links for 2010-09-03
Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?: The Stimulus That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Harold Pollack on the Dog-Bone Economy: Dealing with Unemployment

Harold:

How Dog Bones Explain The Economy: An economist notes that the strongest dogs get the best bones... help the poodles through weight lifting and karate. A sociologist explains that... [c]ollies cooperate and accomplish through collective action more than even one Doberman can do alone. She suggests an intervention to bolster social capital. A social psychologist identifies self-efficacy as the key variable. Poodles don’t think they have a chance... self-assertiveness training and maybe Paxil.... Ethnographers, anthropologists, gerontologists, even someone from the dog genome project....

If we are trying to help a particular dog, these social science insights are greatly helpful.... But... we’ve managed to ignore the most obvious problem of all: The garbage truck operator is dropping off 88 bones, and there are 100 dogs. No matter what we do, twelve dogs will be left out.

In times of deep recession, the same is sometimes true of unemployment.... We live in an economy which is vulnerable to periodic declines in overall demand for goods and services that cause serious unemployment. Our workforce is no less skilled or diligent than it was ten or fifteen years ago. Yet millions of Americans cannot find work. Chronic joblessness directly damages millions of people's lives, while casting ominous shadows over millions of others from the Dunkin' Donuts cashier to the disabled woman requiring services from cash-strapped state and local governments.

And there is a palpable lack of urgency in the face of this crisis. Deficit worries play a role. Republicans are lock-step against further stimulus, and a handful of conservatives in sparsely-populated states aren't helping. But the problem here is one of priorities—or lack of priorities. The House and Senate act with surprising skill and speed when concentrated and powerful constituencies really need something done. If you doubt me, watch what happens if there is some realistic chance that Medicare will impose the draconian cuts implied by its notorious and misguided Sustainable Growth Rate policy. As I've written elsewhere, some awkward "doctor fix" will always be found, because, well, this just has to be fixed. Too many Representatives and Senators lack that same person urgency regarding millions of our fellow citizens who can't find work...

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