The concept of “unemployment” is a fairly important statistic since the number of people that are working is a significant indicator of the overall health of a free economy. Economists often argue over the minutia related to the definition and statistical measurement of “unemployment”, however this “miss the forest for the trees” approach fails to recognize an important conceptual problem with the current way people view unemployment. For example, at the height of Soviet Communism, the communists claimed that there was 0% unemployment. In other words, under communism, by definition everyone “works” for the state so in this sense everyone is employed. In a concentration camp or gulag, one could also make the case that there is 100% employment since every prisoner as well as the guards and the torturers are technically “working”. In a free market economy, this is less of a problem since the state would not own the means of production nor would individuals be de facto prisoners of the state. However, as
My definition of “real” unemployment is someone either not working by the conventional definition as well as anyone employed in an occupation that would not otherwise exist in a free market economy.
For example, according to the government’s current definition of employment, someone employed by the federal government as an environmental or financial regulator would be fully employed. I would argue that this person is unemployed because they are performing a job that would not exist in a free market. Additionally, not only are they unemployed but they should count as perhaps more than 1 unit of unemployment because they are restricting productive activities by virtue of their work as government regulators. This would be similar to counting a guard at a gulag or concentration camp as being unemployed plus counting him as 2 or more units of unemployment by virtue of his criminal abridgment of the rights of law abiding individuals. In this way, anyone working for the federal government that is not engaged in some way in the protection of individual rights such as a criminal law enforcement officer, military personnel, or as part of the judicial system would count as unemployed. This would go for state and municipal “workers” as well. And to the extent that they are directly engaged in the restriction or outright violation of the rights of the productive they should count as more than 1 unit of unemployed.
How would you classify occupations such as teaching which would exist in the free market but are currently monopolized by the state? I would count them as ½ unemployed as a starting point since they are performing a function that would exist in the free market, but since it is run by the government it is inefficient and likely the work force would be at least ½ of what it is now. This is very conservative. They probably should count as ¾ or more unemployed.
It gets more difficult when you consider private business occupations that are related to government intervention in the economy. For example, consider the profession of tax accountant or tax attorney. There are millions of people who devote time to compliance with the government tax code. This includes not only tax accountants and tax attorneys who work for individuals and corporations but also those who write software like Turbotax that is designed to comply with the tax code. These are all unproductive jobs in the sense that they do nothing except comply with arbitrary regulations that should not and would not exist in a free market. In fact, if the government wants to decrease unemployment, couldn’t it just create millions more pages of tax regulations in such a way that nearly the entire country could be “employed” in trying to figure it out? Then it could hire more agents to catch violators and hire more prison guards to watch them in jail thus bringing the unemployment rate to near 0%.
This same principle applies to attorneys engaged in either prosecuting or defending businesses and individuals from regulations or laws that would not exist in a free market. It would also extend directly to the lawmakers themselves who can be likened to the unproductive members of a 17th century European court who do nothing but pass and enforce self-serving or arbitrary laws in order to rob productive citizens of their wealth.
There are also those who are “employed” by lobbyist firms who pay bribes in order to facilitate favorable legislation for their clients, non-profit groups such as Earth First and Greenpeace which promote anti-productive policies, and even university professors who teach classes or write papers that promote the destruction of civilization.
There are literally millions of people and hundreds of millions of man-hours devoted to promoting or complying with arbitrary and counterproductive government rules, regulations, and taxes. This is time spent by often brilliant persons who could be productive in real jobs. For example, this is time that could be spent by these people researching life saving drugs, identifying cheaper energy sources, building faster computers, developing more efficient transportation systems, inventing more efficient methods of producing food, colonizing space, etc. In what sense can we consider people engaged in non-productive occupations to be employed?
Since I don’t get paid to write this stuff, I won’t attempt to calculate it, but I guesstimate that perhaps as much as 50% of the so-called workforce is actually unemployed and it might be as high as 80 to 90%. Consider that people considered the Great Depression to be a depression due to the length of the economic decline as well as statistics such as massive unemployment. Given that our current unemployment rate may be as high as 50% to 90% by my definition, I consider us to be in a massive Depression. In absolute terms, this may seem unreasonable but when compared to what could be and the type of economic progress and standard of living we would experience in a free market we are certainly in a real Depression.