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Perhaps what Americans need is a change of mindset.

I accept as a foregone conclusion that politicians have to oversimplify many issues in order to connect with voters. With the possible exception of Sarah Palin, I don’t think that any candidates really believe that the solutions they so pithily offer are quite so easy or comprehensive as they appear. We shouldn’t rush to condemn the trite soundbites that every contender has to try and squeeze into a 60-second debate slot, especially for an issue as elaborate and uncontrollable as job growth.

No, we should spurn job growth because it is an unrealistic long-term goal in it’s own right, no matter how it is pursued. There isn’t any great normative or economic reason for why 4% is the right unemployment figure, it’s just the number we’re used to on a societal level. Institutions have evolved around this idea that only this small number of people should be without jobs, and rightly so: America cannot afford (or, at least, does not desire) a larger welfare state with more state-sponsored benefits. What’s more, the growth of popular feminism has made two-income households the norm, and these dual-earnings have become necessary in themselves as real wages for most workers have remained largely flat for decades now.

In spite of all this, the simple truth is that we cannot value jobs for jobs’ sake. Huge advancements in technology and worker productivity in recent decades has made many jobs simply redundant. While there is no joy to be found in a family losing its main breadwinner, we can’t pretend that there is any sort of obligation to the status quo when it comes to employment. In a rapidly changing globalized world where supply and demand shift constantly and radically, productivity and income needs may be met with a market of what scarcely resembles our current notion of a “job” (let alone a career).

I don’t think that we as a nation or a global economy are truly ready to adjust to a 9% unemployment world, but in coming years, we may have little choice. In a Keynesian sense, I definitely applaud President Obama’s new job/stimulus plan, because it can help shore up confidence and maintain stability in a time when growth–however small–is a necessity. But I look to the long game, where nothing gold can stay, and it never has.

In that world, people adjust, grow, and prosper even in the grips of societal change. That’s the world of a progressive.

 

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Editorial note: This article was cross-published on Political Culpa. Read it there at http://pculpa.com/liberalprogressive/36-blog-entry/370-nah-nah-why-dont-you-get-a-job.html

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Bryan Baird

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