Saturday, January 4, 2014

Will Surge of Older Workers Take Jobs From Young?

"'We all cannot believe that we have been fighting this theory for more than 150 years,' said April Yanyuan Wu, a research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College... The theory Wu is referring to is known as 'lump of labor,' and it has maintained traction in the U.S., particularly in a climate of high unemployment." 
"The central intuition of Greek tragedy, as of psychoanalysis, is that there is one, unique fact which each individual anxiously struggles to conceal from himself, and this is the very fact that is the root of his identity." -- Harold Rosenberg, "The Riddle of Oedipus"
Over at The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman moans about "Zombies and Cockroaches" -- ideas "that should have died long ago in the face of evidence or logic" and ideas "whose wrongness is so obvious, once pointed out, that the people who stated it claim that they did no such thing... Next thing you know, however, the roaches have invaded all over again." 

Dean Baker at Beat the Press marvels at the cognitive dissonance inherent in the notion that according to various news sources, "at the same time we have no jobs because the robots took them we must also struggle with the fact that we have no one to do the work because everyone is old and retired."

I've got news for Krugman and Baker. It's not an ideas problem. It's an identity problem. Forget about zombies, cockroaches, robots and retirees for a moment. Consider, instead, that archetypal tragic Greek mother-fucker, Oedipus. Discussing "The Riddles of Oedipus," Rosenberg continues:
Kierkegaard describes a type of despair in which the self "wills desperately to be itself -- with the exception, however, of one particular, with respect to which it wills despairingly not to be itself." Action is heroic when, in addition to displaying courage, fidelity, etc., it involves an overcoming of this automatic will to ignorance, when it reverses the process that repels the one particular and forces the actor to embrace it. ...
The tension of Oedipus arises from its hero's insistence on continuing the investigation as an aim to be fulfilled after its horrid findings are as predictable as a result in mathematics. In action the disclosure of the self is an event in the self's coming into being as tragedy -- or as comedy.
So much for tragedy and the heroic. There is another word for action that doesn't remotely seek to overcome the will to ignorance: farce.  Marx's famous quip, in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, about world-historical facts and personalities occurring "the second time as farce" neglects to mention the third and fourth times and all the perpetual repetitions after that -- perhaps because all these clownish re-runs cease to be "world-historical" in any meaningful sense.

Helvetius offered another perspective on ignorance and foolishness: "Man is born ignorant;" he wrote in his Treatise on Man: His Intellectual Faculties and His Education, "he is not born a fool; and it is not even without labour that he is made one." (Might we edit that to say "it is not even without a lump of labour..."?) Helvetius went on to explain: 
The man who knows nothing may learn; it is only requisite to excite in him the desire of knowledge. But he who is falsely learned, and has by degrees lost his reason when he thought to improve it, has purchased his stupidity at too dear a rate ever to renounce it.
Much to the Sandwichman's dismay, an article appeared yesterday that rehearsed the fable that there is a lump-of-labor fallacy at the core of concerns about unemployment. I won't bother repeating the rebuttal beyond mentioning that the fallacy claim is a convoluted and dumbed-down version of Say's Law. Not only will an increase in labor supply automatically result in a proportionate increase in demand for labor, the "economists" maintain, but anyone who doubts such a auspicious outcome is guilty of believing that there is only "a fixed amount of work to be done." "Nonsense on stilts" doesn't begin to describe the arrogant stupidity of the claim. And, of course, it is impossible to refute such idiocy because it is so full of double-talk that no one can follow the claim itself, let alone the refutation.

Here is a list, in alphabetical order, of the headlines under which the story appeared yesterday and today:
AGING AMERICA: Will surge of older workers take jobs from young?
Are older people in the workforce stealing jobs from the young? Some experts ...
Are older workers stealing jobs from the young?
Are older workers taking jobs from young?
Do older workers steal jobs from younger ones?
Do older workers take jobs from the young?
Economists debunk claim that older workers who stay on keep younger workers...
Economists: Older workers aren't bad for young, economy
Economists: Older workers aren't hogging jobs
Experts debunk myth of old vs. young fight
Misconception: Older workers take jobs from young
Mythbuster: Elders don't take jobs from young
Old People are Stealing Jobs from Young People
Older Americans in workforce don't keep jobs from the young, economists say
Older workers aren't taking jobs from young, economists say
Older workers blamed for stealing jobs from young
Older workers don't take away jobs from young, experts say
Older Workers Taking Jobs from the Young? Nonsense! Say Economists
Older Workers Taking Jobs From The Young? Not So Much, Study Says
Perception persists that older workers take jobs from younger work force
Research: Boomers won't squeeze younger workers out of jobs
Researchers fight 'labor lump,' suggesting older workers are keeping jobs from...
Surge of older workers could take jobs from young
Will a surge of older workers take jobs from the young?
Will a surge of older workers take jobs from the young? Economists say the ...
Will A Surge Of Older Workers Take Jobs From Young?
Will Surge Of Older Workers Displace The Young?
Will surge of older workers take jobs from young?
Back in September of 2012, I wrote to April Yanyuan Wu and Alicia Munnell of Boston College, the authors of a Pew Charitable Trust report featured in the article. I explained that the fallacy claim was a canard and that I had written several scholarly articles rebutting the claim. Wu replied that she was "glad to hear that our results are consistent with those of your work." I wrote back to tell her that is not what I had said. I didn't receive a reply to my second message.

To Hell with April Wu, Alicia Munnell, Jonathan Gruber, Matt Sedensky and all the other hack economists and reporters who keep propagating this lie and calumny. What I want to know is why the non-hacks don't stand up to this perpetual hogwash. It wouldn't be hard to do, intellectually. But is there, perhaps, something in the economists' unspoken "code of honor" that prevents them from naming that "one unique fact" that is the root of their collective identity?

What might that "one unique fact" be?


Cirze said...

Never let ignorant people know that you think they are stupid.

Or vice versa.

It never works out well for the truth tellers in our "informed" era.

Jack said...

"I explained that the fallacy claim was a canard and that I had written several scholarly articles rebutting the claim."

Please explain, if the fallacy claim is a canard does that mean that there is a fixed quantity of work to be performed by labor? Or does it mean that the hiring of additional workers will spur sufficient demand so as to require an increase in production resulting in an increase in the required labor?

This persistent conflict of a fallacy being a canard makes it difficult to keep clear which is the less valid argument. Is that the intention of those who perpetuate the fallacy of a fallacy.

Sandwichman said...

"Please explain..."


I have "explained" it over and over again. No, there is not a fixed amount of work. That is not an "explanation." It is an assertion based on observation. But that's not the point.

"Look, over there, a fixed amount of work!"

Don't confuse explaining a parody with explaining a fact in the real world. The "theory" of the lump of labour is not a theory. It is a parody of a theory used to ridicule people who don't swallow the whole glass of Say's Law kool-aid. If you don't get the joke, it's not going to be funny when someone explains it to you. So then you'll wonder, "What's funny about that?"

Yes, conscious or not, the intention of those who perpetuate the fallacy is to create a distraction that lets them cling to their own dubious assumptions without having to disclose (even to themselves) what those assumptions are.

When somebody says, "look, over there, a fixed amount of work!" don't be distracted by trying to figure out what's over there that they're pointing at. What they mean is "don't look over here!"