Make-work Job Creation all the way Down

A few years ago I somehow became involved (it wasn’t planned) in an educational project funded by the European Commission. The project cost in the six figures (Euro) spanned over a half dozen countries with almost 10 institutional partners (technically my institution was the partner I was just one of three or four representatives of said partner) and lasted two years. While the project might have had some value had it been structured differently, some major problems involving design (that could not be changed) and then some early decisions (partly due to the design problems) blunted most of its real potential value.

It was the first (and most likely last) such project I’ve been involved in but a bunch of other people spent most or all of their working lives on this type of project (and several were involved in two or three others at the same time).

It was listening to several of them discussing the chances for other projects of getting funding when it hit me –  The goal of the project wasn’t education at all but job creation. Not in the classic sense of private businesses creating jobs (because private business hates creating jobs and does so very unwillingly) but the EC was spending a fair amount of money to give the participants (highly educated but not always in the most practical fields) gainful employment of a type. I have no idea how many people are involved in this or how conscious anyone at any level is of the process but that’s what it is, governmental institutions paying people to create ‘educational’ projects that don’t really have much chance to educate anyone and disappear relatively quickly to be replaced by others.

It’s a little like the automated factory in Stanisław Lem’s Eden that builds products and then dissassembles them into component parts and transfers them to the beginning of the production line to reassemble them. Perceived that way, much of the bureaucratic regulations (many and many of them very absurd) were mostly there to prevent the participants from perceiving the project as the kind of make-work Potemkin operation it was.

That’s what I mean when I wrote that much of what governments are now doing is finding ways to employ people since so many traditional jobs are disappearing.

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