The perversion of ‘full employment’

In advocating the pursuit of ‘full employment’ last month, George Osborne sardonically offered a deliberate echo of the UK’s Keynesian past. Yet there is more substance to this knowingly provocative claim than it might appear at first.

It would be implausible to suggest that Osborne’s agenda represents a genuine departure from a neoliberal policy framework, the ascendance of which led to the marginalisation of the pursuit of full employment as a central aspect of economic statecraft. However, it is precisely the success of neoliberalism in its remaking of the UK economy that lends credibility to the resurfacing of this objective.

As such, full employment – generally understood not as universal employment, but rather a situation in which 80 per cent of the working-age population is in work – is rendered an expectation of what the labour market is capable of delivering, rather than something that the government will directly seek to bring about through demand management.

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Image: quixotic54