From Socialist Voice, September 2010

The great “start your own business” con

The media are full of programmes promoting the idea that starting a new business is the way to go, particularly for the unemployed. This has a twofold purpose: firstly it takes responsibility away from the Government for running the country in a way that ensures stable employment, and secondly it gives the message that being unemployed is really only an attitude, and that if only one tried one could get a livelihood.
     The media are delighted that they have a new angle for cheap programmes in which the public provide the content. We see happy people succeeding in starting new businesses, with expert guidance from a variety of people—from some genuinely providing a service to some of the greatest proponents of exploitation in the country, such as Bill Cullen. He would have people work for nothing, knowing right well that only the very few can succeed.
     Having one’s own business will not solve the unemployment problem of 455,000 people (or more if we take into account the self-employed who have failed, and those who have emigrated and so do not appear in the statistics). It is well known that between 80 and 95 per cent of new businesses fail, according to many studies, and that even small firms associations in other countries give businesses only a 50 per cent chance of survival for four years, even with guidance at the setting-up stage.
     This “solution” to the unemployment problem is a con. It is shocking to think how many people have put all their savings, redundancy money or borrowings on their house into starting a business and then losing it all. The heartbreak is private, and the shame means that it will be hidden as much as possible.
     Talk to some taxi-drivers who put all their redundancy money into buying a taxi licence and a suitable car only to find a saturated market—such a waste of hopes and effort, trapping families who are ruined; and nobody seems to care. All over the country there are shops and services of all kinds that started up with new paint and fittings only to close down some months later.
     This is a complete waste of talent and effort, which could have been put instead into co-operation with others in a way that benefits the whole of society. It fosters only individualism, which is a detriment to real progress.
     Worse still, when a self-employed person goes to the social welfare office to apply for unemployment benefit they find they are entitled to nothing; they rarely get unemployment assistance; and so they do not appear in the job-seekers’ statistics.
     These programmes are a free way to get across the ideology of private wealth and competition, undermining the right of working people to expect decent wages and conditions. This is how Michael O’Leary—who single-handedly reduced the quality and comfort of air travel, worsened the pay and conditions of his staff, and strongly opposes unions—is promoted even as a possible leader of the country! He bullies even the Government that promotes his ideology.
     These immensely rich people promote the idea of people working for nothing, on the pretext of gaining experience, which is a luxury that only those who have something to fall back on can afford. How can someone who has no money for food, rent or transport work for nothing? This is a dangerous practice that is exploiting the present desperate situation and attempting to change the idea that an employer must pay for work done.
     It is interesting that no-one in the media is promoting a conflict between people working for nothing and ordinary working people, as they constantly do between public-service and private employees and between workers and social welfare recipients.
     Recessions are marvellous times for the rich: they clean up, and after each recession the wealth is concentrated even more than before, which has been established following each major recession since the nineteenth century.
     RTE’s copy of “Dragons’ Den,” with its “five wealthy and successful venture capitalists” who “are not afraid to say ‘no’ in the harshest of terms,” subjecting people to humiliation and degradation for the sake of cheap entertainment, is a sickening sight and something we should fight against if only on the grounds of human decency. The RTE blurb declares that “if they spot an idea with that extra special something, they and they alone will have the power to make dreams come true”—and for this they can take a massive share in the ownership of the future business for putting in capital that for them is peanuts.
     Self-employment cannot solve the unemployment problem, while its promotion is a distraction that sets up false solutions that can be argued about incessantly in the media while delaying the emphasis on real, united opposition to job losses.
     Humans got to where they are today by co-operation and by socially combining, despite the exploitation of an elite minority. Our future lies along that path and not the path of greed that is being promoted by the media.
     The fight against the present condition of the world is urgent, for the sake of our future survival in an increasingly threatened planet that has been ruined by this outdated ideology.

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