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An Open Letter to Ezra Klein

Dear Mr. Klein:

You allege that when unemployment is high, a slowing of productivity growth is “good news” for the economy (“When bad economic news is good news,” May 6).  The reason, according to you, is that the greater the number of workers required to produce a given amount of output – everything from a Starbucks’ latte to a Boeing 747 – the higher is the is the demand for workers.

The relationship between productivity and demand for workers isn’t this simple.  (If your employer, the Washington Post, suddenly lost access to the Internet and found itself stuck with vintage 1890 printing presses, are you sure that the Post would hire more workers to compensate for its drop in productivity?)  But assuming your premise to be true, why rely only upon unguided forces to reduce worker productivity?  Shouldn’t government help this beneficial process along – say, by requiring that each employee drink three martinis before reporting to work?

Not only are drunk workers less productive than are sober ones, they’re also more likely to damage equipment.  So mandating employee intoxication promises a helpful double-whammy during these recessionary times: employers would hire more workers to produce any given amount of output, and employers would hire more workers to repair damaged equipment.  Presto!  Unemployment problem solved!

Shall we drink to this proposal, Mr. Klein?

Donald J. Boudreaux

(HT to Andrew Moylan for alerting me to Klein’s celebration of falling worker productivity.)