Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Full Employment

This really is a good point from Matt Yglesias:
One concept that I was surprised to see both sides of the debate leave off the table is full employment. Nothing is quite so empowering in the workplace as the knowledge that if your boss treats you like a jerk, you'd be able to quit and go get a roughly similar job with a less jerky boss. Even a guaranteed social minimum isn't nearly as good as another job because there's disapprobrium attached to being unemployed. In a world of human beings, some bosses are always going to be two standard deviations jerkier than the average boss. Full employment punishes asshole bosses as a class rather than seeking to bureaucratically circumscribe them with a narrow list of specific prohibited abuses. Conversely, most of the pragmatic economic arguments against labor market regulation are developed assuming a background condition of full employment. If governments are going to fail to deliver full employment over extended periods of time (as the governments in the US, EU, Japan, and UK are doing right now) then all those assumptions are thrown out of whack. Both those who yearn for micro-efficient labor markets and those who yearn to empower people vis-a-vis their bosses have an enormous amount to gain from a robust full employment agenda.
In this case, I am very sympathetic to Matt's view here.  A lot of the issues about employment regulations go away when people have labor market mobility.  I have worked in a "at will" employment environment in a full employment environment and it never bothered me in the least.  After all, so long as I was an effective employee my employer would have been nuts to let me go.

In the same sense, the ridiculous rules linking employment to health insurance drastically reduce labor mobility once you enter your forties and develop medical conditions.  In this sense, the health insurance exchanges of ACA will help this issue a lot.  Still, if people could easily change jobs most of the paradoxes of employment regulation would go away.

So clearly the best way to improve people's lives would be to create economic opportunity.  If people who want to work are able to do so then a surprising number of difficult (nearly intractable) problems can end up being somewhat beside the point.

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