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A Modest Proposal For Reducing The Unemployment Rate

Jonathan Swift (1729)

Tomorrow, it will become official — the long-term unemployed are a political football. Obama will give a jobs speech proposing various ineffectual measures for creating jobs. The Republicans will reject these proposals, their goal being that Obama should have no successes between now and November, 2012, although little can be done to lower the unemployment rate in any case. Perhaps it is time to think outside the box.

According to various news reports, the President will soon start leaving the Imperial Capital to visit with the Little People living in those vast, mostly unexplored dominions outside the Beltway. He will rail against Do-Nothing Republicans.

For politicians, the unemployment rate is the magic number. The “official” rate now stands at 9.1%, but those not brain-dead know it is actually much higher. In politics, however, only the magic number counts. Most projections show the official rate will remain above 9% a year from now. That would certainly be true if the economy actually improved. The discouraged would then re-enter the Labor Force, driving the jobless rate up. Otherwise, nothing much will change between now and then.

The President needs that rate to fall in order to win re-election. The Republicans would like that rate to stay the same, or get worse. According to the peculiar logic of our political system, one party wants the economy to improve between now and the next election, and the other wants it to deteriorate.

Calculated Risk notes that on Labor Day, neither the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times had any front-page stories about Labor. He cites a new report about how the long-term unemployed are doing. As you might expect, they are very discouraged. Posting on Economix, the ever-cheerful Charlotte Rampel of the New York Times explored The Bright Side Of Unemployment? She cited the same report.

On Thursday the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development released its latest report on  the hundreds of unemployed workers it has been following (and  surveying) for two years. As you might expect from the report’s title —  “Out of Work and Losing Hope: The Misery and Bleak Expectations of  American Workers” — the report’s findings are discouraging.

The typical jobless worker has been pounding the pavement for months  and is running low on savings, friends and hope. Even the lucky workers  who have found jobs are not exactly thriving, as most of the re-employed  in the center’s survey have had to take pay cuts.

Even so, the report did manage to find some good that has come of its respondents’ unemployment spells:

Unemployment_the_bright_side

Rampel concludes—

Clearly none of this means that all these workers would have been worse  off if they’d kept their jobs. But it’s comforting to know that there  has been a glimmer of silver lining for at least a few of the nation’s  jobless.

While it is “comforting” to know that some of the disenfranchised have made good use of their time off, politicians are still left with the magic number problem. Let’s review. The Republicans want these people to stay unemployed so they can win the next election. This outcome is highly likely in any case, and the Republicans will do their best in Congress to make sure no one gets a job created by any measure put forward by President Obama. It would seem that Republicans favor “spending more enjoyable time with family” or “becoming more involved in the church or other voluntary organizations.”

However, there are risks in the Republican stance. Many of these unemployed may starve to death or kill themselves before the next election. After all, they are running low on savings, friends and hope. Once deceased, the long-term unemployed would no longer be counted as jobless, which would reduce the unemployment rate, which in turn helps the Democrats.

The Democrats want these people to get jobs. It would seem they do not favor “becoming healthier through exercise” or “working on projects around the house.” In so far as none of these people is likely to get a job anytime soon, there seems to be little hope that the magic number will decrease, which jeopardizes their re-election chances. They can hope and pray that a sufficient number of the jobless will starve to death or kill themselves before the next election, but that’s not something you can count on.

For the Democrats, the best solution seems to be something along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal. What can not be left to chance must be accomplished through policy. In 1729, Swift suggested that “impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies.”

I  have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in  London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most  delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted,  baked, or boiled…

Although Swift’s proposal was satirical, humankind has progressed a great deal since the early 18th century. Clearly, for the Democrats, there is an unwanted surplus of unemployed people. By converting them to food, these politicians can kill several birds with one stone. Not only will magic number will be reduced, but in slaughtering these outcasts, the fleshy parts can be converted to meat that could be sold in supermarkets, reducing the price of that expensive food item. The fatty parts could be converted to biodiesel, which would reduce our painful energy costs. The Republicans would be hard-pressed to argue against such a sensible policy.

However things turn out, 2012 is shaping up to be an interesting election year. Here at DOTE we’ll be keeping our eye on how things are going.

Decline of the Empire

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