by Tyler Cowen
on March 28, 2017 at 7:59 am
in Books, Economics, Education
Here is a page with all the Complacent Class videos.
I think I have been seen someone sporting that hairstyle. Is there a reward?
So, Tyler, since your interview with Noah Smith, should not these videos be labeled “The Fearful Class Not Feeling Sufficient Urgency”? Oh, I know: that is way too long compared to just inaccurately calling these people “complacent.”
Was it just me or did Tyler dispense with illness (and painkiller use) as a cause of no employment rather quickly? According to this BIS page “illness or disability” is overwhelmingly the reason 25-54 year old men do not work.
An economist might lean to economic causes of disability, but I think the case needs to actually be made that healthy males are responding to incentives here. A morality story should not prevail without data or study.
Is it actual disability, or is it people using the disability program as a welfare program?
I’m a bit skeptical that we are more physically disabled now than we were 50 years ago. And the very source I would look at to test my hypothesis is exactly the one I don’t trust.
It is a billion dollar question. But you know, I remember when “mobility scooters” were not even a thing.
But that may be in large part because (1) the handicapped were culturally supposed to stay out of sight (2) curb cuts / handicapped ramps didn’t really become common until around 1980. Also note that all those TV ads from lawyers promising to get you on disability weren’t common then, either.
Right. This might be a problem we always had but ignored, or it might be something that was never a problem and isn’t now despite looking like it, or anything in between.
What do Utah’s disability numbers look like?
I link a map in the other thread. Disability map here:
Obesity map here:
See the similarity?
36% of the modern American population is obese. It was 13% in 1980.
I refuse to believe that 23% of Americans suddenly developed glandular problems over the last 37 years or that our built environment changed radically during that period.
A large portion of the obesity epidemic comes from the fact that Americans just don’t want to be healthy. They’re making terrible lifestyle choices.
If Americans are just too fat to work, I fail to see how increasing transfer payments is going to solve that problem.
There have to be a lot of ideas out there, beyond merely continuing current programs. Time for some RCTs!
By the way, I don’t mind Trump’s son-in-law starting a government performance SWAT team, or looking at the opioid problem. Something good might come out of it.
To optimize you have to try changes.
I’d say that a good percentage of the rise in obesity is due to the decline of smoking.
Smokers are probably more productive than the obese but have a greater health burden, apparently, so I guess they can call this progress.
Re: Is it actual disability, or is it people using the disability program as a welfare program?
It’s both. To get on public (or private) disability you really do have to have something wrong with you. Faking it is all but impossible. However disabilities that might have left a person still employable a generation ago are now considered (by everyone, most notably employers) to disqualify people from being hired. This *may* change as the labor market continue to tighten (if it does), but so far that seems not to be happening.
Good times create weak men. Weak men create bad times. Bad times create strong men. Strong men create good times.
Peace times lead to people focusing on making things better and better, and in time give insufficient attention to risks.
Eventually, someone calculates a way to get ahead mainly by screwing mostly everyone else. This either leads to societal decline or reinvigoration of rational attentiveness for some additional period of time.
Men without a pre-disposition to do bad things for stupid reasons may, at all times, for good reasons, be motivated to do bad things for good reasons. Often, the first have already had the opportunity to prove their strength doubly. First, the ability to do refuse to do bad things for stupid reasons. The second group only has the opportunity to demonstrate the second category: doing bad things for good reasons.
Perhaps. But also we love to believe quotes and narrative rather than statistics and facts.
Also physical strength is not necessary for modern work as much. But obviously there is mental strength.
Yesterday one of my clients encouraged a young man to move on from sleeping under a stairway. One of the lost men. My client’s conclusion is that these men are victims of failed families.
If he works hard enough, he may even be able to sleep under a bridge or a viaduct some day. It is the American system itself that has failed. Americans feel helpless, morose, frightned and angry. They know they have been betrayed by the government and Big Business and their children have been sold into bondage. Oppressed so hard they can not stand, this is an explosive situation. Russian specialists believe the United States are already collapsing and will become separate states. Professor Paul Krugman pointed out that the USA may already have become a failed state. American intelectual David Kupelian says tht America is a bizarre, lawless society.
Yes, United States and Somalia are so similar 😉 I agree with last sentence though.
