The Corner

Economy & Business

The Great Mystery

(Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Kevin Williamson disputes my characterization of his riposte. He writes:

I wrote that people can choose what kind of work they want to do, and what kind of services they want to consume, without any help from Michael.

Kevin then accuses me of being a stouthearted defender of the “Real America.” If accuracy is Kevin’s complaint, he can show me where in fifteen years of writing I’ve ever used the phrase “real America” in the treacly and cynical way he accuses. It’s possible that it’s happened but I can’t recall it. 

Anytime someone on the right tries to discuss whether policy is driving a trend toward more precarious employment, whether this policy is re-shaping our society in ways that are politically or socially repugnant, or why we might judge it to be so, we get diverted into this sideshow about whether the discussants have calibrated their esteem for Uber drivers and lobster processors correctly. Or how many haircuts I might get compared to my grandfather. 

So let’s accept Kevin betrays no judgement or esteem save for the “revealed preferences” of our workers.

Revealed preferences against what options? I suppose the difference between Kevin’s view and my own is that I simply don’t find revealed preferences alone all that telling. Most people will try to make the best of it, the question is what “it” is.  

Kevin says that workers don’t need help from me. Fine enough, I haven’t been elected. But our labor market is subject to lots of “help” or at least input from other sources. Our workers have the skills that were imparted to them by circumstance, or by mandates from various boards of education. Or they have skills that were encouraged by the massive subsidies to higher education and various fads. The financial sector’s  behavior can be shaped, indirectly, by the governors of the Fed. Which in turn shapes the behavior of investors and entrepreneurs. Options are further shaped by the legislators of their states, by the legislators of their Congress in Washington, by executive order. And, of course, by the industrial policy of those nations who do a lot of business with us and seek, in the course of it, to capture high-value industries, whether for strategic, economic, or political advantage. Kevin points to the mysterium tremendum of the market at work- of revealed preferences to stop the conversation. Soon we must point to the mysterium tremendum of our large trading partner’s five year policy on economic management to try to start one.

Kevin has written quite interestingly about the social and economic stratification of India. That stratification pre-exists India’s modern economy. But how do those social facts shape democracy  in India?

Should all the people who have an “input” on the shape of the American workforce, who give a little help to the real Americans wherever they live, be concerned about the results?

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