Back on the Road

March 21st, 2012 at 11:02 am

After a day of learning about the House budget (more on that below), I’m up in Boston to give a seminar at MIT (slides here).  My hosts are Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, the authors of “Race Against the Machine,” a book about the future of work in an economy with accelerating labor-saving technology.   It’s a fascinating read that’s influenced my thinking a lot, particularly when you look at pictures like the last couple in the slides linked to above.

The bottom-line concern here is that there won’t be enough jobs for enough people.  Not just now, what with the business cycle still not fully up and running, but also later, when the expansion is full blown.  That certainly was the case in the 2000s–the problem was structural, not cyclical.

I actually think there will be employment opportunities for people in the lower end of the services.  We’ll need a lot of home health aides, cashiers, lab technicians, child care workers.  I worry about the quality of those jobs, which is why we need strong wage subsidies, like the EITC and good universal insurance.  And there’s likely to be ample work for the most skilled, or at least most highly educated workers–though as my EPI friends show, the wages and employment of college grads in recent years doesn’t exactly support a demand-boom story there either.

But what about the workers in the middle, particularly older workers displaced from factory jobs?   OTEers know I support policies to help revitalize American manufacturing, but given global supply chains and the increasing productivity of the sector, I don’t expect a ton of jobs there.

So what about infrastructure?  Putting aside the budget mishegas I’m about to mention, what about marrying a big problem with a big solution?   Our stock of public goods–schools, roads, water systems, airports–need productivity-enhancing, energy-saving (e.g., FAST) repairs.  And there’s a large and growing supply of folks to do this kind of work.

I know this doesn’t seem like the political moment to get your New Deal on, but hey—I’m taking a break from real politik up here in Cambridge, so seems like a fine time to dream a bit.

Back to reality: the Ryan plan…well, here’s the view from the CBPP:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s new budget plan specifies a long-term spending path under which, by 2050, most of the federal government aside from Social Security, health care, and defense would cease to exist, according to figures in a Congressional Budget Office analysis released today.

Or, as Ezra Klein summarized it:

Ryan’s budget funds trillions of dollars in tax cuts, defense spending and deficit reduction by cutting deeply into health-care programs and income supports for the poor.

Frankly, I think Rep Ryan’s done us a favor, by presenting the YOYO vision with such clarity.  As I’ve constantly stressed, like it or not, we are deeply ensconced in a national debate about the size and role of government.   More than any other document I’ve seen—at least since Ryan’s last budget—the new House R’s budget stakes out one side of the continuum.

I simply don’t see how we even began to meet the challenges we face—jobs and otherwise—from that side.

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5 comments in reply to "Back on the Road"


    • Jared Bernstein says:

      Good link–I’ll try to respond later. Question is, would R’s/Ryan add the important fixes noted in the piece? Absent those, his premium support just shifts costs to benes.


  1. PeonInChief says:

    At least you don’t have to come to Sacramento, although it’s supposed to be a pretty day today.


  2. Michael says:

    If we’re worried about not having enough jobs, doesn’t that imply that we should be pushing hard for 35-40 hour workweeks?


  3. Bud Meyers says:

    Question: Why wasn’t Obama’s healthcare plan sold as “Medicare for All”, and substituting the “mandate” as a payroll tax like Medicare taxes? Those earning less than poverty wages (for a family of four is $22,350 a year) could be subsidized; and those earning over that could pay on a progressive sliding scale – from 1% for those earning over $22,350 a year to 5% on those earning over $1 million a year or more. Because this would have been a tax, it would have passed the constitutional test. Would we need a majority in the House and Senate to change this?


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