Gone fishin’

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

Last week’s job numbers in the U.S. were abysmal again, and once again we heard how the “real” bad news was in how many people had quit looking. I have never figured that out. How is it you can be unemployed and decide to quit looking? Maybe I have it backward, but I never quit looking until after I became employed, and not always then.

Because I was employed, I had the opportunity to go on a week-long fishing trip in Labrador several years back. My guide was fantastic. One day I asked what he did after the lodge closed for the winter. He said one word: “Pogey.” He said because Newfoundland/Labrador’s fishing industry was hurt so badly, and since he was in the fishing industry, he only had to work a few weeks each year and could collect unemployment, or pogey, the rest of the year. My recollection of the term was six weeks. So he worked at fishing for six weeks and spent the rest of the year fishing and hunting, supported by small-business taxes in Alberta and the rest of Canada as pogey.

Another time, I was interviewing a fellow that had graduated from Ontario’s Conestoga College in cabinet making. I asked him how useful he found his degree. “It’s fantastic,” he said. “I love fishing and I love the bush, so I work until I can draw unemployment and then head up north. So far, my degree has netted me six jobs.”

Let’s assume neither Conestoga nor Labrador intended their programs as early retirement for indigents. However, that begs the question, what did they intend? I know… they intended to be nice. Nice is nice. But they would have to be stunned not to “get” that their largess was subject to abuse.

A few years back, U.S. President Obama decided to extend unemployment benefits to 99 weeks. I thought, what a great idea! Maybe they could extend it to life. You work six weeks when you’re 18, then go fishing until you retire. Further, if you got a good public-sector union job for your six-week career, you could have full vacation, supplemental health and pension benefits.

Of course, life is often a long time, and time is money, so I came up with an alternative. Let’s assume, just to pull figures out of the air, that you have 1 million people drawing pogey and they receive $500 per week. What would be the effect on the number of recipients if you doubled the benefit?

My guess is the number would go up as the benefit went up. In fact, by coincidence, the number of recipients worldwide has gone up as the benefit has gone up.

In this new model, people get paid the most when they produce the least. In the old model, they got paid on production. Since reception is the new production, maybe they could tax the benefits. After all, benefits are what the recipients produce. They either produce reception, or they produce nothing, which is hard. In ancient eco-cultures, those that produced nothing were pet food for wolves. Society existed for the protection of producers. Of course, this type of thinking is totally archaic. Or, to quote a very with-it talking head for unemployment rights, “like, so yesterday.”

Another “so yesterday” idea that was called slavery. Slavery was a situation in which one group of humans would get a legal leg-up on another group of humans and would force the subordinate group to work for the sole interests of the dominant group. In those days, the dominant group was the employer group and the slaves produced for them. Now the recipient group has legal dominance, and business owners work for them.

Many years before the Labrador fishing trip, I woke up one morning disabled and divorced with no income, no resources, unemployed and unemployable.

Lacking other options, I went to the employment office, only to find I was not eligible for unemployment, since I couldn’t work. So I went to the welfare office, and there I was eligible. Not being able to tolerate the idea of welfare, I went back to the employment office and got a job. I needed work that would let me stand or sit alternatively through the day, and they had one. The job was as a case worker for the welfare system, instead of being a recipient.

I showed up for work, told them to keep their cheque and never received a nickel. I did, however, work cases for nearly five years before I had my feet under me again and moved on. Being a professional bureaucrat is not my strong suit.

So am I an ogre that wants poor people to starve? Actually, I sort-of am. While part of me wants to save people from suffering, my own experience taught me living poor is not as bad as folks make out. Some people even choose being poor as a career. Don’t get me wrong; it was not my choice and I don’t recommend it.

However, the low points in my life made me what I am, more than did the high points. I have a long history of trying to help people make it from low points to high points, and money was never the answer. Further, if I think trials and tribulations were an education, who am I to take the opportunity away from others?

That’s it. Spring is here, if you believe the lawn mower ads. It’s about time. Soon the ice will be off the lakes so folks can go fishing.

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