In Defence of the Bum

There is typically a strong disgust for people who live off the largesse of the state but do not work for such benefits. Social security for the unemployed is in theory meant to be a means for sustaining individuals as they look for a job. For those whose lassitude prevents them from strenuously searching, and who take from the state through job seekers allowance, or if they have children, child benefits, or other forms of social security, these individuals are considered as societal leeches, the dregs of society, taking while not giving. Indeed if society is to function and endure it has to be assumed that its members are contributing in some form though occupation, and the production of something. That thing can be tangible objects such as buildings and clothes, or intangible things such as entertainment.

Ultimately, we are thinking that one’s worth in society is their production. When we consider factors of production, we speak of land, labour, capital, and we think of their usufruct which people benefit from. But often these factors of production can be used to produce goods and services that do not benefit people. Here we are not speaking of its potential benefits; rather it does not benefit people in that they do not demand these goods and services.

So really we are not talking about just production: production has to be demanded and used, otherwise it is just waste. In the world today, there is much waste of usufruct developed from the factors of production. In terms of land, according to a United Nations report, every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally, roughly one third of the global food supply. In terms of capital, China, Qatar, and other nations are guilty of building empty real estate or half-finished construction projects.  When it comes to labour, one can produce goods and services that no one wants. Countless consultants and researchers produce reports that either very few people read or do not take seriously. Academics can be considered as an exception especially those that are involved highly abstract discussions, which are intelligible only amongst those who are within that particular field. Pure mathematics is one such branch where society is not improved by the fact that some mathematician has proved a theory that predicts the number of prime numbers within a set of high value numbers.

Demand is a key factor, and society endures if there is both a supply and demand, even if what is being supplied does not necessarily produce anything tangible for society itself. Here we return to the entertainment industry and present a comparison. Sport and movie stars boast of astronomical salaries, and yet their contribution to society is abstract. Indeed, when comparing their contribution to society to a manual laborer who works on the erection of the house one stays in, can we say that Novak Djokovic really deserves $3 million for winning a tournament where all he did was smack a ball around for a few hours? One built a house in which a person stays and is provided comfort and a home that can last; the other entertained for a few hours.

Only a few people will demand the former; millions of people demand the latter, although it is difficult to see how a tennis player is materially benefiting society. The societal bum also does not materially benefit society, at least not on first glance. A closer reading shows the societal to bum to be a quite resolute member of society. He receives welfare which he spends on goods which contributes to the revenue of the company who then use it to pay their labour or perhaps on producing more goods. The company makes more money and has to pay taxes. Tax revenue goes to the government who then invest in public goods such as roads. Voila! The societal bum is an important member of society, just as movie and sports stars are. It is just that they do not put enough money into society. This is their problem. If on the other hand, a company could spend money on them, perhaps make a reality tv programme on their lives, and plaster their faces on magazines, then one could say they are contributing to society. Just look at the Kardashians!

Yet we demand to see the Kardashians. This demand reflects more on us as a society than the societal bum’s ineptitude in finding a job.  We are taught that unemployment is a bad thing for society; this misses the point. Unemployment is not the issue; the issue is whether we demand your usufruct.  The issue is whether we value your worth in society. An unemployed man may not produce for society, but his values might be better than the millionaire banker or the CEO of an international oil company. Would society be better with the avaricious CEO or the bum who does not bother and does not want to be bothered except perhaps a few pounds for some food?


One thought on “In Defence of the Bum

  1. Did the writer just sit for his SATs? I am sure he will pass with flying colors; seeing the amount of unnecessarily tough words used. Or is the targeted audience comprised of future SAT students?

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