Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lowenstein on Jobs

Roger Lowenstein offers an admirably succinct (but depressing) summary of wht you already kinda sorta already knew about the meltdown and the job market (link). Shorter short Lowenstein: employers aren't hoarding employees any more; they are laying off as many as they can. And it is not just layoffs: the meta-story is that employers haven't been hiring since the dotcom boom went bust.

Copy that. In the recent kerfuffle, I think folks may have forgotten how brief and transitory the boom was. I can remember a student/grad from the early 90s--quite a good one, really, high grades, good presentable manner-who told me felt like the velvet cord had been drawn up just in front of him. In retrospect--if so, it was because they were reconfiguring the theatre for the Next Big Extravaganza. Granted that nobody wants another real estate boom--which was all smoke and mirrors from the start--another dotcom boom, with all its innovation and intellectual electricity--why, that doesn't sound bad at all.

Lowenstein also says that one out of six construction workers is out of work. Sic? I would have thought maybe it was five out of six.

Afterthought: Lowenstein also tangentially hits upon one of the reasons why "economics" drives so many people so nots. He refers to "Okun's Law"- - "a mathematical relationship," as Lowenstein puts it, "between the decline in output (that is, goods and services produced) and the rise in unemployment." Lowenstein says:
It held up pretty well until recently. But this time around, although the decline in output would have predicted a rise in unemployment to 8 percent, the actual jobless rate has soared to 9.5 percent. So this recession is killing off jobs even faster than the things — like automobiles, houses, computers and newspapers — that jobholders produce
Alright, fine. So far so good. Fine fellow, Okun, useful research. BUT IT ISN'T A LAW. It's an insight, a generalization, a quaint observation, a description of some data. BUT IT ISN'T A LAW or we wouldn't be able to blow it off so easily. Got that? IT ISN'T A LAW. And, yes, I am writing in caps.

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