Full Employment Abandoned

Full Employment Abandoned

Shifting Sands and Policy Failures

William Mitchell and Joan Muysken

This book dismantles the arguments used by policy makers to justify the abandonment of full employment as a valid goal of national governments. Bill Mitchell and Joan Muysken trace the theoretical analysis of the nature and causes of unemployment over the last 150 years and argue that the shift from involuntary to ‘natural rate’ conceptions of unemployment since the 1960s has driven an ideological backlash against Keynesian policy interventions.

Chapter 1: The Full Employment Framework and its Demise

William Mitchell and Joan Muysken

Subjects: economics and finance, labour economics


1.1 INTRODUCTION When we were young and later in our formative years, when we studied economics, everybody who wanted to earn an income was able to find employment. Maintaining full employment was an overriding goal of economic policy which governments of all political persuasions took seriously. Unemployment rates below 2 per cent were considered normal and when unemployment threatened to increase, government intervened by stimulating aggregate demand. Even conservative governments acted in this way, if only because they feared the electoral backlash that was associated with unemployment in excess of 2 per cent. More fundamentally, employment is a basic human right and this principle was enshrined in the immediate post-Second World War period by the United Nations. In 1945, the Charter of the United Nations was signed and ratified by 50 member nations. Article 55 defines full employment as a necessary condition for stability and well-being among people, while Article 56 requires that all members commit themselves to using their policy powers to ensure that full employment, among other socio-economic goals, is achieved. Employment transcends its income-generating role to become a fundamental human need and right. This intent was reinforced by the United Nations in the unanimous adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 23 of that treaty outlines, among other things, the essential link between full employment and the maintenance of human rights. (1) (2) (3) (4) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of...

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