Mainstream economics claims that full employment brings inflation, and some unemployment (often called ‘natural’) is inevitable. During bad times, like today, unemployment rises significantly from its ‘natural’ level and bites even more harshly. We at Mecpoc believe that full employment should be the primary target of economic policy. As our chosen topic of exploration, we set out to ask Franklin students for their opinion on unemployment and the implications their major has taught them. Here include extracts of the responses from three Franklin College students: Caitlin Morris (Comparative Literature and Culture Studies major), William Turner (International Relations major), and James Jasper (History major).
QUESTION: Do you think unemployment is only a problem for the jobless, or do you think unemployment has other ramifications on society?
ANSWER: William: Unemployment does have a lot of implications for society as a whole. There is a moral issue—if people have no income, they have no way to support themselves and their dependents. Also, there is a divide between the Anglo-Saxon model and the Continentals. Germany and France have a big social security net that helps you deal with being unemployed… whereas the Anglo-Saxon countries have much more liberal markets and it is less “humanitarian” in the sense that there is little regard to the effects of firing someone. At the same time you don’t want to end up like France where it is impossible to fire someone because they have such strict labor laws… it’s a question of balance between the two models.
QUESTION: From the perspective of your field of study, in what ways does unemployment harm people and society?
ANSWER: Caitlin: I think that a lot of people, especially in my major, are rushing off to graduate school because that is all that you can really do unless you are one of the very few talented people who can say, ‘I’m going to go become a writer’. I think that there’s going to be a lot of issues because there are so many people with loans. There is going to be an entire generation that is going to be massively in debt.
ANSWER: James: For a present day example – Unemployment is difficult to describe in historical context because we haven’t seen the full implications of it. We don’t know what is going to happen yet. But if what is going on today were to be written down in history books, it wouldn’t be written down as wholly economical. I think, at least in the U.S., you’ve seen a fundamental shift in the type of economy. I think we’re finally seeing a shift into a more service-based economy. And even a recession like this, which is a fairly bad recession, has had a massive effect on the manufacturing sector and unskilled workers. I think that is the group that has been hit the hardest – this kind of middle class of the United States. Historically, it’s going to be interesting to see the consequences of this. I think in the future we might have a higher rate of unemployment than we’ve had in the past. I think a lot of it is based on expectations of trade with China, which is really not that bad of a trade deficit at all, and its perception among the public.
QUESTION: What do you think governments can do to reach full employment?
ANSWER: William: There should always be some room for unemployment. Frictional and cyclical unemployment is probably unavoidable. Structural unemployment is not so positive, you don’t want to end up like Europe where there are workers that have to change their skill sets. There are social effects which you really want to avoid but aside from that there is a [natural level of unemployment] and that is normal—it creates flexibility for people to change jobs , so that’s a good thing.
ANSWER: James: As a history major, I think full employment is very difficult. The only time full employment was achieved was when you had an agricultural or subsistence farm base without skill specialization or you’ve had a communist type of economy. I was recently reading a report in the NY Times that North Koreans who had crossed the border to South Korea had actually found the capitalist system “oppressive” because they couldn’t go to their factory and work 8 hours a day, but there were additional forces on them to achieve even more. I think that in the capitalist system, [full employment] is something the government should strive for, but there will always be transitional unemployment that occurs and an inability to utilize people to their fullest capacity. And without a switch to a command type economy, it’s impossible to have complete full employment. Not to say that you can’t bring it low, but it’s impossible to get it down to 0%.
QUESTION: How will unemployment affect you, based on your field of study?
ANSWER: Caitlin: It’s going to be a challenge. I don’t want to go to grad school right away. You have to ask yourself what you really want to do and you get to be creative as far as how can you find something fun to do. It redefines what you do.
ANSWER: James: As a history major, I was expecting to be unemployed after I graduated. I feel like graduate school is almost necessary for a history major to get more specialized. History majors often do well in business. Personally, I would really like to work at a museum, which I think I could get because [history majors] are becoming more scarce and rare. But despite the fact that we are scarce, I think we will still be affected. In terms of the education industry, I think recession is actually not good for it. I think we’re having a short-term bubble in education and once the bubble pops, you will see a fall in the numbers of graduates. I don’t think we’re all pessimistic about graduating, I think we’re a little bit more opportunistic, especially because most of us are graduating at a time where the recession is not as deep. I think currently there is a, and I use this term loosely, fetishism with university education. You see students who aren’t necessarily interested or equipped in what they are studying. So, I think the universities are currently in the bubble and they will suffer when the bubble pops. I don’t know how much credit rides on university education, but it seems like a fair bit.
As one can see from the interview questions above, the term “unemployment” has different implications for those studying in fields outside that of economics. While James answered with concrete facts of the past, Caitlin shared personal experiences with unemployment and William offered several common definitions for the term. With such a diverse population at Franklin, the variety of answers were expected and appreciated. This insight can help us understand unemployment and possibly find solutions for it. Mecpoc hopes to continue this survey of Franklin Students and their opinion of different economic theories, policies and practices. If you are interested in participating in an interview or writing your own article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.