The point is, the leading American intellectuals agree the American system has failed and that the system is already collapsing in lawlessness, despair and corruption.
A tremendous exaggeration. Some people, and yes too many of them, in the US are doing poorly. But most of us are doing OK and some are even doing great. Compared to, say, the Great Depression, things are in fairly decent shape here despite the hand-wringing.
When your only point of comparison is your own history or own ideals, the Patriot Act era, for the fact of being the Patriot Act era, has long led many to believe that America will soon collapse on its contradictions in a righteous revolution against a tyrannical state, with honestly little concern as to whether what comes out of the ashes will be united or not.
Such revolutionary concerns or principles are certainly not without merit. Especially when the world can be summed up in a map of the USA and your own ideals or history is the only point of reference.
Without wanting to suggest the least hint of taking it easy on those who are culpable for this period of absolute demolition of the stated principles intended to hold the country together, it should be very obvious that this means a very high share of the population is very amenable to manipulation by foreign powers.
Taiwan and Estonia would both be much easier targets if the USA was preoccupied with actual, or high risk of, civil war.
Among those tending more to the left wing among backpackers around the world, for example, and without any appearance of necessarily wanting to get involved …. in the years after 9-11 it was almost taken as a given that the expected non-repudiation of the Patriot Act would sooner or later lead to revolution.
The American system as it is has become unworkable. French intellectual Emmanuel Tood, who predicted the decadence of the Soviet Union in the 70s, when the communist regime seemed to be going from strenght to strenght, has predicted the failure of the American system. Coupling it with the studies of the Russian professors, it is not hard to imagine that the United States are about to desintegrate, like the USSR. The 2016 election proved that Americans hate one another and themselves and will not be able to work together to reform their failing system.
The USSR and the United States are fundamentally different though: the former was a true empire with a dominant people and polity (Russia) holding multiple “provinces” with distinct ethic groups, languages, religions etc. in thrall– despite a fair amount of window dressing to create the illusion of equality. The United States despite some regional variation is fairly homogeneous. Even the most distinct regions– the South and New England– are not all that distinct from each other (at least no more so than Bavaria is from Hamburg, or Marseilles is from Paris), and given the amount of moving around that has happened since the end of WWII, along with the triumph of national chain businesses and Big Media, the US regions have grown less culturally distinct rather than more. Moreover the principle political faults in the US are not really between regions– nor between so-called “red states” and “blue states” but between urban population and rural populations, with the suburbs in the middle.
9/11 will be seen by historians 200 years from now as the high-water mark of American civilization. That is all I have to say.
Since then, American decayed fast.
This coincides with Ted Kennedy and the Democrats opening the flood gates of legal and illegal immigration. The Democrat party planned to use immigrants to expand their power and had no regard for the fact that the burden for this would fall on the citizens and the middle class.
Just look at all the legislatures and presidencies that they Democrats won as a part of this genius strategy! (Maybe they were just going along with the same business principles driving billionaires in Republican camps?)
Aka, basically wanting access to cheaper labour outside of high-advancement-potential areas of activity.
There’s a big difference in importing goods rather than importing people. Democrats always pick the method of most screwing over of the public.
That’s definitely just what politicians do. They run for office because they love to screw over the public.
Since 2000, prime-age men and women have had pretty similar employment declines and partial rebounds, so it doesn’t look like a story that’s particularly about men: http://www.pleeps.org/2017/03/25/the-reality-and-myth-of-the-decline-in-mens-employment/
Good point — why the focus on men, specifically?
Traditionally, the identity of men is much more closely tied to their work, or success in work, most fundamentally related to the ability to provide for progeny (and you’ve gotta take care of the wife to do that).
So the social relevance could be greater for men, even if the economic importance maybe will prove to be balanced in the way you suggest.
When 22% of men have not worked a day in 12 months as compared to 10%, this is a huge problem for future production potential (via workplace skills, etc.).
It could be the economic equivalent to more than one major economic crisis. Especially if they all get taken by “luxury leisure” (especially video games), an idea recently discussed in “1843”.
Men will marry women who are long-term unemployed– but it’s far less likely that women will marry long-term or sporadically employed men. The dearth of marriageable men is what is feeding into the explosion of single motherhood in the lower third or so of the income spectrum.
