Sensible Economics

Anytime I hear an economist talking sense about our situation I sit up and take notice.

A particularly nice example appears in the letters to the editor at the International Herald Tribune from Barbara Bergmann, Prof Emerita of economics, U of MD. I’ll quote the most amazingly sensible part.

Economic growth in the United States has meant bigger cars, bigger houses and more gadgets, all of which we could do without. We could regain and maintain a reasonably healthy employment picture with little or no growth by essentially sharing jobs, a sharing effectuated by decreases in working hours in step with productivity advances.

Adopting such a regime would be politically difficult, perhaps impossible. But you never know unless you try, and the suffering that failure would bring would be incalculable. Surely even the leaders of the oil industry have grandchildren they care about.

Surely people can be brought to their senses and understand that this sort of change is to everybody’s advantage. I fail to see anything resembling an alternative to the Great Slackening, really. It’s always reassuring when somebody else figures it out.


  1. A little off topic:
    I just want to let you know that Jerammy Rifkin will be on the radio nationwide, for two hours tomorrow. He'll be the guest of Adam Klugman, who is substituting for Norm Goldman on the Norman Goldman show. You can find a broadcast near you at Norm's website.

    Rifkin will be talking about his ideas of Empathic Civilization and The Third Industrial Revolution

  2. The Great Slackening, I like it! (But I suspect we should come up with something else to call it if we're going to build a movement behind it.)

    It won't be politically easy, but then no one's running a campaign on it either:

    "Two years ago, House Resolution 2564, the Paid Vacation Act of 2009, sponsored by former Representative Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida, would have mandated one-week breaks for workers in companies with more than 50 employees, and two weeks in companies with more than 100.

    Almost anywhere else in the world, such legislation would be laughably inadequate, but in the U.S., conservative bloggers excoriated it as wildly radical. The bill was left to die."

    So there is a motivated opposition, but I don't remember hearing any excitement on the pro side of this issue.

    Don't underestimate the importance of this sort of thing to bring about rising middle class wages -- wages stagnate because most kinds of workers aren't scarce and there are plenty of capable people out of work. Make labor scarce again and vacation time won't be the only benefit that improves.

    I would add to the work sharing agenda: 1) Fight against efforts to raise the retirement age for Medicare/Social Security. 2) Make it easier to attend college.

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