Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let ’Em In!

According to the Workplace Futures Report, Australia confronts a potential workforce shortfall of 1.4 million people by 2025. The report has been prepare by the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and is based on current trends of population growth, retirement rates and the ageing population. Even though population growth has been stronger than expected, with projections of 35 million people by mid century, it will still not be sufficient to support the even faster growing pool of ageing Australians. One or more of four things will need to happen to address the imbalance. Migration and birth rates will need to increase, the retirement age will have to be lifted, the participation rate will have to increase, and productivity will also have to increase.

While there is a great deal of concern in some quarters about rampaging hordes of boat people descending upon Australia, perhaps it is misdirected. It might be that instead of telling the boat people to go back to where they have come from, we should be encouraging more of them to come to Australia. After all, these are people who seek liberty and freedom and a better life, and who are prepared to go to great lengths to achieve those things. We need people like that in the workforce to continue driving the county’s prosperity, and to pay the income taxes which will pay for our pensions in retirement. At the same time, we should all do our part to keep the birth rate increasing so that there is a healthy mix of New Australians from both offspring and offshore, thus maintaining the character of Australian culture and traditions. Are there any volunteers?

Of course, there are many people who are concerned that Australia does not have the natural resources to sustain such a large total population. In particular, there are concerns about water supply and environmental degradation, but if increasing the population is not acceptable the alternative is for all of us to keep on working for longer. Without sufficient younger workers entering the workforce it will be necessary for the retirement age to be increased. In fact, the government has already taken steps in that direction with the plan to lift the pension age to 67 in the years ahead, but that alone won’t be enough. Unless the workforce is increased by other means it is likely that the pension age will rise further, perhaps to 70, in the not very distant future. Again, are there any volunteers?

Wait a minute. Do we really want to keep on working longer? What about all those other people who aren’t working full time, or even working at all? Can’t we get some of them back into the workforce? While there has been an increase in unemployment thanks to the Global Financial Crisis, that is only a temporary effect and the underlying shortage of people hasn’t changed. So that leaves the single parents, the stay at home spouses, the disabled pensioners, and delinquent teenagers who wag school. Surely there’s a way to put all of them to work and force them to make a contribution to the economy instead of sponging off welfare that this country can no longer afford. After all, why should I do all the work when my disabled cousin just sits around in a wheel chair all day?

While it may sound appealing to some to force welfare recipients into the workforce whether they are capable of working or not, it may not be a terribly practical solution. It may also be considered inhumane. But we are running out of options here, so what’s left. We’ve ruled out population growth because we don’t like immigrants and besides the environment can’t handle it. We’ve ruled out working till we drop dead because retirement is part of the great Australian dream, and it’s about the only time most of us will ever have the chance to drive a caravan around Australia. And we just don’t have the heart to turn disabled pensioners into slaves.

That leaves only one option. Productivity. Now that sounds like a great idea, and in some circumstances it actually is. For example, if new technology means that one person can now achieve the same output as ten people once did, that’s a good thing. It means we can all benefit from the substantial and real gain in productivity which promotes prosperity and a better way of life for all of us. Unfortunately, that’s usually not what the boffins mean when they are talking about productivity. Nine times out of ten what they really mean is the you and I have to work harder and faster to produce more and more using less and less materials and supplies, for lower and lower pay. That’s not the kind of productivity increase that is going to provide prosperity for all Australians, and I am not even going to ask if there are any volunteers.

So where does that leave us? After all that, maybe the population growth answer is the right choice after all. Maybe instead of trying to stop the boat people, we should be doing everything we can to help them get here safely. Of course my motives are selfish. I don’t really want to raise any more children, I don’t want to work past a decent retirement age, I don’t want to work harder for less, and I don’t want to be forced to work if I become disabled. And I could really use somebody to polish my shoes, clean my house, and pay for my pension, so I say let ’em in!

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