Hale Stewart Should Stop Writing About Economics

Hale StewartAs 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?

It amazes me how elites 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!

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:

Most of them are people with a high school or less educational level who used to work in blue collar industries who have been left behind due to globalization and automation.

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?!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

20 thoughts on “Hale Stewart Should Stop Writing About Economics

  1. Yeah, I took three semesters of economics. One was Environmental Economics at Santa Rosa Jr. College and it was more practical than the graphs and matrices of the other classes.
    In general, those I notice writing a lot about it seem rather clueless.
    Usually there’s some conservatives view on econ available at Dollar Tree…maybe that says something.

    • Hale Stewart used to be a stock broker, I think. Now he’s a lawyer. I don’t exactly know. And I don’t doubt that he really does understand economics. His discussion of the employment to population ration was excellent. But I didn’t like his disregard of these supposedly unemployable people. We heard the same thing during the Great Depression: the workers didn’t have the skills. But once WWII started, somehow they got the skills. We are all trapped our own social environment. When I made more money, I was less sympathetic to the poor. It’s a natural thing. But it doesn’t mean I’m not calling foul when I see it.

  2. So Mr. Stewart is the proof having the education doesn’t make you stop being an idiot?

    Well that is nice for him. He can go hang out with Sarah Palin who has a college degree yet is universally known for being less then bright. Not that I have anything to say about it since I shouldn’t talk being degreeless. :-p

    • Wait: Palin has a college degree?! I didn’t know that and it is truly depressing. That’s it! From now on, I am not counting any degree that lacks one semester of calculus. And I will look askance at anyone who has not completed vector calculus. Also, they must have read a small collection of books that I’m sure everyone is aware of.

      But I want to be clear: my point is not that Stewart isn’t smart and knowledgeable. He is. He was just being an elitist jerk.

      • Palin has a degree in communications from University of Idaho. Stop cringing, it gets worse-she had an emphasis in journalism.

        *is very sad now because she will never be able to manage calculus* Seriously, I am terrible at math. It would make you cry watching me trying to compute things even with a calculator.

        But I know you are kidding. As was I in both. However having a degree doesn’t necessarily show that you are intelligent.

        • If you can understand the law, you can understand math. If you are bad at math, it is the fault of your teachers!

          I’m not sure how serious I am.

          But a “communications” major?! Give me a break! That’s like a business major, but less rigorous. Both majors should be outlawed.

          • It probably is. When I left the seventh grade I loved doing algebra. Then I went to high school where they put me in this new type of class that did word problems. Here is the fun thing-I cannot imagine things in my head visually. So doing word problems has always been difficult for me. I did that for four years and now I hate math.

            It will put me in a rage if I have to do too much of it because I get very frustrated and angry with myself for not understanding it. But that is why I went into the law! You can avoid all math except for addition and subtraction!

            I do think that her degree is reflected in her ability to connect with people, she does know how to physically communicate even if she does a terrible job verbally.

            • Now that’s funny. Of every science/math class I ever took, I liked geometry best, because it was the most visual. The SO liked statistics best, because it was the most musical (and teaches music to this day.) God only knows how our brains work. It’s a puzzler.

              • Note: that’s because geometry is taught incorrectly! But I know what you mean. It was a breeze for me too.

                Statistics and music? Fascinating! I’ll have to think about that. To me, statistics is even more visual. I imagine endless dots like I’m inside a Seurat painting. Then it’s easy. Well, mostly easy. You get into the weeds in statistics and the dots aren’t always so well behaved.

            • Yes, but I don’t think a degree should be job training. (That’s an issue for another time.) And I suspect she always had that ability — it wasn’t learned in college.

              Spatial visualization shouldn’t even be necessary for geometry. Indeed, the mathematicians I’ve known who do geometry, work in areas that are distinctly not imaginable. (This is one reason I say the closest you get to God is math.) Word problems are hard because you have to combine the two halves of your brain. You have to use the left-verbal half to translate it into the right-math half. That was always a problem for me.

              The focus on word problems, of course, is all about creating a better employee pool for IBM. The essence of math is that is is disconnected from everything else. It may be useful for many other things, but that’s not the point. And most mathematicians are extremely uninterested in practical matters. I believe that math should be taught the way and for the same reason that art appreciation is taught. Of course, in our society, it is all “memorize your multiplication tables” for the poor and “let’s visit MOMA after we go to the Natural History Museum” for the rich.

              • Interesting-since I went from being in a middle class household to a poor one, I do think it has an impact on the student but I was always a studious child even if I found most classes boring.

                • My parents managed to be everything from lower to upper-middle class — and not in the proper order. I’ve done pretty much the same thing. I’m sitting at lower-middle right now.

                  • I think the way that families view different types of outings impacts the kids as well.

                    Dad loved art so we did go to art museums some even though most of the family outings were in support of his various hobbies like biking, kite flying, car racing (fun fact, one of the few times I have impressed my father was racing a rental around a track when he was out here for a race.)

                    Mom’s side of the family loved reading and going to museums. We did an immense amount of reading even if we rarely could afford to go anywhere.

                    I thought you were working class as am I.

                    • My parents were working class, but they were dreamers. So along the way, they started little businesses, some of which did okay for a while. Most of the time I was growing up, they were small business owners. They had a little gas station, which they sold to buy a 7-11, which they sold to start building and remodeling houses. I lived in about 20 places by the time I left high school. We seemed constantly on the edge. At two different times, the family had to split up to go live with relatives. After that, my father just worked as a carpenter (which he had been before I was born), which worked out much better for him. House building only really works if you are connected to the local government. My father is like me: he likes the work and isn’t good with the other nonsense.

                    • That is a lot of moving. Wow.

                      I only moved three times-once at 3, once at 13 and then stayed at my mom’s until I was 21. Since then I have moved a couple more times. I don’t like to move.

                    • I hate moving. But somehow, in my adult life, I have moved a lot. But not anymore. At least I hope not.

      • I checked my transcript recently, and I got an “A” in calculus. Also physics. Also chemistry. I don’t remember a single equation from any of them. Use it or lose it, I suppose.

        You know what the toughest college course was? Electricity. Nobody knows how electricity works. You can plug in numbers, and get the correct answers on tests, but there isn’t an instructor on Earth who can tell you why electricity behaves the way it does. Magical gnomes just make it happen. That frustrated the hell out of me.

        • I agree. The only C I got in college was in electronics, which still mystify me. E&M, on the other hand, is different. It’s actually just about flow. You could replace it with a course on fluid dynamics and get the same thing. And that’s the thing about you not remembering any equations. That’s really not the point. I barely remember any. It’s like the old Kingsfield line, “I train your mind!” It’s all about learning to think creatively. And that’s why the current fad of “practical” education is a nightmare. Let’s train our physicists as though they were going to become great composers!

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