Public Services Mean Jobs

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Kevin Drum contemplates our bleak future:

For many years it’s looked as if we were getting closer and closer to an economy in which there flatly wasn’t enough unskilled work left to keep employment at normal levels. Stagnant median wages were the canary in the coal mine, with permanently higher unemployment coming in the future. But I dunno: maybe the future is now.

Well for one thing, this is part of the reason why we need to improve the performance of our high schools and the affordability of our colleges. Historically, each generation of Americans has been better-educated than its predecessors, shifting the skill balance in the workforce. Over the past generation that pattern’s broken down.

But another thing here is America’s pathological reluctance to put people to work providing adequate public services. I think it’s pretty uncontroversial to say that picking up trash, cleaning streets, fixing potholes, etc. are the kind of things government should be doing. It’s also clear that if you compare the United States to other countries, it’s possible for a country to have cleaner, better-maintained streets than we have. Doing better on this score wouldn’t be brain surgery and would provide low-skill jobs. And, yes, it would cost money. But the United States of America is the wealthiest society the world has ever known. It’s a bit ridiculous that we can’t repair damaged sidewalks in a timely manner. Or, rather, given that we clearly can repair damaged sidewalks, it’s ridiculous that we don’t.

And you could really go nuts with this stuff. Smaller buses could run more frequently. Libraries could stay open longer. Playgrounds could be better-maintained. Not as “stimulus” but as a permanent decision to say “hey, we’re a rich country, we should provide public services at a reasonable level.” Instead, we’ve chosen to cut taxes for the wealthiest members of the most unequal rich country on earth. And apparently we’re going to regulate yoga studios. But I think we could be doing better.