Sunday, October 17, 2004

Greed -vs- Jobs

I watched the presidential debates over the past few weeks, which requires some effort on my part because I don't own a TV. Since I watched all of the debates at several different pubs on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I was unable to indulge my desire to throw popcorn and other objects at the TV during crucial moments, although I did manage to slip in several smart ass quips when one or the other of our two presidential candidates came up for a breath of air. Encouraged by my fellow patrons' ensuing amusement and my own state of debate-generated confusion, I have been bitten by the "opinionation bug", just as everyone else has been in blogland.

Predictably, several comments made during the last round of the debates put my panties into an especially tight twist while also making me choke on my wine and gee, I'll bet you can already guess who said them.

As a newly unemployed person sitting in a bar with a bunch of (employed) strangers, I was particularly surprised by George Bush's evasive answer to the unemployment question. Instead of showing that he is not out-of-touch with the average American by addressing issues that unemployed people must deal with, he instead pontificated about "create[ing] the jobs of the 21st century". This answer was a verbal slap across the face of every American. Instead of telling us why his economic policies provide tax incentives that favor American companies that hire overseas, instead of explaining why his administration does not allow unemployed job seekers to renew their Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits after six months so they can reduce or avoid debt, bankruptcy and possibly even homelessness, Bush instead yammered about sending us to local community colleges so we could get the training necessary for those mythical "21st Century Jobs". Not surprisingly, Bush neglected to address several important issues that confuse me still; can his proposed two-year college degree really provide the training necessary for these "21st Century Jobs"? What are these new "21st Century Jobs" and won't they also be "outsourced" to the cheaper overseas labor market? Since UI lasts only six months and provides a minimal amount of financial support, how can an unemployed person simultaneously afford tuition, books and living expenses while being educated at a community college for two years?

Because I couldn't find any statistics for unemployed people with two-year Associate's Degrees, I decided to instead ask how many unemployed people in the USA have four-year college degrees: Does Bush even know? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a Bachelor's Degree had a 3% unemployment rate at the end of 2003, which are the most recent statistics that I could find. But if this unemployment rate for people with Bachelor's Degrees is due to "outsourcing" or "downsizing", I fail to see how an additional two-year community college degree can resolve this problem. In fact, I would guess that jobs requiring a two-year degree are more easily outsourced than are jobs that require more education.

Of course, these numbers do not include that growing number of people with a Bachelor's Degree who are "underemployed"; who are working "survival jobs" with little or no security, that pay poorly (often with no benefits) and are outside their field of expertise. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any statistics for "underemployment" although my underemployed friends tell me it is very common (I also expect I will be "underemployed", unless I end up with nothing at all after UI ends). I have also not yet been able to find any unemployment statistics for people with advanced degrees, although I know these numbers are collected because I provided them on my own application for UI (oddly, Master's and Doctoral Degrees are classified together). Considering this information, I am confused as to how an additional Associate's Degree can resolve the underemployment problem for people with Bachelor's, Master's or Doctorate degrees.

In view of these statistics, education is obviously not a panacea for unemployment. In fact, everyone I know who is unemployed has at least "some college" as classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and most whom I know have a Master's Degree while several have a Doctorate. Granted, my friends represent a biased sample, but this does not negate the fact that all of them are having difficulties finding work, any work. The reasons are clear; for innumerable unvoiced reasons, employers simply refuse to hire anyone who is "overqualified" or, alternatively, if hired, the wages at these so-called "survival jobs" are so abysmal that they create enormous difficulties for simply paying rent and thus, many underemployed people are forced to rely on food banks and food stamps to avoid malnutrition or worse, and to rely on community free clinics to cover their health needs while worrying they will lose their job entirely if they miss work when they or their kids get sick or when they interview for another (better) position. All this, and they still must devote many hours every day to finding adequate employment in their field. Many give up.

This leads me to ask why UI is not renewable? The statistics show that many people cannot find a permanent job -- often even a temporary poorly-paying "survival job" -- within 26 weeks, so why should they be punished by not being allowed to extend UI while continuing their job search? No one can survive indefinitely on UI anyway, but it is at least enough to cover most people's rent while they look for appropriate work. How are these people supposed to survive after their UI ends? More "temping"? Credit cards? Theft? Welfare? Sleeping in their mother's garage? But if they have no family (like me), do they end up in a shelter?

