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Correct Thinking is a Job

My wife, Karol, and I leave later today for a week of lecturing at an IES-Europe seminar in Bulgaria. We’ll be in the remote town of Jundola (where we’ll have no access to a computer).

We were there last summer. On the drive from Sofia to Jundola, we saw women in the fields cutting hay with large scythes, just as I suspect it was done there 100 years ago – just as I suspect it was done there 200 years ago.

But, hey, it’s a job.

People talk of “jobs” as if these are ends in themselves – as if jobs are goods, rather than bads. But jobs are bads – or, more precisely, they’re costs. A job is the necessary effort each of us must put forward in order to acquire purchasing power. (Yes, yes, I know that there are genuine non-economic aspects of jobs. But clearly these aspects are peripheral. If they were central, few people would worry about how much money they’re paid; few people would worry about the effects on wages of increased foreign competition or of changes in technology.)

Jobs are ubiquitous; there’s no shortage of them. One job that I often offer to people is the job of painting my house for free. Of course, no one will accept this job. The reason is that people don’t want the job so much as they want to acquire purchasing power.

Therefore, “creating jobs” is not the real challenge. Jobs are everywhere. The real challenge is creating widespread opportunities for earning large and growing purchasing power.

Perhaps my little rendition here seems to be merely semantic. Perhaps it is. But, for me at least, thinking of the matter this way focuses attention on the necessity of ensuring that the economy in general is one that produces large and growing outputs of goods and services that people want to consume. Any policies that threaten to diminish over the long haul the size and quality of the pool of desirable goods and services available to consumers are policies that run counter to the fundamental reason that people seek jobs.

It bears repeating: creating jobs is no chore; nature does it for us. The real job is to create widespread opportunities to earn significant purchasing power.