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2004-05-05

Man with weak intelligence 

This is a relatively new blog, so my own guidelines for it are slowly emerging. One seems to be: Daily (well, almost) analysis, even where the amount of facts presented to support the analysis is quite moderate due to lack of time for research and presentation. I'm a bit concerned that the result may look arrogant at times - but I am quite aware of the places where more facts would be beneficial, yet what interests me most is to move forward in discussing the topics that I'm thinking about, maybe the facts could be collected later when required to defend a position.

Today I'm worried about unemployment. I saw this TV program yesterday which presented a back-to-work project for the longterm unemployed. It portrayed a middle-aged man. We are told that this guy has been through a multiyear period of unemployment, during which he became homeless and developed an alcohol addiction. Now, with the help of social workers of the back-to-work project, he has his own place to live in and works in a garage of the fire brigade. The program showed him washing a vehicle with a water hose and handing screws from a table to a mechanic who was doing maintenance work. The man also answered two questions, but I could barely understand a word he said because of his slur. From the superficial impression I got, it looked as if this man would be only marginally employable outside of the protected environment of a social work project. He seemed to have a weak intelligence that must make it tough for him to compete on a free labor market.

I could not help but think of the costs of keeping this man employed - there are the social workers' salaries, there is potentially an inefficiency in the work process of the garage, there is the overhead in the unemployment agency for finding (mostly public?) institutions that would take such employees on board. The benefits are also clear, the clients of such projects will find a new purpose and stability in life, and this will help them to overcome problems such as, in this case, alcohol addiction.

Morally I believe that society should accept some costs to help its weakest members lead a fulfilled life. I am however not entirely convinced that this must involve inclusion in the free labor market - and to be honest, I don't even know whether the project in question is aiming at reintegration in the free labor market, or rather in some kind of protected system of labor for the public sector. The latter may well be good enough. Also, I don't see why everybody must work for money. In practice it's not the case anyway - it is mostly women who stay home to look after kids or sick or old relatives, and some people don't work by choice, because they can somehow afford it financially. Still, the man from the program is clearly in a different situation.

I guess what troubles me is that I have argued that financial support for the unemployed should be reduced (to remove national welfare borders), but now I feel that the man from the program will very likely prefer his current situation to one where he would be on one of those voluntary programs for structuring daily life without being employed that I thought about earlier. Well, actually I called it "multidimensional support and incentives during periods of unemployment", which does not sound so bad really. Ok, so now I believe that 1) anything that does not lead back to paid employment must be strictly voluntary 2) everybody should be given the option to have his "support and incentives" directed at reintegration in the labor market, if they want to. But those fulfilling certain conditions should still be given the option to receive some level of financial support even outside the labor market, and still be respected as full and worthy members of the community.


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