Friday, January 24, 2014

The surreal discussions about unemployment at the Davos-Klosters "World Economic Forum"

(During the New Deal, millions of unemployed youth were hired into the CCC. They planted 3 billion trees, developed 800 parks, and fought forest fires. Their work drives a lot of economic activity in America today, in the form of vacation and tourism dollars. Sadly, most global policy-makers and experts see no lesson here; they continue to look for "investment-based" solutions, even as business investment fails us year after year. Investment today has simply become a way to enrich the already-rich. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

According to The Free Dictionary, a thing that is "surreal" has the "disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream," it's "unreal" and "fantastic."

As someone who has experienced the sting of long-term unemployment, I consider the 2014 "World Economic Forum," at Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, and the surrounding discussions, to be quite surreal. Numerous articles about the event are emphasizing (to me at least) how many of these prestigious "experts," while probably meaning well, really don't have a clue about how to solve mass global unemployment. 

I could go on all day, but here's just two observations:

1. The Horatio Alger rags-to-riches, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps myth is still ruling the day:

Amy Rosen, President and CEO of Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), tells us how she "cited Sean 'Diddy' Combs, whom she has worked with at NFTE, as someone who has helped inspire youth by being an example of a successful entrepreneur."

First of all, I think most of the long-term unemployed, if they hear the words "entrepreneur" or "innovation," one more time, will vomit. The idea that "entrepreneurship" can substantially help the unemployed, who are being financially devastated, is insane. While a few might be able to do what Combs did, the vast majority will not (for basic economic reasons). What the great mass of unemployed need are good jobs, not slaps on the back and declarations along the lines of, "Hey! You can be the next Puff Daddy!!"

(See Amy Rosen Reveals The 'Holy Smokes' Moment That Could Help Reduce Youth Unemployment)

For the last 5-6 years, many self-appointed experts have been telling us how being "entrepreneurial" and "innovative" will lead us to the promised land of middle-class existence. But these are words that, when used in the context of unemployment (especially long-term unemployment), have no meaning. They are feel-good words, words that give our brains a little intellectual orgasm while hundreds of millions suffer through unemployment, poverty, and homelessness across the globe. "Wow!" the experts exclaim, "just be innovative, and you too can be successful!!"    

2. Searching for a solution, when the solution sits in front of them like a 500-pound gorilla:

In another Davos-related interview, Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola said, "If we're not successful in creating better opportunities, I think there's a real danger that the social peace and fabric of the world is in danger...It's the obligation of government, it's the obligation of civil society to come together to find solutions." Maria Fanjul, seated next to Kent, reiterated this notion, by speaking about her efforts to find solutions to unemployment.

But there's really no need to "search" or "find" solutions. The solutions are obvious from the experiences of the New Deal. We need only implement them, and this time even more forcefully, to make a substantial dent in the unemployment problem. During the New Deal, millions of jobless Americans were hired into government programs like the CWA, CCC, WPA, and NYA. America's GDP went up (dramatically), unemployment went down (even not counting those in the work programs), and we're still utilizing and benefiting from their infrastructure creations (roads, bridges, parks, buildings, airports, and much more). Furthermore, many of the workers maintained or learned skills that they subsequently used in regular government positions or private business. Even Ronald Reagan praised the WPA.

But, despite clear historical evidence of rising GDP, lower unemployment, lasting infrastructure, and the maintenance & learning of skills, the so-called experts seem oblivious to the New Deal, and are still burning the midnight oil trying to find that "elusive solution!" Or, they're telling us how we can be just like Puff Daddy.

As I said, surreal.

(WPA workers installing a sewer line in Maryland,1936. The WPA employed 8.5 million people between 1935 and 1943, drastically modernized American infrastructure, and set the stage for America's post-World War II economic expansion. American prosperity expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, inside New Deal buildings, and out of New Deal airports. Unfortunately, for the last six years, the "movers and shakers" of the world have ignored the lessons of the New Deal and have, instead, pursued "investment-based" solutions, Horatio Alger myths, and austerity measures that punish the less-fortunate. The result? Mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and skyrocketing income & wealth inequality. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.) 

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