Yes, but everything tastes sweeter with a dollop of identity politics.
Because men are the high-variance group. If your men are doing well, they’ll pull everyone else up with them. If your men are doing poorly, they’ll take everyone else down with them.
Find a suitable place to store your men from the ages of 14 to 24 and you will take care of your street crime, too.
Exactly, it is just as much about women not in the workforce as men. Eric Hurst was on EconTalk last fall focused on men as well and tried to explain the pattern for women was not the same as that of men from 2000 but wasn’t that convincing.
I was skeptical so did a quick search and then commented then:
“I noticed an article in the NY Times from Dec 2014 where economist Robert Moffitt was quoted as saying that the steepest decline, almost identical to males, in work participation for women from 2000 to 2013 were young, without college degrees, unmarried and childless.”
Second, it is a major understatement for Tyler to say “The median wage numbers have some issues.”
I don’t think the stagnant $37,000/year figure includes benefits but wasn’t stated either way. Here is James Galbraith on this topic in 2012:
“The typical story is that median wages peaked in 1972 and have been stagnant and falling since then. As a result, it must be the case that people who are working now are much worse off than they were ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. That’s not an accurate story—at least not up until the crisis in 2008—because over that period the labor force became younger, more female, more minority, and more immigrant. All of these groups start at relatively low wages, and they all then tend to have upward trajectories. So there’s no reason to believe that life was getting worse for members of the workforce in general. On the contrary, for most members of the workforce it was still getting better. Plus they had the benefit of technical change and improvement in the other conditions of life.”
It makes more sense to compare 40-year-old year to 40-year-old someone else, and really not to take solace in making a little more money than when you had a job at a fast food outlet as a high school student.
When CEO wages have gone up tenfold and working class wages stagnate despite higher skills than ever … just please don’t tell me “at least you’re making more money than when you were in high school”.
The mindset is very useful in making effective use of poverty and inequality statistics. Because 15-year-old me at a quarter the salary did not feel four times as poor and will earn higher income in the future – the headline statistic is an exaggeration in this sense. But don’t try to tell me that 40-year-old me should be compared with teenagers in deciding whether things are fair. In fact, precisely the opposite logic comes from introducing more refined usage of inequality stats.
You are missing Galbraith’s point. Tyler’s graph is misleading without a 10 second explanation about the dramatic rise from 1969 in less experienced women and immigrants entering the work force in very large numbers. (Workers without high school diplomas have stagnated, though.)
Working wages have not been stagnant from 1969 to 2008 when you track groups consistently across time which the aggregate average does not do.
What do you mean by “track groups consistently over time”.
Yes, it seems very likely, virtually certain, that a major increase in labour competition, specifically from women and immigrants, is one of the main factors in this observation. So is there a way to acknowledge that without the more extreme Trumpistas to take is as a sign to lock up the women barefoot in the kitchen and build walls of all sorts to prevent exposure to competition?
Similarly, while it’s relevant in the causation, I don’t see it as highly relevant to the solutions. Unless you’re willing to straight up say “yes, I understand that this is very likely to come at a cost to competitiveness of the nation and thus average living standards in the long run, and I accept that cost in order to get what I want.”
You still aren’t getting the broader point, which is why I think Tyler should have explained it. Maybe a full 20 seconds would be needed.
It isn’t just competition from women and minorities who entered the workforce at lower wages due to inexperience in the early 1970s, the sheer numbers of those workers will pull down the median and keep wages stagnant for a long time if more continue to enter — and then the financial crisis hit as well.
Yes, and it’s bad for that category of workers and it cannot be denied. But it lowers costs for many things and increases the labour availability to many other sectors, then also at a lower cost, to American firms which are then more competitive. This reduces costs for everyone. So yeah, if you’re someone who’s out of a job or working at reduced wages, you probably don’t feel like you got the best bargain out of the deal. Because you didn’t.
It can be debated whether in aggregate this will increase average or other indicators of current wellbeing, or whether it will increase long-term production potential.
