As most of you know, I have a PhD in physics. And I know a lot of stuff about arcane topics. But I did not major in economics. I didn’t even minor in economics. I just took one stupid course! I really enjoyed it. The subject was fascinating and I had a great teacher. Still, I write about economics. But I probably shouldn’t. After all, according to Hale Stewart, “Econ isn’t something you can teach yourself.”
If this is the case, why should anyone read about economics from writers like, oh, I don’t know, Hale Stewart? I mean, if econ isn’t something you can teach yourself, what is the point? If a stack of good books on the subject isn’t going to help you, how are some articles at Business Insider written by lawyer?
This is all a response to an article at The Bonddad Blog, where Hale Stewart recently wrote, Ed Morrissey Should Really Stop Writing About Economics. According to him, having some kind of formal education is very important. (For the record, my self-study of physics before I became a formal student was probably the best part of my education. But that’s just physics, not a real subject like economics!)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m with Hale Stewart: Ed Morrissey really should stop writing about economics. But Stewart’s argument is elitist nonsense. I would have let it go if it hadn’t been for the second part of his article.
Hale Stewart Should Stop Writing About Labor Force Participation
Stewart complained that Morrissey is constantly talking about labor force participation. This is a very interesting issue. You see, since about 2000, the fraction of people in the labor force (employed or seeking employment) has dropped — precipitously. And that has many people concerned. Stewart does a good job of going over the demographic factors that explain most of this: retiring baby boomers and fewer students working. But that still leaves us with a problem.
If we look at prime age workers (people between the ages of 25 to 54), these demographic factors don’t apply. And Hale Stewart grudgingly admits, “There is a percentage of people ages 24-54 (the prime working age) that have left the labor force.” That’s actually a highly deceptive statement. It implies that there is 1% or one percentage point. Instead, if we look at civilian employment, it is well over two percentage points since the financial crisis, and well over three since the high tech boom of the late 1990s.
But not to worry! Hale Stewart wipes that all a way with a wave of his callous and elitist hand:
Oh, well! Why didn’t he just say that to start with! There’s a reason these people are unemployed, so we can just abandon these people. But there’s one little problem with this theory. Globalization didn’t suddenly get worse after the financial crisis. There are very real reasons for not being impressed with the current economy, as discussed by Kevin Cashman, Prime-Age Workers Left the Labor Force During the Recession And the Recovery.
It amazes me how elites like Hale Stewart can be so cavalier about what’s going on with less educated workers. But it is hardly new. The argument that Stewart is implicitly making is the skills gap: these people just don’t have the skills for the modern economy! That’s an easy argument to make when you don’t hang out with those blue collar workers who are having a rough time of it.
I would prefer that Ed Morrissey go away too. He’s a hack, as I discussed in, Conservatives Will Never Get Over Obamacare. But his problem is not that he didn’t minor in economics. And on the labor force participation rate, he’s right. The big problem with him is that if there were a Republican in the White House, he wouldn’t be making this argument. Instead, he’d be making Hale Stewart’s argument: low skilled workers are out of a job; so what?!