Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Lumpire Strikes Back!

"And you just arbitrarily publish email exchanges w/ people you don't know? I'll remember that. What exactly is your beef w/ me? If you wrote clearly, maybe I could follow."

(Apparently, she forgot.)

Excuse me? Who arbitrarily publishes mind-reading declarations about the presumed beliefs or assumptions of people you don't know, haven't met and whose analyses you haven't read?

My beef is not with you, Ms. Baum, but with a false allegation that you wittingly or unwittingly propagate.
The slew of recent articles on the deleterious effect of productivity suggests the ``lump-of-labor'' fallacy is due for a revival. This fallacy assumes there is a fixed amount of work to be done in an economy, to be divided up among the total supply of laborers. If machines do the work, there's less for people to do, resulting in higher unemployment.

No doubt this fallacy was behind France's romance with the 35-hour workweek. It also repeatedly fuels protectionist sentiment: the desire to protect domestic industries, via tariffs and quotas, from foreign competition.
As for the clarity (or otherwise) of my writing, the usual remedy for perceived incomprehension or misunderstanding is to engage in a conversation BEFORE one leaps to the conclusion that one's correspondent is solely responsible for the difficulty. You mentioned difficulty 'sorting through' or 'following' (3x) my argument in all but one of your emails and I tried to respond to your feedback (while maintaining a discrete silence about what might have appeared to me to be willful incomprehension). The exception was your AHA! moment in which you wrote, "I think I get it now" proclaiming that the arguments about shipping jobs overseas, automation etc. SUGGEST that people who make those arguments believe in a lump of labor. That's a circular argument, Ms. Baum. It assumes its own conclusion as its premise: "People who argue that assume there's a lump of labor because arguing that suggests they assume there's a lump of labor!" When you are thinking in circles it is awfully hard to follow someone who is not thinking in those same circles. My sympathies.

Off-shoring and automation DO eliminate jobs -- that's what they are SUPPOSED to do. Similarly, if a credit and speculation-fueled housing boom comes to an end, construction jobs will be eliminated. If those jobs aren't replaced with new and presumably different jobs, people will be unemployed. Simple. There's no need for people anxious about unemployment to assume that the amount of work to be done is "fixed." There just has to be less job creation going on than there is job destruction plus new entrants into the labor market -- as in the present situation.

So anyway, thank you for responding to my provocative posting of our email exchange. I'll gladly take down my unauthorized publication of our email exchange if you will retract your unauthorized publication of the spurious lump-of-labor mind reading exercise.




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