Economics is a field in which the general public will often give deference to the opinions of someone with professional credentials, even when that person seems to be saying something in direct opposition to common sense. "Well, sounds crazy, but he's the expert," we say to ourselves. We assume that the expert knows something we don't. Sometimes, he does. Other times, the expert is just a very wrong person with a very impressive job title.
The percentage of working-age Americans who are employed has declined significantly over the past decade. Why? Well, I am no economist, but this strikes me a logical starting point: "Back in 2000, when an economic boom was ending, there were nearly as many jobs available as there were unemployed workers. By the summer of 2009, there were 6.7 times as many unemployed workers as there were open positions. Now [in August 2012] that number is down to 3.4."
Using simple common sense, one might theorize that the percentage of Americans who are employed has declined since 2000 because, in that time period, the number of unemployed workers has vastly outpaced the number of available jobs. Because, in other words, it would be mathematically impossible for many, many unemployed workers to find a job. (Our own anecdotal evidence has reinforced this idea time and again.) But one conservative economist has a different, more expert opinion as to why Americans aren't working: because they are lazy.
On the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal—where the free market can do no wrong—American Enterprise Institute scholar Richard Vedder has published his own theory as to why fewer Americans are working: "the phenomenon is due mainly to a variety of public policies that have reduced the incentives to be employed." Those policies include food stamps, Social Security disability payments, Pell Grants (which help people go to college when they should be looking for work), and extended unemployment benefits. Slashing these lazy-making benefits, Vedder suggests, could solve our unemployment problem—"If more people have less incentive to stay out of the work force, they might seek jobs and help spur economic growth."
The fact that there are more than three unemployed workers for every available job is not mentioned.
In the magical universe of free enterprise-idolatry, as embodied by Richard Vedder, the unemployment rate is a symptom of Americans lounging about lazily, reveling in their gaudy unemployment benefits (a maximum of $405 per week, in New York), dining out on their generous food stamps (an average of $109 per month), and celebrating the fact that they are lucky enough to be disabled, in order to reap disability benefits that average under $1,500 per month, which may be enough to pay their therapy bills. What a grossly generous lifestyle we afford these people. No wonder they have absolutely no desire to work.
Pay no attention to all these people with stories of months and years spent ceaselessly looking for jobs to no avail. And pay no attention to the fact that there are simply not enough jobs to go around. Instead, pay attention to your own dislike of the idea of the government paying benefits to anyone, except you. And, most importantly, pay attention to the experts.
[WSJ. Photo: AP]