Preventing Employment

Lithuanian officials are fond of extolling the hard-working people of Lithuania. Indeed, Lithuanians, just like many other peoples, are hard-working. It cannot be otherwise, given that a man sweats blood to earn a living. Not surprisingly, industriousness is considered to be a norm. A hard-working man is a worthy example, while a slothful one is viewed as an object of contempt.

Despite these attitudes, the government’s policy suggests… the reverse. Of all regulations of people’s private affairs, regulatory burdens and controls bear most heavily on labour. Probably one can only do the washing-up without major interference from the state. Almost any other move of an ambitious, working individual is impeded by a very visible hand of the state. Those who wish to independently work and earn keep butting into a wall of permissions and prohibitions, tax regulations and administrative requirements. Production certificates, bills of lading and rules of record keeping are but a few examples we in Lithuania have witnessed over the last months. Although less obvious, employment regulations are as painful and even more retaliatory than others. Take, for example, labour safety regulations, regulations of wages and salaries, taxes, all kinds of privileges that invite trade unions’ autocracy, regulations of employment agreements and working hours, restrictions on contracts whose objects are the fruits of man’s labour etc etc.

Most Lithuanians tend to believe that these regulations are enforced for their own good. Is it really so? Take the minimum wage. Trade unions do not leave off fighting for its increases . And they take great delight in their victories. In reality, however, an increase in the minimum wage means not a higher pay for the underpaid but an obstacle to job creation, a rise in unemployment, and the impoverished provinces.

Privileges of these same trade unions provide another example. In Lithuania it is only a trade union that can conclude with the employer a collective agreement. And such an agreement is mandatory for everyone else, even for those who have nothing to do with a given trade union. This, in turn, implies terms of contract that are slanted towards trade-union members (these constitute a mere two percent of Lithuania’s population) or their leaders. Such terms, for example, may include restrictions on dismissal or hiring of employers. Trade unions, which in most cases represent those already employed, may be turning a blind eye to the implications of employment regulations. But can governments elected by the whole nation do so?

Employment regulations mean that even if the terms of an employment contract satisfy both the employer and the employee, the government or the trade union may say “no.” In many cases such a “no” becomes the only barrier for someone to get or keep a job, to receive a higher pay or to stay in business. We all admit that interventions in private contracts on buying or selling are absurd and unjustifiable acts causing surpluses or deficits. The same laws, make no mistake, apply to labour.

Of course, the state does not confine itself to regulating labour. If a person works (and earns) well, governments aim to encroach on the fruits of his labour so as to support those who are less diligent, less efficient or less prudent. Hence the ever-recovering urge to set progressive income taxes and to dispense government favours. All this seems to be done for the noble purpose of enhancing people’s welfare. Yet, at worst such steps create well-being for the slothful at the expense of the hard-working. At best they unjustifiably deprive those people who have the ability to look after themselves of an opportunity to take good care of the destitute.

Once the state has taken to regulating employment and expropriating its fruits, the consequences will be perilous. Employment regulations do not simply limit people’s opportunities in one of the vital areas of human activities and inhibit the pursuit of personal happiness. The state does not only reduce wealth but affects morals. Previously, one used to take pride in his abilities and accomplishments. Today, we see many self-satisfied individuals taking pride in saying “I am jobless” and blaming their fellow men for that. Or, on the contrary, we see successful persons who are confused about values and keep justifying themselves and their doings.

When success at work is regarded as a thing to be disguised, and living hand to mouth is viewed as something to be proud of, then the society is invariably degrading. Very little is needed, however, to stop this social erosion. Governments should neither promote universal employment nor allocate millions and millions of litas for the labour exchange. Nor should they protect a seemingly helpless employee from a seemingly blood-thirsty employer. What they should do is simply let those who want to work and know how to work do it. People know better than the best of governments what to do, how and why.