind you we do actually live in Europe. Considerably later than some other countries of course but hey – so are the buses.

I jest. Dublin buses are not at all bad. Or at least, they weren’t. As they do have to save money somewhere, they’re cutting back drastically on, well, actual buses… Ten percent across the board, including big reductions of the night bus system. So if you live in a Dublin suburb and want to go out on any night other than Friday and Saturday – which are frankly quite hellish enough in central Dublin already – then remember to factor in a very expensive taxi home.

But it makes sense I guess. As there’s a severe recession on, people will be abandoning the luxury of cheap public transport and taking to cars in droves. No wait, that doesn’t sound right.