When someone suggests that the government should just create jobs for the unemployed, you often hear the retort, that this is a bad idea, because the jobs they would create would be of no value, akin to digging holes and filling them back up again. The reference to digging holes comes from (I think a misunderstanding of) something Keynes wrote in the General Theory. He wrote:
“If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.”
So he is using an example to show that any task (however pointless) that will pay an income is superior to leaving people unemployed and earning nothing, but that we can come up with much more useful things for people to do. So even if the government created some jobs that were akin to digging holes and filling them back up again, that would still be better than unemployment.
I was reminded of this yesterday by Neil Wilson who pointed out that there are however quite a lot of holes that may not need digging, but certainly do need filling up again.
Some joined up thinking needed perhaps?