"Outsourcing" itself raises important issues. But before I discuss that further, I want to make it clear that my unemployment situation does not stem from "outsourcing": instead, my unemployment results from funding cuts to government agencies that support basic research, such as the National Science Foundation; faculty hiring freezes at a fair number of universities; and the increasing reliance by a large and growing number of universities on hiring poorly-paid adjunct ("temp") professors to teach their students so their few older and more established professors can enjoy a reduced or non-existant teaching load while pursuing research. But undoubtedly, I will be ranting about that later!

Do the short-term financial advantages to American Corporations resulting from "outsourcing" labor outweigh the risks of longer-term disasters that could result? For an example, let's look at the recent flu vaccine fiasco. Our government contracted with a British company to produce flu vaccine for Americans to supplement vaccine that is produced here, but this company apparently had poor quality control and their vaccine was ultimately destroyed as unsafe, leaving this country with a severe shortfall. This vaccine shortage can pose a threat of unknown magnitude to our health and even our national security, especially because a potent strain of avian influenza currently lurks a few hours' air travel away (Does anyone remember the great flu pandemic of 1918?). But why were we purchasing flu vaccine from a company in England when it can be, should be, and IS produced here?

Since the English flu vaccine was contaminated and thus deemed unusable, we will instead purchase flu vaccine from Canada -- but wait a minute ... didn't Bush claim in the 8 October debates that people should not be purchasing drugs from Canada because if "it [pharmaceutics] looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a third world" (sic)? I think this incomprehensible statement can be translated to mean that Bush believes Canadian drugs are either comparable in quality to those found in Third World countries or that they originated in Third World countries. (What do the Canadians think about this?) If either scenario is true, then why is our government doing the very thing that Bush denies to private citizens; purchasing "dangerous" pharmaceuticals from Canada? Is this Canadian vaccine trustworthy? If it is, then why should we believe that other Canadian drugs are as "dangerous" as Bush claims they are? Does this obvious policy conflict make any sense to you?

Another important question is whether Bush even knows what are his proposed "21st century jobs" that he promises to educate us for? Our previous economic/employment downturn in 1992 (when Bush's daddy was in the White House, hrmmm) occurred when our economy was transformed from manufacturing to a service-based economy. But now, both manufacturing and service jobs are disappearing and there is nothing left for anyone to grab on to, hence our "jobless recovery", so no one -- not even George Bush -- knows what these "21st century jobs" are. If Bush doesn't know what these jobs are, how can he claim that a two-year degree is adequate or appropriate for them?

Can he even speculate as to what sort of education we might need? Because Bush wants "to emphasize math and science in the classrooms", it appears that he thinks these jobs might be somehow related to math and science. But I am a scientist whose profession involves cloning, sequencing and analyzing DNA, which is very high-tech and cutting-edge, indeed, "21st Century", yet I am unemployed, and I know several others who are, too. So there is a little discrepancy here regarding the future employment value and job security for those educated in the maths and sciences.

Or maybe Bush's mysterious "21st Century Jobs" are those that simply cannot be outsourced or automated: jobs such as waiting tables, driving a taxi, being a bike messenger, a janitor, a cat sitter or a dog walker, delivering pizza, working in the corporate mailroom; jobs that for the most part, pay poorly, provide little security and few, or no, benefits.

Clearly, this country is suffering a crisis of corporate greed. Our nation and its future are being damaged by the loss of jobs as corporations pursue ever greater profits at the expense of their employees, loss of meaningful financial and social support for unemployed workers, increasing demand by employers for workers with expensive college educations to fill any sort of job, even jobs for which a college degree represents no demonstrable value, and an overall loss of respect for the dignity and humanity of all working people. Our national policies favor corporate interests over the interests of their workers. Is this any way to treat people who want to work? Is this any way to treat people who were working until they became victims of "downsizing" or "outsourcing" or whatever else? Is this any way to treat people who worked hard and sacrificed to get a college degree or two in the hopes that they would have a better life? What sort of country are we transforming into?


tags:

==============

© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

18 Peer Reviews:

Blogger ard2168 said...

