Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wrestling with the Economy

I’m surprised to find myself saying this, but I think I could have spent another hour or two talking with economist Ken Beauchemin.  Part of that is about his attitude – imagine an economist answering questions about today’s tough economy with a big smile on his face.  OK.  That’s a little disconcerting.  What can anyone looking at the economy find to be happy about?  But that positive attitude does make asking basic questions less intimidating.  More than that, I appreciate Ken’s willingness to try to explain some key points of the “dismal science” to the rest of us.

But while Beauchemin is a nice and patient guy, I’m still troubled by much of what I hear from economists.  For example, having studied Youngstown’s economic struggles for the last decade, I’m much less optimistic that the increases in productivity that have contributed to the slow recovery will generate significant growth in employment.  So like the jobless recovery of the early part of this decade, indeed, in part because that recovery benefited business and finance but not workers, we are again facing a situation where the rich get richer and workers fall further behind.  I’m troubled, too, by the things Beauchemin said with which I agree, like the point that a new manufacturing economy can only thrive here if we have a better-educated workforce.  I think that’s probably right.  And it’s far from easy to accomplish, especially with major cuts to state funding for education and our national struggle to provide good quality education to everyone.  We have a long way to go. 

The economic picture is dismal indeed, so I suppose we need all the good humor and positive attitudes we can get – as long as they don’t keep us from wrestling with the real problems we face.

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