Counting the jobs

Today’s Irish Times has given us a preview of the Innovation Taskforce report due to be launched tomorrow. There is some interesting stuff in it going by the newspaper piece, and I shall be at the launch and will report and assess afterwards.

However the Irish Times headline, which has the report suggesting that 120,000 new jobs can be created if we seriously become an innovation centre, prompts me to reflect on how we now make the connection between what is described as ‘innovation’ (which has become over-used as a term and as such has been deprived of much of its meaning) and job creation. Indeed, we should probably be hesitant about referring to job ‘creation’ at all, as it conjures up images of a planned economy based around production, rather than an economy based around trade and consumption. Whatever we may feel about this ideologically – and I may confess to just an occasional twinge of nostalgia for a more employment-focused strategy – in reality ‘job creation’ is no longer an option that is open to us if we want to remain (or become) solvent as a country. What we can, and should, do however is to create conditions in which jobs are likely to emerge, whether in old-style employment or in self-employment; and to create the conditions in which such economic activity confers acceptable conditions and enables attractive lifestyles for people in general.

That is why, I believe, we need to be careful about promising to ‘create’ jobs, partly because it distorts the focus of what we must do, and partly because it is setting ourselves up for a fall. So for example when the TCD-UCD ‘Innovation Alliance’, which prompted the establishment of the Taskforce, promised to create 30,000 jobs, this was for me an unwise element in what was otherwise a good idea. We need to find a mindset in which ‘innovation’ is pursued as a stimulus to trade and business – as well as improvements in public services and social initiative – rather than as a framework for jobs. The latter are much more likely to emerge if we let go of such old-fashioned concepts.

I say this in part because I believe that generating economic activity has as its main purpose the facilitation of employment and work for as many as possible; it is why we do it. But at this stage of our development this means creating the right conditions in which individuals and organizations (including the state where appropriate) make large and small investments, which in turn will allow the greatest number of people to escape from economic inactivity and poverty. But if we start by counting the jobs, we may end up not counting very many.

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14 Comments on “Counting the jobs”

  1. Colm Harmon Says:

    100% agree with this. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop making the direct linkage to a metric like jobs. It is fatal and makes innovation policy an easy target in five years when some ex post evaluation happens. Innovation creates the environment for job creation. That is unfortunately much softer but true.

  2. Sean Says:

    I await with interest these developments and well done to yourself and all involved. However,I have some serious reservations about the realism involved in this figure of 120,000 jobs. If 1,200 are created I would be surprised. I am not being cynical or overly pessimistic, but if you look at every strand of Irish Society from politics, education, banking, construction, tourism, sport, technology, enterprise we are to coin a phrase a “stagnant pond”. There is little evidence of leadership, initiative or incentive to be innovative. In fact the word innovation is probably one of the most mis-used words in modern business parlance

    • Jilly Says:

      Also a very poorly-used word. Innovation means to do something new or different. It does not necessarily mean to do it better. This is a crucial distinction which appears to have been utterly lost in current business/political discourse.

      New Coke was innovative, after all…

  3. Aidan Kane Says:

    As with others, I do agree that these headline numbers are pretty inappropriate. It’s not unreasonable to make an order-of-magnitude estimates of the impact of a given policy change, but by now these sorts of numbers are, I suspect, aimed to catch headlines, and are probably greeted with considerable scepticism, so I’m not sure they achieve much by way of making the case intended.

    The practice is pretty pervasive and long-standing. I do recall that pre-EMU, the government commissioned the ESRI to undertake a major study into the costs and benefits of entry into the euro for Ireland—after the basic decision had been taken, mind you. The ESRI compiled a pretty impressive report, in that it fairly carefully considered the uncertainties intrinsic to such an exercise, the margins of error etc. It anticipated, as did many others, some of the policy conflicts inherent in the decision, while concluding it was the best option on offer. All of that careful consideration, all the nuance, was however, foreshortened in headlines and sound-bites about “ESRI says euro will create X thousand jobs.” We lost an opportunity for a really useful debate that time. And no-ones knows what X was anyway now 🙂

    I certainly hope the efforts of the taskforce on innovation are rewarded with something more sophisticated by way of comment and action.

  4. Liam Delaney Says:

    Job creation in the sense of direct planning of long-term production is certainly something that has fallen into disrepute. Short-term labour market stabilisation is not something that should be thrown out with it. The live register numbers among young people is now a key strategic threat to the entire viability of the state in a way that demands an emergency response, something akin to a two-year bridging programme for the entire cohort involving a full transformation of the unemployment payment system and job training. The dangers of allowing over one third of our under-25 population to slip into higher than one-year plus durations of unemployment are so dire that this is the one aspect of this mess that will haunt us fully in the future if not addressed. So in that sense, “job creation” is an absolute neccesity and the failure to put forward a jobs strategy is a lunatic policy.

  5. Sally Says:

    One way to create jobs is to do things less efficiently. A planned economy focuses on human needs and sees production as a way of fulfilling those needs. In such an economy, the aim would be to *remove* jobs, freeing its citizens to spend more of their time in truly creative and pleasurable pursuits. In contrast, a market economy focuses on sales for profit. It doesn’t really matter what is produced – bread or bombs or bank accounts, and its aim is to increase rather than reduce need. There is clearly no future in this type of economy.

    • kevin denny Says:

      Planned economies have been spectacularly unsuccessful. They were maintained by force, were highly inefficient and ultimately collapsed. North Korea and Cuba are the only remaining examples. Funnily enough, people are trying to get out of these places and not into them.
      Market economies, while they clearly have their faults, seem to be doing ok in the long run.

      • Vincent Says:

        Except of course, that where all roads lead to Rome once, they now lead to China.
        And while the States and the Anglo orientated economies continue to act as if they have a frontier which can absorb there will be a projection error built into any calculation. Put simply, we will have near on .5m people unemployed next year. But why when the Census data going back to 80s told the story that 50,000 people would be entering the work force. Now if an economy cannot absorb that number a year you might as well get another type of Taskforce and flatten the place.

  6. Sally Says:

    Clearly there are planned economies and planned economies. As I suggested earlier, what we need is a plan for the satisfaction of human need rather than the growth of that market abstraction “gross domestic product”, which measures quantity rather than quality, whose growth ultimately benefits only the unscrupulous, and whose pursuit leads to periodic crises and general insecurity. It’s time for the next step in human development, and we in HE should be helping to plan it rather than acceeding to the ‘realities’ of a failing status quo.

  7. Iainmacl Says:

    quite right Sally. It’s the quality of life that should matter more. Economic models should never be raised beyond possible mechanisms to achieve higher goals, not ends in themselves where rampant free market or statist-dictatorships…oh and like any models, they should be trashed when they fail to make sense any more.

    Anyway, back to the main point, sadly the headlines continue to focus on the numbers game as witnessed by RTE today at the launch of the report:

    http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0311/innovation.html

    • Sean Says:

      I know the numbers game is becoming tiresome, but what has happened to the 120,000 jobs mooted at first, today’s IT Website mentions the figure of 117,000. Before we have started we have lost 3,000 already!!!

  8. John Says:

    Sally, when important and fundamental changes are required, it is customary and more socially acceptable to concentrate on side issues.

  9. Sally Says:

    I’ve noticed.

  10. Sally Says:

    Quote from original blogger:

    “generating economic activity has as its main purpose the facilitation of employment”

    No. This is conventional but muddled. A clearer view would be “the purpose of work is to satisfy human need”.


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