I went and found the article that was…

I went and found the article that was the subject of some discussion last night about technological change and unemployment. Before I quote and link, let me say two things.

First, a definition of a term used in the article: “natural unemployment” or “structural unemployment” is a phenomenon observed in economic studies that denotes the amount of unemployment that is present even in the best of economies. There are always people looking for jobs, having newly entered the workforce or quit some other job. Since there are unavoidable (“structural”) factors that prevent someone from getting a job the day they start looking (searching, networking, interviewing), there will always be a certain level of unemployment.

The interesting thing about structural unemployment is that no one predicted it, it was simply observed as an economic constant. There are no universal ideas of what causes it or reduces it, but it is common to speculate that it may be increasing or decreasing, as this article does toward the end. (As an aside, the now-universal idea of structural unemployment was developed by Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps in the Sixties. As a discipline, economics is still quite young.)

Second, this article can certainly be read two ways: one is somewhat kinder, and the other is rather luddite. The author repeatedly says things like “blame Microsoft” or “blame Amazon”, which some people could take as an invitation to interfere with their business to bring down unemployment. However, I don’t think that is the author’s core assertion; I honestly think he is just pointing out groups that are inadvertently contributing to the problem.

Now, to the quote, which, I think, reinforces what I was saying that at the very least, we can identify regime uncertainty and technological improvements among other things as contributing to the persistently high unemployment.

Growth is anemic. The uncertainty in the current business environment is holding a lot of us back from making the investments that we’d like to make. And regulations and the prospect of more regulations, let alone higher taxes to pay for our country’s deficits, are giving many of us cause for concern. For that we can certainly blame many: our politicians, the government, the banking system, the media…even ourselves.

But it’s not just that. In fact, one of the biggest reasons why you don’t have a job (and the prospects of finding a job are not encouraging) can also be blamed on someone else: Microsoft. And other technology companies like them.

It’s a pretty short article, so I encourage you guys to read it through to the end, if only to get the full flavor of the author’s argument, instead of my simulacrum of it.

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