What lies down this path? Here’s what I consider all too likely: Two years from now unemployment will still be extremely high, quite possibly higher than it is now. But instead of taking responsibility for fixing the situation, politicians and Fed officials alike will declare that high unemployment is structural, beyond their control. And as I said, over time these excuses may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the long-term unemployed lose their skills and their connections with the work force, and become unemployable.I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but I don't entirely despise Nobel Paul. Having spent the better part of the roaring nineties pimping Clintonian neoliberal vassal economics before being "radicalized"--oh, ha!--by the depredations of Bush le jeune, I think he genuinely cares about working Joes and Janes, albeit in a rather abstracted way, since one doubts he actually knows many of them. He seems genuinely troubled by the prospect of a nation in which a full quarter of the adult population are consigned to living on suffrance and charity or else to eeking a more violent but less hungry existence in prison.
But even so, his radicalism is rooted like a sidewalk weed, that is to say: shallowly. Even as he laments the Lethean passage of the great liberal-capitalist social compact, in which you can feel palpably that he wants to believe, he can't quite release his tenacious hold on the managerial vocabulary of a late-20th-century technocrat, thus the incessant talk of "skills." Friends--those of you currently engaged in regular wage-peonage, anyway--I axe you: what new skills have you acquired over the last few years on the job? Oh, I suppose the control units for the HVAC system have been updated, but their operations are fundamentally the same as they've been for fifteen years. Screws still tighten clockwise. Plaster is still cleaned from interior brick with a diluted wash of muriatic acid. Macros on Excel 2010 are hardly different from macros on Excel 2.0.
"Skills" applied to workers, whatever color the collar, are a gatekeeping scam, a device of the technocratic, managerial elite to maintain their workforce in a state of utter dependence, to tether workers to the will of the bosses just as surely as non-portable health insurance and the expiration of unemployment benefits. They are part of a strategy whereby employers can anytime deprive workers of their jobs, but workers can never bargain with their own labor. Quit your job, take six months off, and try to find another. Just try. "Well, your resmume is very good, but there does appear to be a substantial period of unaccounted-for unemployment here. We're just a little concerned that your skill sets may not be fully current with what we're looking for . . ." The idea of rapidly sunsetting skills, of a worker's obsolescence in the face of six months or a year or two of less-than-fulltime employment, is a fraud. It has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with compliance.