Our government's only responsibility is to provide security to the nation. IE army, navy, airforce, marines. That's it, nothing else. Federal taxes should be 3 to five percent depending on wartime or peace. Everything else should be handeled by state and local governments. The reason we are in such great debt is that the federal government is becoming an all powerful socialist mess. Let us keep our money, our churches and charitable organizations will help people in need.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Tabor said...

ard2168 just needs to look at all those countries whose primary spending is on defense---not health care, not education, not protecting workers rights, not developing research, etc. There are a few countries out there doing just that as well as a history of failed governments that did that. Maybe he could go live there for a while and see how great that system is. What a sad world we live in when the view of a government is primarily self-defense. How un-evolved we have become.

5:13 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

I agree and disagee with you, ard2168 and I can present my argument in one word: VIOXX. I do agree with you that the government is here to protect its citizens from our enemies, but they are here to protect us, especially the weakest among us, from both external and internal enemies. For example, when our own corporations create therapeutic drugs that kill us, then the government is obligated to step in to protect the citizenry because we, as individuals lack the monetary power to protect ourselves. If the government's only role is to make war against foreign powers while otherwise ignoring the needs of its citizens, the government will quickly discover that citizens are unlikely to interrupt their careers and personal lives to participate in these wars, indeed, to potentially sacrifice their very lives.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedwig:

You write beautifully, but your thoughts on economics are incoherent. To say that the problem with American corporations is excessive greed makes no sense. Corporations are mere legal vehicles that exist to make money; what their owners, managers and employees do with their money in terms of consumption or charity is their business. Corporations owe no duties of loyalty to particular communities, although particular employees, managers and shareholders presumably do.

I take your comments to mean that you believe that American corporations (or rather, their managers) have a duty to avoid outsourcing; by implication, you mean employ (implicitly higher cost) American workers over (lower cost and presumably equivalent quality) foreigners. Why? Wouldn't such a course of action ultimately doom the company and thereby harm its shareholders/investors; even in the shorter run, doesn't it imply a racial or nativist desire to favor one set of humans over another? You can't wall off the world, and it's by no means clear to me that there's any moral advantage to be had in trying to do so.

Capitalism is a means of allocating resources that has proven itself infinitely superior to other, more "idealistic" systems that utopians of many stripes have instigated. It is no coincidence that capitalist societies have been the fount of innovation and scientific discovery. I am under no illusion that I will convince you that the logical beauty of our economic system equates to that of nature; but if you look into it in a systematic way, it might surprise you. Capitalism works because it harnesses the laws of human nature.

Utopia is, after all, Greek for No Place.

5:28 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello Anonymous, and thanks for reading and commenting (it took me a little while to find your comment, but here I am now).

I don't pretend to be an economist (I hope I don't come across that way) but I did mean to tell my story showing that I (and those like me) have been financially and personally harmed by this economy, despite the fact that we are very intelligent, hard-working and productive people.

You mentioned that "Corporations owe no duties of loyalty to particular communities". I disagree. I think corporations DO owe a debt of loyalty to the communities where they are located. Who gives these corporations huge tax breaks to operate? Who educates the people that corporations hire? Who supports these corporations with increased infrastructures and social services, such as roads, fire departments, schools, etc.? Who changes zoning laws to allow corporations do things that private citizens cannot do? Communities! Often, these benefits do not end with at the city/county levels but also extend to state and even federal levels. So of course corporations owe a debt of loyalty to their communities! Their communities provide them with everything they need to profit; employees, educational support, social services and tax breaks.

If a corporation causes a community to suffer from increased un(der)employment, health costs and bankruptcies, then this is damaging to the community itself. Certainly, corporations do not have a right to do whatever they please, as our (steadily weakening under this current administration) pollution laws demonstrate, for example. Corporations almost never act in the best interests of the community nor even of its employees, as they have often demonstrated: they act only to increase profits at all costs.

To use a biological example, corporations can be compared to parasites. Parasites can be beneficial or harmful to their host organisms. Even beneficial parasites can be damaging to the host when given the opportunity. It is the responsibility of the host (the community, in this case) to limit the capacity of a parasite (corporation) to damage or destroy it.