In short, the question is of the theoretical ability to redistribute the gains from trade in some way to ensure that there are no (or very few) losers, as compared to the practice of not usually doing that. So … vote for anti-redstributionist parties as a way to address distributive aspects of trade? I don’t see why similar reasoning should not apply to most aspects of immigration of labourers into the USA, i.e., that redstributive aspects in a context where incoming labour is explicitly understood to negatively affect one group and some other group will “buy them off” in a kind of way. Easier access to various forms of education and training, or other types of public services maybe? Generous cash transfers, for example, just make it too likely that too many would retire at 45 instead of retooling for a second career.
to neglect to mention that the immediate effect of reducing wages in categories of economic activity that would otherwise employ higher wage Americans then reduces costs for everyone, contributing to overall competitiveness of the economy,
Well, at least I’m sure others understood Galbraith’s simple point.
The rise in SSDI seems like it might have more than a little to do with what’s going on:
Once on SSDI, people are really motivated not to lose it, and they adjust their lifestyles in ways that stretch the disability payments while minimizing their chances of getting a job. When on SSDI, it makes sense, for example, live in dirt-cheap rural community with few job opportunities — you’re not looking for a job, you’re looking for cheap housing.
With SSDI for dubious disabilities, we’re getting a kind of preview of a UBI, and it’s not a pretty picture.
“With SSDI for dubious disabilities, we’re getting a kind of preview of a UBI, and it’s not a pretty picture.”
Not at all. SSDI and UBI are opposites along a pretty important dimension which is that SSDI is targeted and therefore opens the door to perverse incentives while UBI is not targeted and therefore largely sidesteps the perverse incentive problem. As you note, people are motivated not to lose SSDI and therefore may not spend time developing new skills or looking into outside-the-box work options. If a benefit is universal or even simply designed better (like the Earned Income Tax Credit), the lure of improving one’s material circumstances is still there.
But there’s an important commonality — if you provide people a big enough grant for a basic living, what do they do? Do they seek to supplement that with paid work in the formal economy? Or do they try to minimize expenses and supplement their income with home production and occasional off-the-books jobs? For the middle and upper classes, the answer is obvious, but that’s not the case for lower-income people. Consider the kind of work that they do. It tends not to be inherently interesting, often involves physical discomfort (a great deal of standing, for example), managers tend not to be very good or necessarily respectful, and the work does not confer any status (and may do the opposite — ‘Would you like fries with that?’).
Would you rather
A) live on UBI + home production + odd jobs with your time and schedule being your own and never having to be in a subservient position, or
B) live on UBI + income from a low-wage job in retail, fast food, or maybe as a home health-care aid?
I think the attractiveness of A for a lot of people is pretty clear, and that’s an issue for both SSDI and UBI.
Why is “A” a problem? Assuming automation reduces the need for dull and subservient work, why shouldn’t we be glad people are freed from doing it, much as we glad that we no longer have (or need) serfs and slaves toiling in the fields?
Not sold on this “lazy males are harbingers of doom” meme. After all, in the European Union, which all right-thinking people avow is the acme of human political and social achievement, some 23% of the 25 to 34 yo male population is economically inactive.
The comparable figure for the US is 13% https://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_303.htm
And yes, BLS’s American Time Use survey does show females spending 2 hours and 15 minutes per day in household activities compared to 1 hour and 25 minutes for men, but really? This proves exactly what? .https://www.bls.gov/TUS/CHARTS/HOUSEHOLD.HTM If Tyler wants to talk about whether or not an increasing number of men are stay-at-home parents why not just look at measures of those numbers rather than proxies? http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/06/05/growing-number-of-dads-home-with-the-kids/ Oh, maybe because they would show those numbers growing rapidly.
No, the real crisis revealed by this video is the hieratical turn that has been taken by economics and the academy more broadly. We have the sacerdotal reading of entrails, the moralizing, the deeming of the good and the bad, naming of the enemy, prophesies of doom. Really, if higher education has replaced the churches as the primary purveyor of religion in the US, shouldn’t we be thinking about how to better enforce the separation of church and state? The one thing this video does convincingly demonstrate is that the time for the government to stop funding higher education.
What substantiates this view that there is some religious aspect to academic institutions?
Too many questions? Not enough?
Those inactive young men in Europe are disproportionately the children of Muslim immigrants. They’re stirring up trouble because they’ve become disillusioned with their lot in life.
I don’t think we can pretend Europe’s mass unemployment is a costless problem.
Alt-right thinks Europe is acme of social achievement?
Also don’t tell how other people should live their lives.
