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Paul Krugman writes: "As I see it, policy makers are sinking into a condition of learned helplessness on the jobs issue: the more they fail to do anything about the problem, the more they convince themselves that there's nothing they could do. And those of us who know better should be doing all we can to break that vicious circle."

Portrait, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, 06/15/09. (photo: Fred R. Conrad/NYT)
Portrait, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, 06/15/09. (photo: Fred R. Conrad/NYT)

Against Learned Helplessness

By Paul Krugman, The New York Times

30 May 11

Unemployment is a terrible scourge across much of the Western world. Almost 14 million Americans are jobless, and millions more are stuck with part-time work or jobs that fail to use their skills. Some European countries have it even worse: 21 percent of Spanish workers are unemployed.

Nor is the situation showing rapid improvement. This is a continuing tragedy, and in a rational world bringing an end to this tragedy would be our top economic priority.

Yet a strange thing has happened to policy discussion: on both sides of the Atlantic, a consensus has emerged among movers and shakers that nothing can or should be done about jobs. Instead of a determination to do something about the ongoing suffering and economic waste, one sees a proliferation of excuses for inaction, garbed in the language of wisdom and responsibility.

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+35 # Realist 2011-05-30 09:29
I agree whole heartedly with Mr. Krugman in his assessment that we should have another WPA. So much was accomplished during the 1930s to build and/or rebuild bridges, fix roads- all needed now to keep our transportation system viable. Making paths in the National Parks increased the joy of visiting these parks. This is what we need today: bring our soldiers home, put them to work rebuilding our infrastructure, put unemployed able-bodied people to work doing the same. Stop the wars, and improve our country!
+11 # D Rubes 2011-05-30 12:01
Too true, unfortunately with Republicorp blocking any reasonable solution in their attempt to gain power, it leaves the middle class stuck in, appropriately the middle. They raised the National Debt 5 times since 2002, for a total of $3.71 Trillion (2002 $450 Billion/2003 $900 Billion/2004 $800 Billion/2006 $781 Billion/2007 $850 Billion) in order to pay for unfunded tax cuts for primarily the top 1-10%, the unfunded Part D fiasco, not to mention the unfunded wars. If there was any reality to reducing the debt & creating jobs, they would let the President Bush tax cuts expire as intended (even compromising @ over $500,000 if over $250,000 is too rational), putting investments into high-speed rail, bridge & road repair, & stop tax cuts for sending jobs overseas & implement them for creating jobs here. This is a complex problem & the need for simplistic, quick sound bite solutions remains an obstacle that has yet to be overcome. Whether "1984" or "Brave New World", too big government or too big business - fear prevents forward motion & seems to preclude rational thought. I can't remember when smart became a bad thing, but it seems to be the current state of affairs - taking second behind simplistic slogans that feed the frustration, but do nothing to solve the real problems.
It seems we're fighting the same issues as the last century all over again, repeating history.
+1 # boudreaux 2011-05-31 10:06
Now you're talking realint!!!
+4 # jwb110 2011-05-30 12:36
One simple thing would be to forgive the debt to mortgagees and let that money back into the economy. It's a simple act of saying none of the answers being presented are working so we will just start from zero and rebuild. The policy makes, Liberal and Conservative, are shoveling shit against the tide. None of their answers to the problem will solve anything because they are propping up a system that isn't just broken. It has never worked in the first place.
+3 # Merschrod 2011-05-30 12:44
Well, Prof. Krugman points out some interesting points, but, again, he ignores the big, structural issue, the number of offshored jobs. By structural, I mean looking at the input-output tables and the multipliers. Whole sections of the economy have been hollowed out. The wholesale and retail sectors have been going out for about 20 years - made possible by the box stores and their purchase of manufactured goods overseas - that impacted that sector.

The mortgage situation of the middle class is only a manifestation of the structural hollowing out as they borrowed to maintain a life style that was off shored.

WPA projects would be a relief and generate infrastructue - parks, schools etc. for the future generations, but unless a long term solution for the off shored jobs and the competition from cheap labor is stifled, then the future is gloomy.
+7 # Rara Avis 2011-05-30 14:32
There is another article on this set sence from Reader Supported News that global warming is much worse than we know. Between infrastructure and changing our dependence on fossil fuels it will require millions of people to be mobilized for a very long time and with skills that run the full spectrum of what can be imagined to be out there.

WPA like programs to go right at these things and employ both highly skilled people using brain power and others with a combination of that and raw muscle are desperately needed.

