The big question of jobs has yet to cross policy-makers' radar screens

ODYSSEY
by BeldenPaulson

In this three-part series on “Joblessness: A Creative Response to one of America’s Great, Long-term Challenges” Belden Paulson, political scientist and resident of Town Mitchell outlines the basic problem as well as two “tracks” towards a solution.

It is the basis for a talk presented Wednesday, May 15 for the World Future Society Milwaukee chapter. Part One summarized the challenge. Part Two identifies short-term responses. Part Three will take a longer view of a “transformed” society. JIn 1983 I helped to organize through the University of Wisconsin a national conference on “The Changing Role of Work.” We assembled key leaders and thoughtful thinkers representing the best experience available—from business, unions, government, academia, to address the future of work—at that time with a less ominous future than today. We designed that conference around two tracks. Track One focused on the best ideas and practices for “what can be done here and now,” assuming there is enlightened leadership that will focus on implementation. Track Two recognized that even the best of Track One will not be adequate. The long-run crisis of joblessness is more fundamental. It is related to dilemmas facing the industrial system itself, and some sort of transformation is required. This conference was thirty years ago. The challenges we face today are more stark and real.

Keeping in mind the data we know about joblessness, let us envisage examples of Track One and Track Two strategies to confront today’s likely trends.

A general Track One starting point is the need for an in-depth bipartisan national strategy that takes into account the short run and long run. The business community usually adds the great importance of reduced regulations and lower taxes to strengthen the economy and create jobs, although others note that much higher taxes in the postwar and Clinton years did not threaten near full employment.

Noteworthy Track One ideas include (in no particular order of importance):

—Critical importance of education and training; the unemployment rate of people age twentyfive and older with graduate and professional degrees is less than 4 percent, with BA degree less than 5 percent

—More effort is needed to develop skills to match available jobs (there are 3 million unfilled jobs)

— Bring back jobs from overseas (tax policy is important)

—Create incentives for hiring different categories of the nonemployed

—Make investments in infrastructure-related jobs—also Depression-era WPA-type jobs

—Reduce high corporate compensation to provide money for more hiring and experimentation for new strategies

—Institute the thirty-hour workweek and job sharing (used some places in Europe)

—Make a massive revitalization effort in inner cities and depressed rural areas to upgrade skills and cultural level

The Track Two starting point recognizes that measures such as the above are valuable but insufficient. For example, Willis Harman in his “Coming Transformation” article writes: “The United States and other industrial nations now face a series of dilemmas that may be insoluble except by a sweeping transformation of their societies.” These are: the growth dilemma (“We need continued economic growth but we cannot live with the consequences.”) The control dilemma (“We need to guide technological innovation but we shun centralized control.”) The distribution dilemma (“The industrialized nations find it costly to share the earth’s resources with less developed nations, but a failure to do so might prove even more costly.”) The work-roles dilemma (“Industrial society is increasingly unable to supply an adequate number of meaningful social roles”).


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