Monday, September 27, 2010

Getting To Work

Paul Krugman this morning:

What can be done about mass unemployment? All the wise heads agree: there are no quick or easy answers. There is work to be done, but workers aren’t ready to do it — they’re in the wrong places, or they have the wrong skills. Our problems are “structural,” and will take many years to solve.

But don’t bother asking for evidence that justifies this bleak view. There isn’t any. On the contrary, all the facts suggest that high unemployment in America is the result of inadequate demand — full stop. Saying that there are no easy answers sounds wise, but it’s actually foolish: our unemployment crisis could be cured very quickly if we had the intellectual clarity and political will to act.

In other words, structural unemployment is a fake problem, which mainly serves as an excuse for not pursuing real solutions.


I’ve been looking at what self-proclaimed experts were saying about unemployment during the Great Depression; it was almost identical to what Very Serious People are saying now. Unemployment cannot be brought down rapidly, declared one 1935 analysis, because the work force is “unadaptable and untrained. It cannot respond to the opportunities which industry may offer.” A few years later, a large defense buildup finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs — and suddenly industry was eager to employ those “unadaptable and untrained” workers.

But now, as then, powerful forces are ideologically opposed to the whole idea of government action on a sufficient scale to jump-start the economy. And that, fundamentally, is why claims that we face huge structural problems have been proliferating: they offer a reason to do nothing about the mass unemployment that is crippling our economy and our society.

There are plenty of jobs to be done that don’t require college degrees or long courses in specialized training, including a lot of the infrastructure repairs and construction. But those are considered to be “boondoggles,” to use a term from the Depression. A job is a job. It also occurs to me that all the people who keep saying that there are plenty of jobs out there if only the unemployed would get off their couches and find them need to make it clear to those who are creating the jobs that they need to stop making excuses like “the future is uncertain.” No shit, Sherlock; when isn’t the future uncertain?

It’s almost as if they want to keep the economy down just to score political points. But no one could be that cynical and coldly calculating, could they?