This is not to say that I think capitalism is the Great Evil. If I could think of a reasonable alternative to capitalism, I'd certainly suggest it, but I cannot. There are many positive aspects to capitalism, but I am not blind to the damage it causes to individuals and to communities. But I am frustrated with those people who ignore the damages of unrestrained capitalism and I am angry with those who blindly espouse a "blame the victim" mentality regarding these damages. This "blame the victim" mentality is the prevailing mind set in the current economic climate. In fact, there is something terribly wrong with ANY economic system that cannot employ someone like me and then holds those "unemployables" responsible for their misfortunes.

To bring this discussion back full circle, what do you propose be done with me and people like me who are apparently unemployable due to our education (in particular)? Should we spend the rest of our days on park benches? Should we die and thereby stop consuming valuable resources that others (who are more productive) can use?

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am going to forego further comment on your responses to my comments on the obligations that corporations may or may not have to their communities. On that bundle of issues, we shall agree to disagree. It's your blog: you have the last word.

As to your (un)employment situation, I don't believe for an instant that you are unemployable, or even that your high level of education does not wholly augment your opportunities. Clearly the market's demand for the specific services that you wish to sell - teaching science at the college level - is not what you would like it to be; deal with it. I don't mean to sound harsh, as I probably do, but you are not the first person to find your initial, heartfelt dreams unrealized.

Judging from your posts, you have some rare skills to offer the world: not only are you presumably extraordinarily current in scientific (if perhaps not economic) thinking on any number of topics, you also are unusually literate (and presumably verbal) for one of a scientific bent. These are formidable skills, especially when found together.

Who needs such skills? Well, beyond for-profit institutions "doing" science
(research, etc.) there are also presumably governmental, and even financial institutions (The horror! The Horror!) that might be looking for one who can explain scientific nuances in plain English. A person who is logical, numerate and scientifically knowledgeable (the three usually go together, of course) and can explain him or herself to others can be an analyst of biotech companies or maybe a financial analyst at a bank or in a venture fund. Why not? The mathematics of financial analysis would be child's play once you learned basic accounting. You could make a heck of a lot more money in these fields than at a university. You might even find them to be more intellectually satisfying than you might now guess. And perhaps you will emerge from the experience more understanding of the motivations and mores of the private sector.

Of course, you would have to get used to serving Mammon.

1:43 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello again, anonymous and it's good to see you back ..

I will admit that I am quite surprised at your statement "deal with it. I don't mean to sound harsh, as I probably do, but you are not the first person to find your initial, heartfelt dreams unrealized."

You do sound harsh, mainly because I am trying to deal with this, although I doubt I am dealing with this perfectly, especially since I still have to keep myself alive while "dealing" (not easy in my circumstances) and also because there is no guidebook out there that tells me how to successfully deal with a lifetime full of disappointments.

You also mentioned other jobs to appply for. Unfortunately, I do not know how to get them, much less find them consistently. I have applied for a few such positions on the rare occasions when I've run across them (or, once, when it was suggested to me by an agent) but nothing ever came from those applications, so I have no idea why I was not chosen, nor even if my application was received! (I hate applying for jobs through "front agencies" or whatever they are called because I don't have even a phone number to call to follow up on my applications).

Oh, and regarding "serving Mammon" .. isn't that the reason that god invented alcohol? :)

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedwig:

I sense that you need to be more systematic in your thoughts and actions about a job search. What does the market want of a person with your skills, and how can you deliver that package of skills to those who have need of them?

The first thing is a realistic assessment of your own skills as seen by others. As previously noted, you are both highly verbal and scientifically knowledgeable. Good. Do you have any personality for sales? If so, perhaps the pharmaceutical industry has a place for you. Are your skills analytical? Perhaps finance would work, as mentioned in my last post, but you would need to get a handle on accounting/financial analysis first. Are you totally committed to your research about birds? Research jobs in the field as hard as you would your subject (perhaps we’ll see you at the NY Zoological Society). Jobs in fields beyond academics (which, as a field for you, has proven difficult) are unlikely to come to you; you have to go to them and you have to make your case, preferably in person. Figure out what is plausible, research the field, learn what you need to know to interview well, and go get it.

Does this process take too much time? Find something short term to tide you over. Tend bar. Whatever. Such jobs are out there, and possess their own dignity. A man I know well drove a taxi after college while looking for his chance: he is now worth many millions and provides employment for hundreds.

