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Jobs Are Not Pre-existing Boxes

Here’s a letter to the editor of Foreign Policy:

Lamenting America’s currently high rate of unemployment, University of Texas economist James Galbraith writes that “the retirement age is too high” (“Unconventional Wisdom,” Jan./Feb. 2011).  He continues: “common sense suggests we should make some decisions about who should have the first crack: older people, who have already worked three or four decades at hard jobs?  Or younger people, many just out of school, with fresh skills and ambitions?”

Great idea!  The 59-year-old Prof. Galbraith can put his money where his theory is and retire immediately.  I know several newly minted PhD economists from George Mason University who, just out of school with fresh skills and ambitions, would love a full-time faculty position at UT-Austin.  By retiring even though he still wishes to continue teaching and doing research – and even though his talents on these fronts haven’t declined – Prof. Galbraith will do his part to help unemployed workers.  If Prof. Galbraith’s theory of employment is correct, UT-Austin will be no worse off, and the gains to the young economist hired in his place, as well as the gains to the economy at large, will outweigh any loss suffered by Prof. Galbraith.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Reading Galbraith’s essay reminds me (arrogantly, I know) of this long-ago column written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

UPDATE: My buddy Roger Silk e-mailed me, in response to the above letter, this consideration: “And don’t forget that any public-spirited employer wishing to put his idea into practice would face lawsuits for age discrimination.”  True dat.