Monday, September 12, 2016

One Thousand Posts: The Unemployment Dialogue

One thousand posts represents a summit of sorts, yet it is hardly the last mountain I'll need to climb in the years ahead! Now, I'll need to "give myself permission" to better organize the contents of this blog, and spend more time in the near future making it "user friendly" as well.

Granted, it's tempting in some ways to move on with intriguing concepts, such as the ways in which primary markets (tradable sectors) and secondary markets (non tradable sectors) affect growth and output. But I've not yet finished the task at hand. It's simply not the moment to chase new challenges, because I've yet to put the work of recent years in an understandable context for my readers. Again, I should have a glossary ready in a couple of months - albeit one which will receive plenty of editing in 2017 while I revisit earlier posts.

Why are these thoughts so much on my mind? Recently, I was asked a question which was also posed to me about a decade earlier. "Who, exactly, are you writing for?" Even though I responded (again) "for the unemployed", I acknowledge this is somewhat of an elusive and frustrating answer. Elusive, in the sense that the unemployed aren't always in a position to enter dialogue which addresses a practical long term approach. Further, others aren't in a position to give the unemployed more "room" in the existing economy. Consequently, like so much of life, unemployment tends to be an either/or proposition. Either people are actively seeking employment and utilizing familiar channels to do so, or the search has generally ended, to an extent one becomes anxious to "get on" with life by other means.

For a time however, this familiar either/or pattern was interrupted, as the Great Recession encouraged large numbers of the recently unemployed, to take part in dialogue on economics blogs. While these blogs benefited from an additional audience for a number of years, many sites have gradually reverted back to a previous norm, since it became apparent most economists didn't believe any "drastic" changes were needed, particularly in terms of the real economy. While one occasionally heard of "structural solutions", many of these references were in regard to already existing positions on public policy initiatives. As a result, the vitally important concern of unemployment - in a context of future employment potential for all concerned - again became mostly relegated to talking points, for the agendas of various interests.

What was missed in the earlier dialogue, is that unemployment is a conceptual real economy problem. A gradually declining labor force participation rate, should be a strong signal that people need to think long and hard, about the kind of future economy which would be possible. What is meant by employment as a conceptual reality? When a wide range of products have become possible via automation, what do people still want to be responsible for? How do they desire to assist one another? What social realities do individuals wish to experience with one another? If these economic concerns are not directly addressed while we still have the monetary value of present day wealth, we could lose the opportunity to do so in a recognizable economic context.

Unemployment isn't just a matter of being unemployed. It's a condition which also indicates how people desire to be employed - especially given the fact people invest on a massive scale to achieve meaningful employment. Unfortunately, it's not easy to find how to books or sheets at the ready, which address unemployment as a conceptual issue. Plus, it's not easy to write publishable how to books for the concerns of unemployment. If it were, the unemployed would already be purchasing them. But that doesn't mean we don't need to begin putting sheets together just the same, so as to begin experimenting with future employment potential.

On those days when I feel somewhat like an alien, attempting to "call" earth yet not getting an answer, the enormity of the task at hand, serves as a reminder that what we attempt to provide at this point is still a drop in the bucket. For instance, of the coming changes in the near future, Ryan Avent mused in a recent interview:
I think this transformative revolution will create enormous growth in [the supply of workers and machines], automating a lot of industries and boosting productivity. When you have this glut of workers, it plays havoc with existing institutions.
I think we are headed for a really important era in economic history. The Industrial Revolution is a pretty good guide of what that will look like. There will have to be a societal negotiation for how to share the gains from growth. That process will be long and drawn out. It will involve intense ideological conflict and history suggests that a lot will go wrong.
Those who are young, don't realize how much these coming changes have been discussed all along, even in the early nineties. Yet what is so striking, is that much of the early discussion was highly positive. People looked forward to automation freeing people, for what they wanted most to be able to do with their lives. Many of those early forecasters were so hopeful, and they believed that technology would relive millions from "mind numbing" work.

But no one stopped long enough in the past decades, to frame employment potential as a "how to" scenario. Consequently, most individuals are no longer as hopeful as those early forecasters. Even though it would have been difficult to determine how to make the transition to more meaningful work, the resulting political uncertainty of the present, is far more difficult, by comparison.

Hence I need to proceed in the years ahead, with the memories of the high hopes which so many gentle souls have held for our economic future, to make sure those hopes remain alive. Some may think it is too late to hope for the best, but as a civilization we still hold enough potential that our lives need not be undone by the political and economic uncertainties of the present.

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