The odds of your finding something offbeat and rewarding from an internet search engine seem like nil to me: jobs come from talking to people and getting them to want to help you because they believe that you will make them look good by performing well.

I have probably been in the workforce nearly as long as you have lived, and I have not been unemployed for one day. Also, the number of days I have missed due to illness over the last 25 years is: one. (You may say, well, he’s lucky to be so healthy, but I think that attitude and good habits mean a heck of a lot more than luck. I could get ill tomorrow on a wholly random basis; but many health problems come from bad habits). I have worked for large companies; I have also started companies on a wing and a prayer, and made them work. We live in a world that rewards go-getters. Don’t wait for the world to find you.

Don’t miss-hear my tone: money is not the measure of a man or woman. A bankbook does not define success. Success is playing a meaningful role in the lives of others, and in most cases, that means working.

Coming back to our first disagreement, what I sense that you don’t buy, but I do, is that what companies provide is opportunities that people can freely choose: take a job or not, buy the product or not. Companies have no obligation to offer either, nor do individuals have to say yes to either. Companies therefore compete to offer jobs and products to which people will say yes. That’s the thing about free societies: they’re about choice.

Good luck.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedwig:

Another thought: the Science Channel. They must have needs for people of your strengths. It's like the world's biggest classroom, spoon feeding science to everyone. Get a job as a proofreader (or whatever) and see where it takes you.

(I started in finance, and one lesson I would give any young person interested in that field would be: if you can get a job shining shoes at Goldman Sachs, take it. Everything will be determined by who you see day to day: if they think you can help them, you will rise to a higher
level; and if you're going to rise, make sure it's in an environment where rising is not limited by culture. The point being - with apologies to Milton - it's better to serve in Heaven than reign in Hell).

9:16 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello again, anonymous. To answer your questions, my skills extend more to the analytical (gathering information and thinking/writing/analyzing) side of things rather than the selling (interactive/social) aspects. A friend of mine in pharmaceutical sales thinks I have the personality to sell things, but I know I do not have the temperament (I spend a lot of time struggling with shyness although people are often fooled about this aspect of my personality).

Unfortunately, zoos suffer the same problem as universities! I have numerous rejection letters from my apps to zoos (postdoc, curator of birds, asst curator of birds, education coordinator, edu director, edu asst dir, etc., to name most of the positions that I've been rejected for). Zoos mainly hire those with lots of zoo experience and are not very welcoming to academic types, or so I've been told by a few "zoo insiders". I of course, still apply when a position comes available at a zoo.

I am currently working as a part-time temporary professor of science at a local community college. That pays my rent and, despite only paying me PT hours, believe me, I am putting in 40 hours per week, and it is a struggle to keep it from consuming more time than that! Who knows what will happen to me when that position ends this summer. (I try not to think about it, although it does give me nightmares most nights).

Otherwise, I pay my bills by going out there and pursuing any sort of job that I am qualified for, which right now is mostly tutoring (science) and taking care of people's animals while they vacation. Some of my colleagues look down on me for doing this, but it pays better than does a postdoc, and they have no useful alternatives, so I ignore their disapproval!

I am currently working on a book proposal and I do have an editor (well, sorta) at a big publishing house who is interested. But so far, things are still too early to really say much about that. But "my editor" and I might be meeting for lunch next week, and if so, that could provide lots of great material for a gloating blog entry. We shall see. I'll believe it when I see it happen.

But honestly, I'd LOVE to work for the science channel (nature, discovery, etc., channels). Do you have a connection? If so, send this person my way (or send this person to my blog!)

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you read Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner? I know you don't exactly have time to burn, but I think you would get a kick out of the descriptions of the narrator's failed efforts to make it as an academic that become successful efforts to write. In addition to possibly giving you some particular comfort, it is a fine book indeed.

Sorry, I don't know anybody at the Science Channel; it was just a thought.

1:15 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

I am not sure if all the Anonymous (anonymoi? anonymoose?) comments are being posted by the same individual, but I was assuming they were. Correct me if I am wrong.

