Opinion

The Great Debate

The middle-class meltdown

This is a response to Don Peck’s book excerpt, “How chronic joblessness affects us all.” Labor economist Gary Burtless also responded here.

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

“All that is solid melts into air,” wrote Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto. He meant that the sheer, revolutionary power of capitalism had wrenched larger and larger parts of the world out of its feudal or tribal doze, and sent it running round the track of modernization, smashing down habits, customs, faiths as it went. The agents of this wrenching change: the middle classes, or as he would have it, the bourgeoisie, the new class which grew in the womb of feudalism, and then destroyed it. And they would, he prophesied, be destroyed in their turn.

Do you not fear, in anxious moments at dawn, that he was right, just a bit (163 years: the Manifesto came out in 1848) before his time? Do you feel the solid world melting? Do you tremble that we in the rich states are living, not just on borrowed money, but also on borrowed time – and that it is running out? That our way of life is being gnawed at from below?

John Gray, the British philosopher, once a Thatcherite, thinks Marx is right, and that the melting has gone beyond effective political control. Marx was wrong, to be sure, about communism producing a decent society, judging by what’s been on offer so far. But Gray thinks he was right about how the apparently triumphant bourgeoisie, builders of a productive, industrial, city-based society, would themselves melt. “The weapons,” Marx wrote, “with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.” The constant churn and change which capitalist development required would, in the end, attack those who had created the process: the middle classes. Now they – we – are for churning.

Our fate has become linked to that of the classes we thought we had left, or left behind. The industrial working class in the rich societies, whom Marx thought would lead the revolution, is now small, and in most states the trade unions are weakened, as are the socialist parties. Those in what Marx called the “lumpenproletariat” are growing in numbers, and can be dangerous – see the London riots in August. But they are also  disorganized. In an article in London’s Guardian earlier this week, the UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke called the rioters a “feral underclass” and said they were “cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism.”

Why the unemployed stay unemployed

This is a response to Don Peck’s book excerpt “How chronic joblessness affects us all.”

By Gary Burtless
The opinions expressed are his own.

First, from a labor economics perspective Peck’s analysis is basically correct.  In modern capitalist labor markets, long-term unemployment tends to feed on itself via the mechanism that Peck describes.  It gets increasingly difficult for the unemployed to get re-employed the longer their unemployment lasts.  (There are some hard statistics showing this is true, and that it is true regardless of the state of the economy.)  The impact of this phenomenon on the overall unemployment rate became clear in 1980s Western Europe. Countries like France, Germany, Denmark, and Italy that had enjoyed unemployment rates below those in the U.S. for much of the previous three decades found themselves with jobless rates higher than those in the U.S.  More worryingly, their unemployment rates stayed above the U.S. rate for a very long time.

It became clear than much of the difference was the gap between the two continents in long-term unemployment (that is, joblessness that lasts longer than 6 months or a year).   Europeans who remained in unemployment longer than 6 or 12 months tended to stay unemployed, sometimes up until the age they qualified for an old-age pension.  Even when the European job market improved, these unfortunates stayed unemployed.  Employers hired from the ranks of already-employed workers (i.e., those who were on other employers’ payrolls) or from new graduates.  They tended to shun the long-term unemployed.

How would Keynes advise Obama on jobs?

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

It’s still the economy, stupid. So if Obama wants to keep his job – and we must assume he does, though he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself much — he must boost the economy and get the jobless back to work. No president since 1948 has been elected with a jobless figure higher than 7.2 per cent, so with unemployment currently running at 9.1 per cent, he looks headed for certain defeat.

Add the pivotal fact that two of his core groups of supporters, blacks and hispanics, suffer disproportionately from joblessness, at 16.2 per cent and 11.6 per cent respectively, and the president’s prospects look even dimmer. With the White House admitting there is little chance unemployment will fall before the election next year, the president needs some good advice on how to get people back to work, and fast.

What would John Maynard Keynes tell Obama? He once advised Franklin Roosevelt on how to cure unemployment, but he didn’t make much headway. “I saw your friend Keynes,” FDR told his Labor Secretary Frances Perkins. “He left a whole rigmarole of figures.” In turn, Keynes told Perkins he had “supposed the president was more literate, economically speaking.”

