May 19, 2013 at 11:58 am
Like many people I talk to about this, especially non-economists, most respondents agreed with the proposition that something’s changed, i.e., accelerated, in the impact of labor-saving technology in the workplace (interestingly, most commenters on this blog go the other way).
As I’ve stressed in numerous posts (e.g., here), while I worry that the “people” might be right about this, it’s not yet evident in the data (productivity growth, capital investment) in obvious ways. One analytic problem is that in the last bunch of years, we’ve had this collision between visible labor-displacing technologies (robotics, AI software) and weak demand for labor. While it’s natural to assume the former must be prodding the latter, there’s this confounding matter of a massive housing bubble, great recession, and all that mess.
So too soon to tell, and history is replete with examples of this mistaken prediction. On the other hand, this feels to me like it might be one of those times where folks on the ground are a step ahead of the aggregate data.
I found this to be a moving, smart passage:
My husband thinks back to his father, coming of age during the Depression, and how fortunate that the Civilian Conservation Corps was available for him. A repurposed C.C.C. is just what we could use — and we are so not alone in this. Many people our age have found themselves jobless, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have skills, talents, determination and, most important, the desire to get a feeling of satisfaction back after years on the corporate track.
Also, the accompanying illustration was…um…unsettling, and very well done.
NYT, John Hendrix
–There’s a long cover story on the Cincinnati IRS office which is ground zero for the recent scandal. The piece paints a picture of an understaffed, poorly managed group of mid-level bureaucrats, trying to follow impossible guidelines. Clearly, the agency screwed up in a big way that threatens to worsen our already dysfunctional politics. That said, partisan bias on behalf of the agents is not obvious.
What would help clear up this part of the issue is a number I’ve yet to see showing that (c)(4) groups with conservative names were disproportionately targeted. It’s clear, for example, that more “Tea Party” and similarly named applications were given extra scrutiny than liberal ones (like those with “Progress” in their title) but it also seems that there were a lot more of the former. The question of proportionality has yet to be answered.
Even so, i.e., even if the numbers ultimately show that conservative groups were not disproportionately targeted relative to their number of applications, how did the impropriety of the exemption agents’ actions evolve? That’s the subject of this very informative Propublica piece that tells the story of decentralized decision making, under-staffing, diminished training efforts, and basically relegating these impossibly complex decisions to a relatively low-paid backwater with little guidance from DC, even as the number of applications from political groups was exploding.
All this combined to create an isolated office in Cincinnati, plagued by what an inspector general this week described as “insufficient oversight,” of fewer than 200 low-level employees responsible for reviewing more than 60,000 nonprofit applications a year.
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