If I had someone to blame for my lack of posting these last couple months, other than myself, it would be Peter Radford. His excellent posts at the RWER blog have lulled me into a sense of inadequacy, or something. Maybe there really is a lump of labor when it comes to the blogosphere.
But I digress. Radford has a great essay on McCloskey’s argument about bourgeois culture and capitalist growth. He absolutely nails it towards the middle of the piece, with regard to the attitude of laissez-faire folks towards workers:
All that destruction ended up on the shoulders of those who experience capitalism second hand. They are the ones McCloskey says should be happy to tolerate the capitalists. They are the poor whose boat has been so generously lifted by the great capitalist tide. It is not for them to complain. They are lucky. After all it is not their hard work or effort that made all this possible. It is those capitalists. They did the heavy lifting. Workers merely work. And we all know they only do that up to the point at which the disutility of losing leisure matches the utility of earning a wage. After which they revert to their natural lazy and indolent state. Or unemployment.
So it is only right that the workers bear the brunt of the great changes afoot as the clever capitalists engage in a humungous gear change.
Hence structural unemployment.
It appears that our wise capitalists and financiers have learned that American workers are too expensive and not very well educated for the new things we need to do. This is, obviously, the worker’s own fault. So they are justifiably unemployed. They need to learn new tricks. And they need to do those new tricks for a lower wage. This is because there are hordes of cheap and apparently well educated workers elsewhere willing to catapult their own wealth by working all hours for less. This naturally excites the capitalists who can similarly catapult their own wealth beyond its current meager levels. But those American workers have to give up the notion of maintaining their living standards, at least until they get themselves a better education more fitting to the new wave of up-scale jobs about to be unleashed by all this creative destruction. Just don’t ask the capitalists to chip in for that education. You see, education is a private, not a public good. Workers benefit from a better education so they should pay for it. The capitalists will look after themselves thank you very much. So should the workers.
As we emerge from the crisis and ponder the lingering unemployment problem our capitalist friends have an important message: this is only the destructive bit. We can rest assured a new wave of creativity is rushing ashore to lift us all to riches beyond our wildest dreams.
He goes on to critique that argument about the new wave of productivity. if the gains in productivity of the last several decades haven’t helped workers, why should some new wave come in and save the world? Radford sums up the problem well, as it has been elucidated in this crisis:
The problem being that there are too many losers this time. The destruction vastly outweighed the creation.
And that congealed top layer of society is untouched. So the destruction is asymmetrical and acute.
McCloskey’s book is about bourgeois dignity, but Radford asks the right question: “What about worker dignity?” Indeed.