Friday, May 08, 2009
The Roots of Job Market Success and Failure
Nice WSJ piece on the transatlantic divide in treatment of the unemployed:
In Germany, losing his factory job didn’t stop Alfred Butt from taking a Mediterranean vacation this winter. Thanks to generous jobless benefits, being out of work “hasn’t changed my life that much,” Mr. Butt says.
In the U.S., Dylan DeRoberts lost similar work — but there’s no seaside getaway for him. Instead, he’s giving up life’s little pleasures, like riding his snowmobile, because he lost his insurance, too. “I’ve learned to live at a new level,” Mr. DeRoberts says.
The great absurdity of the American system is that we tend to treat unemployment as a symptom of laziness as if someone who gets laid off could always just go move west and start up a Homestead Act farm. We know, however, that the nature of the modern business cycle is that events set in motion in 2008 have essentially guaranteed that a much larger proportion of the population will be jobless in 2009 than was jobless in 2007. For any given unemployed person, there will be a story you can tell about why he’s unemployed rather than someone else, but the existence of the unemployment as such has nothing to do with individuals’ failings.
The underlying philosophy that supports and proliferates our negative view of the unemployed stems way back to the pioneer days (as alluded to in the article) when an unsuccessful factory worker could head west and get his forty acres and a mule. This view was then brought even more to the forefront during the Regan era with his negative views of the unemployed and his theory of "boot-strap republicanism"- the idea that any man could fix his life by "pulling himself up y his bootstraps. hopefully, Americans can learn from the Europeans and become more tolerant of the unemployed. Oh wait, but that might be socialist.....
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