How chronic joblessness affects us all

This is an excerpt from “Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It.”

By Don Peck
The opinions expressed are his own.
Last summer, the phone maker Sony Ericsson announced that it was looking to hire 180 new workers in the vicinity of Atlanta, Georgia. But the good news was tempered. An ad for one of the jobs, placed on the recruiting website the People Place, noted the following restriction, in all caps: “NO UNEMPLOYED CANDIDATES WILL BE CONSIDERED AT ALL.”

Ads like this one have been popping up more frequently over the past year or so; sometimes the ads disappear once the media calls attention to them (a spokesperson for Sony Ericsson said its ad was a mistake). But new ones continue to appear.

High unemployment and the education deficit

graduation photo USE THISThe following is a guest post by Bruce Yandle, distinguished adjunct professor of economics with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and dean emeritus of the College of Business & Behavioral Science at Clemson University. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Last month’s report on U.S. employment growth brought no cheer to job-seekers with a high school education.

In June 2010, the unemployment rate for adults 25 or older with a high school diploma was 10 percent. Whereas unemployment among college educated adults was 4.4 percent. (Overall unemployment was 9.5 percent.)

from Commentaries:

Where the job seekers aren’t

Even in weak employment markets, the United States has typically had a trump card to play. The nation's workers are legendary for their willingness to travel across the country for new opportunities.

The result has been a speedier recovery of job growth than in Europe and possibly a higher productivity rate, since skilled workers are better matched to openings.

With the August employment report on Friday expected to show little improvement in the job market, America has never needed this flexibility more. Yet, at the risk of adding to the gloom, this advantage appears to be fading fast. The good news is that the United States still boasts one of the most dynamic labor markets of any rich nation. OECD rankings of its 30 wealthy member nations put the U.S. far
ahead of other large countries. (It comes second only to Denmark, which has unmatched programs to help the unemployed back to work.)

Getting a summer job: Entrepreneurship for teens

diana-furchtgottroth–- Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. –-

It’s July, teen unemployment has risen to 24 percent, and you—or your teenage children—still don’t have a summer job. This is a peculiarly American problem.

In Nepal, according to Hudson Institute research assistant and Nepalese citizen Astha Strestha, “teens just hang around all summer and spend their parents’ money.”

Are women better off marrying for money?

Daniela Drake– Daniela Drake, M.D., attended Wellesley College and received an MBA from Stanford University. She, along with Elizabeth Ford, authored the book “Smart Girls Marry Money.” A former McKinsey consultant, she is now a full-time primary care physician. Drake married (for love) and has reaped the consequences. The views expressed are her own. –

I had to pause when I came across a blog out of South Africa that read, “I think a way forward, or backwards some of you might say, is to encourage our smart, savvy and capable daughters to marry for money.” Since I co-authored a book with a similar premise, this sassy assertion definitely grabbed my attention.

The blog’s author Jackie May, an editor for The Times world pages in South Africa, penned these seemingly heretical comments after learning of alarming research by Dr. Caroline Gatrell at Lancaster University in England. Dr. Gatrell found, “women who explicitly choose career over kids are often vilified at work.”

The economic cost of climate change legislation

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.  The views expressed are her own. —

Chairman Henry Waxman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced yesterday that his American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 “will create millions of jobs, revive our economy, and secure our energy independence.”

The 648-page bill, co-sponsored by Waxman and fellow Democrat Edward Markey, Chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, has been the subject of four days of committee hearings this week.  It would set new limits for greenhouse gas emissions, and prescribe radically new standards for energy production and use.

Health care degree leads to higher earnings

diana-furchtgott-roth_great_debate– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.  The opinions expressed are her own. —

The economic outlook is bleak. Unemployment is rising.  Credit markets are dysfunctional.  Students are worried about job prospects, for good reason.

If you’re a young person choosing a career path, forget banking, forget autos, and forget Wall Street.  A new study coming out from the Hudson Institute in January, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shows that enrolling in a community college and earning a two-year degree or certificate in a health-related profession—the only field that showed significant job gains in November, and the one with the most jobs openings—can open a pathway to higher earnings.

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