I say ACT! And ACT NOW! But no one is listening. I wrote the President twice on this. No response at all. Put people to work, put money in their pockets and they spend and the economy is lifted, and have them doing things that make life better here and safer for all of us. What's wrong with that?
+1 # Sukumar 2011-05-30 16:18
What's wrong is that we have a President who has been brainwashed by the very republicans who hate him and plot every minute for his downfall.
+1 # Merschrod 2011-05-30 15:25
Example, import duties, differential, and inverse taxes on value added, that us if you product at the mall is 100% imported, then a higher import tax, and if made in the USA then that proportion of profits would have a lower tax. In other words, incentives to produce here.

But, let's face it, after living on cheapo consumer goods, any good made in the USA will cost more = that equales inflation in the mind of the consumer and the CPI. The middle class will feel that pinch too. But, as the good Prof. says, we have to compare that with the pain of the millions suffering from unemployment now.
+5 # AML 2011-05-30 16:40
If the Administration would adopt the principles laid out in the PEOPLES' BUDGET, written by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we'd be in better shape soooooooooooner .
+1 # jerrymat 2011-05-30 17:40
I agree that something like the WPA would be a good idea. I am old enough that my father found work in the WPA during the Great Depression & apparently there was a negative reaction to those who worked for it. Once a week the WPA truck stopped at my parent's house and my mother was embarrassed that the neighbors saw them delivering food to the house. She felt the neighbors thought less of my family because of it. We should be prepared for similar reactions.
+1 # liberalman 2011-05-30 19:59
Simple trick accomplished with mirrors. Show the people what you wish them to see, the truly important issues such as abortion or gun rights or making it a federal crime to destroy an American flag & they will overlook the true reflection of financial doom that is staring back at them. Wave the flag & chant USA..USA..& Americas problems dissipate along with any common sense that was once a common commodity even amongst those that voted Republican. Mirrors, distortions, sleight of hand, fool all of the people most of the time & we end up with town halls full of irate Tea Baggers angry at the Kenyan illegally squatting in the White House instead of their own financial interest. Baa..Baa..
+1 # Patricia Chang 2011-05-30 23:33
Obama has NEVER listened to the correct people concerning the economy. As long as the rich get richer, he is more than comfortable with his advisors and their incompetent, self-serving decisions. Face it, folks, Barack Obama does not give a rat's patootie about the average citizen. It does not fit his concept of himself as an elite, all-knowing, "I wont get my hands dirty" man in an ivory tower, snubbing the rest of us. He is a "player" among the Wall Street Fat Cats and has no intention of angering his cronies, beyond a lot of meaningless rhetoric. They know this. He does NOT care about joblessness, homelessness, and despair. He may toss a symbolic crumb here and there, but it will have little effect on the vastness of our difficulties. If people are looking to him for leadership in this area, they will be looking for a very long time. Does he look to Paul Krugman or Robert Reich or Joseph Stiglitz for advice? Of course not. Barack Obama does not want to solve problems for the Middle Class and the poor. It would cramp his style. He is a typical power-hungry, narcissistic politician, and his ambition to be King of the Hill is all he cares about. The proof is in the pudding.
+2 # Progressive Patriot 2011-05-31 00:04
Considering that "orthodox policy" of deregulation, low taxes for the richest and "outsourcing" jobs to low wage countries to maximize profits, is what got us into the current economic MESS, I'd say that it's time to use some "unorthodox" policies. Maybe we should TAX the RICH. Maybe we should heavily regulate the industries that caused the crash. Maybe we should stop exporting jobs, but instead promote LOCAL industries, creating LOCAL products that can be sold world wide. Maybe we should promote competition among smaller companies, instead of allowing companies to create bigger and bigger diverse corporations that own bigger and bigger shares of the market ... THAT is called monopoly, and should be regulated using anti-trust laws ... which is what broke up Bell Telephone ... parts of which have been allowed to grow even bigger than Ma Bell.
+1 # boudreaux 2011-05-31 10:18
I'm neither a mover or shaker but I am out spoken and don't care who's toes I step on when I speak my mind.
I read all of these peoples replies and think shit, that ain't helping anything, I've always said that we need to stop this friggen war and bring our troops home and I don't care how we get that done, that is first in business, then we use that money to put our troops and the unemployeed to work and rebuild this country, this will help to fix the problems that we have in congress with the healthcare system and decrease the amount of troops that are being killed and hurt for what???? Our job is done there, Bin Laden is dead so let's get back to what we were doing before all of this shit started or are we so blind and confused by congress that we can't think straight????
+2 # Betts Harley 2011-06-01 20:53
I, too, think we should bring troops home - not only from Afghanistan, but from Iraq, Germany, Korea, and all -- BUT wonder how can we put all those men to work, and deal with the problems inherent in the militarization of these young men. We have really dug ourselves into a hole!

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