Anyway, I have neither seen nor heard of the book that you mention. I will keep my eyes open for it on the $1 book sales tables on the sidewalks of Broadway and other places in NYC. It sounds like an interesting read .. and certainly, if I could land a job writing books for a living, even (or especially) text books, I'd trip all over myself to do it. It would work really well with my strengths and weaknesses; acceptuating my strengths while minimizing my weaknesses.

I am polishing a book proposal right now, even though I have no clue, really, if it is even done correctly nor how to go about getting a publisher interested (although I might have a publisher interested .. we shall see).

[As an aside, I have plenty of time for reading because I commute via the subway .. that's 2-3 hours of reading every day!]

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it has been the same Anonymous since "You write beautifully..." I set out to make an economic argument that your anti-Bush/anti-capitalist screed was based on some weak and perhaps unexamined premises; but I have increasingly been drawn into a dialogue focused more my natural interest in your all-too-real circumstances than the theoretical correctness, or otherwise, of the positions set forth in your brief essay on jobs. I have become for a moment an anonymous pen pal, which I guess succinctly describes bloggers generally, although I am not and do not aspire to be same.

For what it's worth, I think that you should aspire to write, but NOT textbooks. I believe that publishers of textbooks look for the most eminent practitioners in their fields and, sadly, you are not yet that as to ornithology. You should write what you ARE writing - human interest materials. I don't know whether that's a novel or a self-realization book; but the reason that I (and 14,000 or so others) are reading this blog is that you have enough talent with a pen to hold the interest of others. Mark Twain is reported to have quipped that he woke up one day and realized that all his life he had been speaking prose. Well, you've been writing essays of general interest - not because of their scientific content (hope I'm not bursting your bubble here) but for their human interest. Keep doing it, and get the attention of possible publishers.

And, by the way, be careful with booze. A little is very nice, but a lot isn't.

(I kinda feel like I'm writing to one of my daughters).

1:54 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello again, anonymous .. it's really fun to see that you still choose to spend a little of your time with me. Besides our obvious political differences (which I find interesting and educational) and your occasional rough edges, you do have a good heart, or so it seems from our limited contact.

We shall see what happens with regards to my potential book deal .. I am almost afraid to be so hopeful about this promised meeting with "my" editor, but it might provide the framework for some small breakthrough. While I have no doubt that human interest stories are very interesting and meaningful to many people, don't forget I have many talents and skills that wait discovery by my next employer or grant supporter. What you see here is just the surface.

And thanks for worrying after my health (alcohol consumption). That's very sweet of you. I tell my pals that I talk about alcohol as a coping device because I cannot afford to do it. But really, I have only been drunk several times and that was bad enough that I wish to never repeat that experience. When I have the opportunity to drink, I am a buzz-seeker only.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedwig:

Re-reading our brief correspondence, I was again struck by your odd perspective on economic matters. You analogize corporations to parasites; I would argue that you have it precisely backward: it is the state that is the parasite (in exactly the same not-necessarily-all-bad sense that you used the term). Unlike corporations, the state produces no wealth; in fact it lives off its share of the product of corporate wealth-creation. When that share becomes too large (via excessive taxation), the state chokes the geese that lay the golden eggs, and all become poorer.

You suggest that corporations frequently harm their host organisms. Really? How? (Let’s ignore pollution and defective products for a moment). You suggest that a corporation harms others by not offering healthcare or by laying off workers. Let’s deal with each of these separately.

In this society, people are free to choose; by that I mean that a company is free to offer a job or not, and an individual is free to take it or not. It is an act of capitalism among consenting adults. Therefore it makes no sense to say that a company is morally obligated to offer more than the law requires: if it were so obligated, it might not be willing to offer the position, and maybe the potential employee wouldn’t have the opportunity to say yes to the job. Implicitly, you are saying: the company shouldn’t be allowed to offer to pay for a job unless it can also offer additional benefits; but what if that meant that providing the job no longer made sense to the corporation? Wouldn’t you thereby be depriving the otherwise unemployed worker the opportunity to put bread on the table? By extension, maybe if there were fewer such requirements being set forth before companies, they would offer more opportunities to folks like, well, you.

As to laying people off, it’s the same freedom on the other side of the coin. Individuals insist on the right to quit (since we no longer believe in serfdom) therefore companies have to be able to fire people. France has made it prohibitively difficult to fire people and the result is: structural unemployment levels that would cause an uproar over here. Why? Because companies don’t want to hire people if it’s a one-way, long term obligation. Companies don’t know what tomorrow may bring, and it may be that they’ll have to lay people off to survive.

