July 19, 2006

Re: Maximizing employment

Will Baude rightfully takes me to task for my lack of clarifying jargon in my post on employment policy. He claims:

The idea that government should attempt to maximize the amount of employmeny strikes me as very odd, and I cannot believe that Alec really means this. At the limit, governmental "maximization" of employment would mean that sleepand leisure were strictly forbidden except to the degree absolutely medically necessary to getting work done; unemployment would also be criminalized. The government would have a standing offer to hire anybody without a job to do useless busy-work. Everybody would be employed, miserable, and poor.
But, I think Will is confusing employment (which I had initially put as “long-term employment opportunities,” but chose to get rid of the jargon, there are tradeoffs to jargon) and work.Of course governments shouldn't get or force people to work, that wouldn't do much for employment at anytime other than the moment the jobs are created.But, considering how employment is the issue closest to home for many voters, and tends to dominate local politics, I think a simple principle for governments to adopt could be for them to aim at maximizing employment opportunities (and not just in the short-term).Will is right about one thing though. If every government entity was fighting to bring in jobs, there would be tradeoffs. But, so long as people exist in the economy, they are going to demand employment opportunities. There’s nothing we can efficiently do about that. But if we recognize the pointless divisions that exist today in the employment debate, we could do away with one of the most pointless area of the culture wars.Until we do that, there is little that can be done about the politics that have done a lot to prevent Wal-Mart, Target, and others from entering the marketplace, creating jobs, and lowering prices.