They never give up. But no matter how much lipstick they put on a pig, it’s still a pig.
Ross Douthat did it back in February, by painting a rosy picture of the drop in the employment-population ratio.
Now, we have Zachary Karabell expressing his optimism about the youth unemployment crisis (16 percent in the United States, more than 50 percent in countries like Spain and Greece). Based on a single anecdote, he concludes that young people, at least college graduates, are not really unemployed. They’re just choosing to look for better options.
many college-educated young people are choosing not to take low-paying service-level jobs if they don’t absolutely have to. Because they can live with their parents (and as many as 45 percent of recent grads do) and because they rarely have much in the way of fixed costs such as homes and children, they can hold out for a job that matches their ambitions. They can also retool their skills as they discover that their college degree in marketing and communications may not leave them in the best position to get the type of job that they want.
This type of unemployment is one of choice — rational, legitimate choice — not of systemic failure. It is a challenge to find a meaningful job, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. A youth cohort determined to create meaningful work should not be seen as lazy, lost or in dire straits. Instead it could be exactly the type who might actually lead the transition of our economy away from the making-stuff economy of the 20th century to an ideas economy of the 21st. . .
In the United States, youth unemployment is not quite what it seems. It is not a simple sign of how bad the economy is. Youth unemployment is actually a sign of ambition and expectation. Young people aren’t part of a generation of despair, but rather a generation determined not to settle. That may not always be realistic, but it is a vital fuel to propel our society forward.
If it looks like a pig, smells like a pig, no matter how much lipstick you put on it, it’s still a pig.
And, while we’re on the topic (of porcine cosmetics, not unemployment), there’s Simon Wren-Lewis, who so desperately wants to tell us, notwithstanding the spectacular failures of mainstream economics in recent years, that all is well. Everything we need is right there in the textbooks, he argues. Like the “the proposition that austerity was a crazy thing to try in this recession.” Well, on that one point he’s right: all you need is some basic Keynesian economics to criticize austerity. But, no matter how hard you look, you’re not to going to find the appropriate tools for analyzing a whole host of other crisis-related issues, such as the role of inequality in creating the conditions for crisis or the tendencies within capitalism to endogenously produce such crises. Sure, the ideas are there to push back against the austerians but, nowhere in mainstream macroeconomics—whether in the textbooks or in the most advanced areas of research—are you going to find a theory of capitalist dynamics that explains how we got into the current mess, much less how to get out of it. Wren-Lewis wants to blame partisan concerns (and, sure, there’s plenty of that) but not the basic theory.
To give credit where credit is due, Wren-Lewis sincerely wants to do the right thing and take the ideological lipstick off the pig. But then, even after adding a bit of economic history and the history of economic thought, he’s still left with the same old pig.