Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A new book on the 2009 stimulus

Yesterday and today, the Times ran articles on the new book, "The Escape Artists," by Noam Scheiber about White House economic policy and advisors during the financial crisis. Here is a book review, and here is an Economix blog interview.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"A bunch of lazy Americans"

With an intro like that, it's easy to own the best line in a recent article about shortages in skilled labor for manufacturing, which quoted a Michigan welder reasoning that shortages probably reflect how lazy Americans "don't want to get their hands dirty anymore ... [t]hey want an office job."

There's been a lot of emphasis in the media and politics about manufacturing, as discussed recently by Christina Romer, who questioned whether there's really any market failure that ought to prompt government intervention. This article was interesting because it provided some insights into the worker-employer matching process in manufacturing.

One point was that technical change in manufacturing has made a lot of workers' skills obsolete. Some of the unemployed had returned to community college for technology-focused associate's degrees, and the article's description of the production process made it clear why. Automation improves efficiency but still requires labor skilled enough to supervise the automation.

Another was related to the welder's point. Working on a production line requires more physical labor than designing the materials to be produced, even though, as the article also pointed out, physical labor might be paid more per hour.  (It probably is also more exhausting per hour!)

Needless to say, service jobs aren't physically undemanding either. But after reading this article, it wasn't difficult to see why young labor might choose not to aim for a career in manufacturing.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Technologies, cheap and expensive, during warfare

Recently the Disunion blog included a post about mine technology developed by the Confederacy during the Civil War. Mines were cheap and effective, although perhaps not a decisive factor. They also were controversial. Both sides developed new technologies to counter the other's, whether cheap or expensive.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trends in marriage and fertility

Recently the the Times has reported on trends in marriage and fertility, probably partly in response to Charles Murray's recent book on the topic. They describe a lack of marriageable partners, declining male wages and rising female wages, behavioral challenges among less educated men, and unintended pregnancies that don't carry the same social stigma as in earlier times. Eligibility for means tested programs like food stamps is also mentioned. Wage stagnation for males is a legitimate explanation, pardon the pun. But it also occurred to me in my biased capacity as a New Yorker, adolescence seems to be becoming a lengthier part of the life cycle. Could that be producing more out of wedlock births? Or would younger women just prefer older men instead?