Structure of Excuses

You can tell Krugman’s pissed as hell, but trying to be polite:

What can be done about mass unemployment? All the wise heads agree: there are no quick or easy answers. There is work to be done, but workers aren’t ready to do it — they’re in the wrong places, or they have the wrong skills. Our problems are “structural,” and will take many years to solve.

But don’t bother asking for evidence that justifies this bleak view. There isn’t any. On the contrary, all the facts suggest that high unemployment in America is the result of inadequate demand — full stop. Saying that there are no easy answers sounds wise, but it’s actually foolish: our unemployment crisis could be cured very quickly if we had the intellectual clarity and political will to act.

In other words, structural unemployment is a fake problem, which mainly serves as an excuse for not pursuing real solutions.

Who are these wise heads I’m talking about? The most widely quoted figure is Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, who has attracted a lot of attention by insisting that dealing with high unemployment isn’t a Fed responsibility: “Firms have jobs, but can’t find appropriate workers. The workers want to work, but can’t find appropriate jobs,” he asserts, concluding that “It is hard to see how the Fed can do much to cure this problem.”

Now, the Minneapolis Fed is known for its conservative outlook, and claims that unemployment is mainly structural do tend to come from the right of the political spectrum. But some people on the other side of the aisle say similar things. For example, former President Bill Clinton recently told an interviewer that unemployment remained high because “people don’t have the job skills for the jobs that are open.”

Well, I’d respectfully suggest that Mr. Clinton talk to researchers at the Roosevelt Institute and the Economic Policy Institute, both of which have recently released important reports completely debunking claims of a surge in structural unemployment.

After all, what should we be seeing if statements like those of Mr. Kocherlakota or Mr. Clinton were true? The answer is, there should be significant labor shortages somewhere in America — major industries that are trying to expand but are having trouble hiring, major classes of workers who find their skills in great demand, major parts of the country with low unemployment even as the rest of the nation suffers.

I don’t think Bill Clinton’s dumb enough to get this wrong, so that means he’s pitching in to help excuse the abysmal performance of the Obama administration — and justify the corporate indifference to our plight.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong points out we do have some degree of structural unemployment — but it’s still not the problem.

10 thoughts on “Structure of Excuses

  1. I want to know what firms and where have what jobs available and what skill sets are lacking in the workforce to fill those jobs.
    But wait. Shouldn’t somebody in a position of power be asking for that information? Anybody? Anybody?
    … crickets …

  2. Corporate indifference?
    I think not. They’re bunkered down with their cash, having found amazing new profit motives hidden in trimmed-down work forces and having been given that latitude by generous .gov taxpayer money. Why hire in a depression? They’ve found their efficiencies.
    Screw all ya’ll skillless ignoramouses.
    (Because it’s the meme of the day: You suck and your plight is a direct result of your lack of fortitude, education and good old Amerikan guts and initiative. If ya’ll had any ambition, you’d be senators or other useful animals, not huddled masses begging for scraps.)
    The Globalist Clinton is just giving cover to Obama’s fail.

  3. I was taken aback when Bill Clinton said the high, high, high unemployment, appearing to stretch out for years, is caused to a large extent by a mismatch of skills and jobs going begging.

    This made me say to myself, “Really? Reeeally?”

    Then I just felt terribly disappointed in our former president, and somewhat sad for him…and us.

  4. There’s dumb dumb and smart dumb. Smart dumb is worse because it comes from the belief that you are so smart that anything you think in your brilliant mind must be true. This makes you impervious to reality.

    Or it could be like you say, and Clinton is just lying to serve his own interests and he doesn’t really give a s**t about America or its people. We know for sure that he is absolutely capable of this, so you are probably right.

    I didn’t like the man then, and I don’t like him now. I think he threw away the hopes and possibilities of a generation to serve his own greed, vanity and lust. Our current president is in the process of doing the same thing, but I can’t figure out his motives. As they say, we really don’t know very much about him.

  5. I certainly agree with you re: Bill. Here’s what I commented on Krugman’s post yesterday:

    “It’s really nice of you to exculpate Bill Clinton for his support of the CW (which happens to support DLC dogma). But it doesn’t wash. He’s a very, very bright guy who is very, very well informed. He certainly understands political and media spin and can read between the lines. I don’t think cognitive capture works here. How would you explain his (tacit) support of Obama’s Catfood Commission?

    “If you look at the people he’s hanging with internationally, conspiracy of common interest might explain more. Or cognitive dissonance. While Bill still connects intellectually with us “little people,” he’s been elevated above the ability to connect emotionally. Hoist with his own petard… one might say. Blowing the same smoke (pedando) as the rest of the MOTU. And inhaling.

    “At least it took him longer that it has apparently taken Barry.”

    PK often has trouble throwing those for whom he has professional or personal regard under the bus. He stuck by guys like Bernacke and Mankiw much longer than their political hackitude deserved. I think it’s because he projects his personal niceness, intellectual honesty, and social conscience on others. Also he probably senses that his trajectory ultimately leads to a place where he can only relate to other Village pariahs and DFHs. Who would want that?

    You and I don’t have those problems, do we?

    p.s. I’m going to make a monthly donation (sorry it can’t be a tithe), but I’d prefer that it go into the “Mind altering substances” line item. Thanks.

  6. Oh, yeah. I forgot. They’re the Nick and Nora Charles of the Village.

    But they did trash the place.

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