A Few Brief Reactions

My rate of blogging here has fallen off somewhat alarmingly in recent weeks – though not for lack of wanting to or things I’d like to write about. I attribute the drop to several things, including the fact that I’ve been very absorbed in writing some software documentation that will hopefully end up here eventually, if I don’t end up turning it into a book. I’ve also given up caffeine which makes it a little more difficult to work till 2 in the morning with impunity. And I’ve decided to get a little more serious about my weight, which requires spending more time in the gym. All of this makes it more difficult to take as much time as I like to to think carefully about the issues I’m reading about and about what I can say about them that makes sense. As a result I’ve been relying more on Twitter for occasional brief comments of things that strike me as noteworthy.

But let me mention very briefly just a few things that have struck me in the past week or so that I think probably deserve a much more considered reaction, but which I don’t really have time to do complete justice to right now…

Paul Krugman

First up – Paul Krugman. He had a piece in the NY Times on Sunday making the observation that:

since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”: both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs — the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class — have lagged behind.

I thought most of the article is pretty reasonable, but I was disappointed by his penultimate paragraph:

So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.

This just struck me as a kneejerk, ideological reaction to the issue, lacking any honest consideration of the implications of what he is suggesting or of alternative ways of thinking about this issue.

David Frum

Next David Frum, on his site, frumforum.com, has had a series running for the past week or so consisting of first person accounts from young people on the struggles they have experienced looking for work.

I think the fact that Frum is encouraging people to look at this issue is admirable and it is interesting to get a first hand view of what some young people are experiencing. However, there seems to be an underlying tone to these articles suggesting that young people who cannot find work are essentially victims who are entitled to the fruits of the hard work they have done to get college degrees in fields they have chosen, but are being unfairly denied what society owes them as a result of the indifference of people who control the economy.

I find this attitude disappointing. Yes, there is a lot that is wrong with the economy. Many people face challenges. But ultimately I believe adults are responsible for finding or creating work that meets the needs of people who are willing to pay for that work. I don’t believe that those needs no longer exist. I realize this is a complex subject, and as I’ve said, really deserves a more considered reaction. Another day perhaps…

Quentin Bryce

Yes, the Governor-General of Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reported a few days ago that she is advocating that quotas be introduced to ensure that more women are appointed to the boards of Australian companies.

This bothers me on a couple of levels. The first is that I think it is unfortunate that the Governor-General is engaging in a policy debate at all. My view is that the role of the G-G is as the guardian of the integrity of the system of national governance. In my opinion, her absolute political independence is precisely the thing that makes this work effectively.

But the substance of her remarks concern me as well (at least it certainly would if I were an Australian, and since what happens in Australia sometimes influences debates in NZ, it concerns me for that reason as well). I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that the government should be telling business owners who should oversee the running of their companies. I’m also frankly a little skeptical about the assumption that there is a real problem that needs to be fixed.

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