Starting blogging on daily reading Dec. 23, 2019

As I follow my reading program, I find myself going to this blog to write another entry. So rather than do that, I will react to what I am reading in this category of What I’m Reading Now and, to start, I’ll pick a line from Generations of Captivity, p. 215:

Taken from her mother in North Carolina and sold with ten other children, seven-year-old Laura Clark sensed her fate: she ‘never seed her no mo’ in dis life.” although given candy to keep her quiet, she just “roll over on de groun ‘jes’ acryin’.” An American slave in the 1800s. I imagine similar pictures can be found of children on our southern border being similarly separated according to Jeff Sessions’ plan. How much time has elapsed, how many generations, since Sessions’ Alabama forebearers were doing just what he did but to slave children? Of course, the slave children were legal.

Reading Duflo and Bannerjee citing Topalova in their Good Economics for Hard Times about how neither labor nor capital flow as easily as orthodox economic trade theory postulates, I was reminded of the macroshift in the U.S. rust belt where workers, in theory, should have moved quickly to other jobs or other areas of the country, even the world, to secure a living. In fact, Duflo (for short) says workers don’t even leave counties, let alone states or countries. And I recalled the way it took a generation or two for the government to compensate for these lost jobs and careers with retraining programs, often targeted on devastated communities, too late in many cases to successfully retrain people (I worked in that field for a while in the very late 60s and 70s, long after those factory jobs had disappeared).

That brings up another factor Duflo will talk about: cultural factors. How do you, my thoughts here, get a body politic to render aid to dispossessed workers when so many people in that body do not “believe” in helping people but insist instead on self-help. Why should good old Joe pay taxes to retrain some guy he doesn’t even know for another job just because his job disappeared to another country or into the arms of a robot? Why can’t he take care of himself? Add to that the conservative mantra that those being helped are Black and don’t want to work anyway and you’ve got a perfect storm (I try to avoid cliches but that one works here) for foot-dragging by both state and federal governments to boost the allocation of resources.

An addendum to the economic issues: in a recent blog entry on Kirk’s principles of conservatism, I mentioned the conceit of earlier British philosophers of the singular individual as the urman, unattached to family or clan. It was only a conceit, not meant to be taken literally (or else where were the women?), but economists use such conceits to construct their theories. So here is another one: the infinitely mobile “worker” with no ties, no encumbrances. So who the hell lives like that? But it sure is an easy way for a comfortable academic to toss off the concerns of millions of displaced workers. “Let them drink from another trough.”

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