Needless to say, the offer of a job from a reputable, well-established (and even paternalistic) company will be prized by those choosing among potential jobs more than a comparable salary offer from a riskier company. Both companies will act accordingly, and the riskier (or stingier-as-to-benefits) companies will have to pay more for comparable talent if there are multiple job offerors. That’s what makes a market.

You commented about the cessation of unemployment insurance after six months. Throughout Western Europe, it has long been possible to survive virtually indefinitely on unemployment insurance; and what those countries have found is that such unlimited UI has created a class of permanent unemployed who have little interest in or motivation to look for work. Those laws were passed, e.g., in the postwar miracle years in Germany, when nobody would dream of not working, but now they are causing real havoc. Germany, Holland, France, etc. are now moving inexorably toward tougher systems as they realize that the present systems create perverse incentives.

There is a legitimate policy dilemma here: where does society draw the line and in effect, force the unemployed to take a job, any job? I believe that the comparative economic performances of the US and Western Europe show that we have drawn it in a better place than they have, and the proof is that they know they have to move in our direction.

The government’s redistributions of wealth are not charity-equivalents. They are the use of the coercive power of the state to favor one group over another. People on the left seem to think that they’re committing an act of generosity or moral grandeur by voting to take money from Peter to give to Paul: not. Reaching into your pocket voluntarily to help one in need is an act of moral grandeur. Voting for higher or lower taxes and more or less redistributionism is an act of calculated self-interest.

Finally, just to show that I’m not doctrinaire about my less-is-more philosophy about government: I do believe in the strict regulation and taxation of corporate pollution, which functions as a tax on all to benefit the buyer and seller of the specific product alongside which it – the pollution - was produced. Economists call this an externality.

Also, governmental standards on product safety are fine by me, although I dislike our lottery-like tort system.

Our system is founded on the idea of individual responsibility. It was no coincidence that capitalism, democracy and the protestant reformation all picked up steam at the same time: they are all the fruit of the same intellectual tree. Now I’m wandering into a topic too long for our correspondence…

Back on the personal front: I will continue to read your entries with real interest, hoping that one day soon you will find an intellectually satisfying job and move on. For what it’s worth, I believe that you were born to be a writer rather than a scientist. Try to find a way to get paid for doing what you love to do and de very well –writing about life. Whatever you do, try to stay away from politics and economics until you have seen the other side.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedwig:

Perhaps that most recent post of mine was a bit insensitive to your particular plight. It’s not that I think that the arguments I made are not fundamentally sound, but rather, that maybe my tone was patronizing and argumentative considering the circumstances. A tone that might be fair game among the similarly situated having a little fun debating may be grating here. If so, I apologize. It’s a guy thing.

And on that note, I sign off, perhaps temporarily (vacation next week, followed by travel for work), perhaps permanently. I’ll be checking in on you, though, hoping to see that you are savoring springtime in the most wonderful city on Earth, and taking a more upbeat view of your own opportunities and prospects. You do write beautifully after all, and that’s a rare and important talent.

5:23 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello again, anonymous. I'll distill my basic philosophy about economics: everyone who works should be paid enough to live a decent life. A decent life means that they should have the necessities of life (decent housing, food, phone and other utilities, health insurance and yes, some form of entertainment such as an internet connection or TV or something. Notice that I did not say everyone has a "right" to own a sailboat or to travel to Europe for six months every year, nor that they have a "right" to have a job if they don't perform on the job).

But this is not the case now. There are too many working poor. There are too many people who want to work and cannot find anything. That is wrong. Absolutely wrong.

I would be pleased to know that you will peek in on me from time to time, despite your busy schedule. I tell my readers the truth: they are the gift that I give to myself, and all I have to do for this gift is to write stuff for them to read, haha! It's almost as though I have an entire flock of guardian angels floating around me .. even though I don't believe in that stuff, it's still a fun thought when I am feeling bummed out.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hedwig: I think it would be awesome if you would develop your blog into a modern day Socratic dialogue between yourself and the main anonymous, and have it published!

Hope you found a job that was to your liking.

1:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home