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Labor Day with not enough jobs to go around

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By Roger Snodgrass

“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” is a memorable and usually misquoted paradox from Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” It describes a ship stuck in the middle of the ocean, but it applies symbolically to many other situations.

One of them is about work and unemployment.

As we celebrate Labor Day weekend, the painful truth is that there is too much to do but not enough work to go around. Another way to say it is that we have a lot of work that needs desperately to be done everywhere, but there are not enough jobs to do the work.

It’s something like the findings of the Indian economist, Amartya Kumar Sen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1998 for his research in welfare economics.

His book on poverty and famine begins with the observation that starvation is a condition people experience when they don’t have enough to eat, but it is not necessarily because there is not enough food.

He goes on to uncover many other factors that bear on why people are starving, including issues of supply, distribution and ownership and especially deeply structured matters of inequality.

To say people are starving during a famine because of a lack of food is an oversimplification, just like saying people are unemployed during a recession because of a lack of work.


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