Labour market efficiencies from the Roses to the X factor

My initial response to today’s Labour policy rollout was as follows:

Thinking about it, though, this isn’t necessarily so. Presumably the idea is that people build up additional entitlement by paying their class III National Insurance contributions over the years – you may already have guessed that contributions-based unemployment benefit is very much not a new thing – and the young’uns rely on the job guarantee element to, uh, guarantee them a job. Yer man has correctly spotted that there is potential for a disaster like the NI married woman’s stamp here, but that bit of it can be fixed.

Now I can see a rationale for this. It’s not before time for Labour to realise that flogging the 50+ long term unemployed to get jobs is…beside the point and a bit cruel. And if you think unemployment is bad for you, you presumably don’t want the youth to marinate in it for years.

But I do have an objection, which I owe to Ian Brown of the Stone Roses and specifically to a Melody Maker interview of way back when in which he held that cuts to unemployment benefit, and more specifically, to some of the fringe benefits the system used to provide were going to kill British music.

After all, citing another long-forgotten music interview, this time on R1, I recall Tony Wilson describing how he failed to sign the Roses to Factory Records. Someone recommended them to him, and persisted until he agreed to schlep out to some dreadful pub near Wythenshawe, where, he said, weighting his words precisely, “I had been told they were the greatest thing…and I saw something like..the goth Doors. And I did not ask for the goth Doors.”

I’m not sure quite what he meant, although perhaps the intro to “I Wanna Be Adored” feels a bit like that. But you can have the experience by just listening to the first three songs on “The Complete Stone Roses”, the ones everyone skips over on their way to “Sally Cinnamon” and beyond. Really, whether Wilson was right in his characterisation or not, he was right in his assessment.

So what happened? Well, they went off and spent the next three or so years practising and listening to weird records, and of course practising. This is technically known as “labour search efficiencies”, here is a nice Mike Konczal post making the empirical case, and it is an excellent reason to doubt the wisdom of keeping the cash for the old fellas and posting the young’uns into whatever jobs the revived FJF creates as quickly as possible. Stuffing someone into the wrong job is a deadweight-loss to society, as well as to the individual. Further, a hell of a lot of people exit unemployment via informal channels, whether that’s word of mouth/mates’ rates job searching, starting a bogus hair salon that actually takes off, etc. I worry that the constant keying up of search requirements and surveillance is getting in the way of this.

After all, as Quentin Crisp said, “It’s no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, ‘Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.’ By then, pigs will be your style.” You’re more likely to do a successful career change when you’re young, and therefore, there is a case for flipping the policy on its head. There’s also a case for having a different policy, of course. But we’ve got a while to go and we may as well, you know, think.

Liam Byrne is still an arsehole, though. I do like the Austrian lump-sum option from Koncz’s link.

5 Comments on "Labour market efficiencies from the Roses to the X factor"

  1. A similar argument has been made about the British art college system and ’60s British rock, notably in Simon Frith and Howard Horne’s book Art into Pop (1987). The art schools were a place where yobs and truants like John Lennon (Liverpool College of Art), Keith Richards (Sidcup Art College) and Jimmy Page (Sutton Art College) could make the pretence of going to school for years while actually preparing their musical careers – whose export earnings of course repaid the cost of their supposed “scrounging” many times over.


    1. I like the idea of the benefits system as a form of cultural venture capital investment; but does it actually add up?

      The Stone Roses sold, as far as I can see, two million £10 records and maybe half a million £50 stadium tickets; call it fifty million in sales, say £20 million of that makes it to the exchequer. That’s 2000 benefits-years; do 0.05% of people sitting working on their music make it to that level?

      (compare the Spice Girls, who were much more explicitly commercially constructed and sold 30 million £10 albums)


  2. I seem to recall an NME issue around 1999 – they’d fallen out of love with Blair, and argued that without all that time on benefits, we wouldn’t have the Inspiral Carpets.


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