Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Helping the rich world keep its livelihood

This week's Economist cover story, "Rich man, poor man", about globalisation's winners and losers, offers three categories of solutions to help out those who lose out.

  1. Education in rich countries must equip people with general skills that make them more mobile in the workforce.
  2. Detach health care and pensions from employment, so people who move jobs don't have to worry about much else.
  3. Beef up assistance for those who lose their jobs, in the form of generous training and policies to help them find new work.
These all sound good, but as the editorial acknowledges, these will take years to implement, and it won't be easy. I've also got my own reasons to be skeptical about the effectiveness of these general measures.
  1. People who are part of the educational system in rich countries will see these "general skills" as irrelevant because they want something that's very close to practical. It's difficult to learn something if you're not really interested.
  2. I never really understood the wisdom of tightly coupling health care and pensions to people's jobs, either. Benefits, when tied to jobs, are peripheral concerns, but I suppose it's a temporary hack in the system that just happens to meet the needs of the moment. The thing is, there is no other viable alternative at the moment to this dirty hack.
  3. Greasing up the labour market to make it more mobile is a task I'm very passionate about, but I'm not sure where government or industry can step in effectively. For private concerns, it may not really be profitable. It's an area where I see a lot of room for improvement, but most of the ideas I've got to remedy the problem are more humanitarian than profitable.
It also occurred to me that it may actually be in the rich world's interest to not have job security--or rather, security at the same job. Personally, I have trouble working on the same kind of thing for more than two years, at best, and I am one of the least fickle people I know. It's always best to keep one's options open.