Potemkin villages for the unemployed

Potemkin companies staffed by Europe’s unemployed, going through the motions of running a business in the hope they will one day be able to flip from the imaginary to the real economy.

These companies are all part of an elaborate training network that

effectively operates as a parallel economic universe. For years, the aim

was to train students and unemployed workers looking to make a

transition to different industries. Now they are being used to combat

the alarming rise in long-term unemployment, one of the most pressing

problems to emerge from Europe’s long economic crisis.

The justification for this bizarre system is only partly about training. It’s also about deflecting the malaise of a worker forbidden to work:

being in a workplace — even a simulated one — helps alleviate the psychological confusion and pain that can take hold the longer people go without a job.

I do have a lot of sympathy for this. Certainly I become gloomily restless whenever I don’t have enough to do, and I’ve never been unemployed for a serious length of time.

Still, it is treating the symptom rather than the cause. The cause is a society where identity and social value are determined by employment, where the unemployed are treated as failures. If the system didn’t treat unemployment as disgusting, perhaps people wouldn’t need office play-acting to as psychological band-aid.

And you can’t help wondering if, lurking somewhere under this stone, is a fear that, given more time to themselves, some of the unemployed might start to cause a bit more trouble to the system.

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