Sunday, January 15, 2012

Say What? Fighting the Jobs Crisis as We Would a War?

Last week I was at the annual meeting of the Labor and Employment Relations Association, an association notable for the number of academics, practitioners, and policymakers who are deeply concerned with employment issues in the United States. One panel featured Bob Herbert, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. Mr. Herbert argued that we should fight the jobs crisis as we would a war. I'm not a fan of using war metaphors in the economics arena (too many corporate behaviors have been justified by seeing business competition as a war), but the more I thought about the severe consequences of the jobs crisis, the more this made sense (and it's not really a metaphor anyways!).

Let's start with the war on terrorism. Terrorism seeks to disrupt the American way of life. These disruptions could take many forms, but could include lower economic consumption, reduced home ownership, declining property values, pressures on marriages, difficulties attending college, reduced geographic and economic mobility, lack of respect for government, weakened American institutions, and increased social conflict. Wait a minute...this sounds exactly like what the jobs crisis has done.

The United States has spent more than one trillion dollars, probably even much more than that, fighting the war on terror. And yet the jobs crisis has likely had a much greater negative impact on the American way of life. So maybe we should be fighting the jobs crisis as we would a war.

What would this mean? We fight wars through shared sacrifice. We fight wars by embracing a common cause across the political spectrum. We fight wars by respecting American institutions of government and other institutions such as labor unions. We fight wars by allowing the government to lead, and by expecting the private sector to join in rather than sitting on the sidelines. Wouldn't this be a great way to attack the jobs crisis? No pun intended.

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