Which Jobs to Save?
By Arnold Kling
In a highly specialized modern economy, it is much easier to prevent jobs from being destroyed than to create them again, at least assuming those are “good” jobs in the first place. (Yes, people thought they knew this but it’s an even stronger difference than had been believed.) The U.S. auto bailout, for instance, worked better than did most of the stimulus program. Most of the Austrians would disown this point, but you can pull it right out of Lachmann’s Capital and its Structure.
Tyler strikes me as engaging in Krugmanesque intellectual combat here. First of all, he pulls a quote out of context, giving only the first sentence of a paragraph from the New York Times article that reads
A vast expansion of a program paying to keep workers employed, rather than dealing with them once they lost their jobs, was the most direct step taken in the heat of the crisis. But the roots of Germany’s export-driven success reach back to the painful restructuring under the previous government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Second, he says that the auto bailout “worked better than did most of the stimulus program,” which leaves him plenty of wiggle room to say, “I did not say that the auto bailout was a success.” Finally, when he says “assuming those were ‘good’ jobs in the first place,” he leaves himself room to wiggle out of being accused of advocating keeping unsustainable jobs around.
On the larger point, keep in mind that in an ordinary non-recession month 4 million jobs are destroyed and about 4.2 million jobs are created. Suppose that in a bad month of a recession, 4.0 million jobs are created and 4.5 million jobs are destroyed. Which of those 4.5 million jobs ought to be saved, because they might come back in a stronger economy? No one in Washington knows.
Trying to save existing jobs is a fool’s errand, comparable to trying to keep defaulting mortgage borrowers in their homes. When a firm lets an employee go, it is making a cost-benefit calculation that takes into account the cost of rehiring for that position when the economy turns up. The firm is unlikely to be making such a large mistake that government should try to change the decision.