Real question, not loaded: how much of this “men missing from the workforce” thing is explained by men participating in the black market (e.g. drug dealers and related moneymaking pursuits)? Could these informal sectors of the economy be more attractive to men than in times past, or could growth in black market industries pull more labor off the books?
It’s not lucrative in the several bottom layers of the distribution network, but it does afford a young man plenty of time and opportunity to play video games while generating some sort of income.
The oxycotin and other opioids prescribed can be and are often sold for a lot of money on the street. Here’s a decent blog post by spottedtoad about it: https://spottedtoad.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/obamacare-didnt-help/
I’m not going to watch the video, but it’s not much of a puzzle why men aren’t taking crummy jobs anymore. They no longer are helpful in getting girls for a number of reasons. Is this what’s in the video?
something something Ray Lopez something girlfriend
First, looking only at wages is ignorant. Total compensation, including benefits would be better, but division of total cost of the worker would be better since it would capture the increasing amount of labor productivity taken by the government via employer part of payroll taxes, mandatory labor insurance (workers’ comp, etc.)
In any case, the psychic returns of work for men have declined. They are no longer appreciated and so no longer see the need to produce more than they need. Men looking after their own needs and not looking to encumber themselves with wife and kids don’t need much to live on. What all this alarm is about is the declining surplus those men who’ve “dropped out” are no longer producing. It would explain why this is all about men and doesn’t include women.
And finally, we should consider that men having developed cities, agriculture, non-animal power, electricity, radio and television recording and transmission, the computer, the internet, the camera phone, and all the rest necessary for an unending stream of naked women piped directly to their eyes, are taking a much deserved break. Sure some future desire will come along, but happiness comes not from always striving, but from being satisfied with what you have after basic needs are met.
And sure there are men who are loafing, not meeting their own daily sustenance, living off the unearned increment of others, some stopped their schooling, others were liberal arts majors.
“One of them was a fellow, half gentleman and half vagabond, who had a strong aversion to work and a perpetual delight in hunting and fishing. He was called shiftless and lazy and all that ; but I think most folks had a touch of respect for him, because he loafed so openly and unabashed. As another man might go to his office or take his team to the fields, he shouldered his rifle or took his fishing rod and went his way, unashamed, indifferent to the gibes of those who toiled. When he needed a little money, he might be persuaded to do a few days’ work ; and he worked faithfully, but with an evident lack of joy in his tasks. It was to him an unpleasant matter made necessary by circumstances, but a sheer loss of time that might have been devoted to better things. I have seen him sitting on a fallen log, his long-barreled squirrel rifle in his hand, waiting as still almost as a stump for the reappearance of a squirrel that had dodged into a hole ; and he seemed, from the placid patience with which he waited, to have no care of the lapsing hours. I have seen him, too, on mysterious trips afield or through the woods when there was nothing to kill. It was in the woods and fields that he belonged; and whenever he could, there he went. He might have been another Thoreau if he had had the ability of expression, but he was unlettered. I doubt, too, if in his calm detachment from what most people regard as the important things of life he would have thought it worth while to try to make these hurried, busy men understand the things that filled his heart.
So he lived and died, a shiftless, improvident fellow whose name was synonymous with indolence and worthlessness. Yet I have wondered if he was not worthy to be accounted a success, since his life evidently brought to himself no sense of failure; and he walked amid his fellows with unimpaired self-respect, for all his laziness, “a gentleman unafraid.” ”
–FIELD-PATH AND HIGHWAY
By E. E. miller
‘The Unchanging Love’
Re: it would capture the increasing amount of labor productivity taken by the government via employer part of payroll taxes, mandatory labor insurance (workers’ comp, etc.)
Those things have not changed much in a long, long time. The FICA payroll tax (except for the Medicare portion paid by the upper income bracket) has been what it is since the 80s. Have the others gone up substantially (relative to incomes of course)? And of course one must also include the benefits themselves accrue from such imposures– it’s not like the money disappears into the Land of Lost Things.
Speaking of education and complacency, scotus declared complacent education unconstitutional.
Public school board must not be complacent, but be reasonably ambitious.
Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District
Holding: To meet its substantive obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a school must offer an “individualized education program” reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.
This overturns the complacent opinion of nominee Gorsich.
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