"Government cannot create jobs"

I am puzzled by the repeated mantra that government in general, and the Scottish Government in particular, cannot create jobs. Of course they can; for example, every job in Parliament is created. Nor is it true that public jobs are not “real” jobs. Real jobs we need more of include, for example, police, cleaners, teachers, janitors, carers, street and park wardens, or guards. If we invested more in builders, plumbers, painters, gardeners or people to mend roads, it would do a power of good. Part of the argument was made by Keynes: it makes more sense to pay people for doing something than it makes to pay them for doing nothing, and the economic benefits of engaging people in paid employment will be considerable. But there is also a social benefit in ensuring that people are integrated into the economic structures and have the basic entitlements that work brings. If we judge certain activities only by the standards of costs, then it will often seem cheaper to use heavy machinery to repair holes in the road than it is to get human beings to do it – but we cannot afford the machines, and we have labour to spare. (I do not understand the case that CCTV is more cost effective than a street warden; CCTV is very expensive, and a camera cannot actively intervene during an incident.) Creating jobs is often worth doing in its own right. We need to start thinking about costs and benefits across the wider economy.

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