Save People or Jobs?
I generally am diverted by David Leonhardt's Economix column in the NYT business section Wednesdays. Yesterday he argued that what we think we know about what's ailing the American workforce may not be so. While the growth of inequality is undeniable and dramatic, the growth of volatility, insecurity, or risk (the "Great Risk Shift", if you will) is more complex and arguable. In fact, according to a huge new study by the Congressional Budget Office, "there is the same amount of variability [in individuals' income] now... ..that there was in the 1980s and 1990s." Leonhardt concludes, sensibly, that the right remedies can only be found by making the right diagnoses. "In an economy where volatility was the main problem, you might want to protect jobs by making it harder for companies to cut them. In an economy where inequality was the problem, you would want to protect people. You would help them pay for health insurance, retirement, their children’s education and other basic needs when the market, left to its own devices, was not doing so." I'm not sure of his diagnosis, but agree with the cure. That's because I can think of three more direct reasons to protect people, not jobs: 1) People are more important than jobs. 2) At many of the most vulnerable times in our lives (eg childhood, retirement) people are separated from jobs. 2) More and more of us manage to contribute to society both morally and economically without having anything called a "job."