Thursday, January 1, 2009

Obviousness and Austerity

Matt Yglesias has begun the year with a blast of that which should be blindingly obvious -- a good enough way to begin a year:

Countries don’t become prosperous by having extremely low wages. Countries have low wages because they’re poor. Countries prosper by having reasonable quality infrastructure and a reasonably healthy and well-educated population. Unions can neither magically create wealth out of thin air, but neither can they magically destroy wealth. What they can do is influence at the margin the way wealth is distributed — a bit more to the workforce and somewhat less to the managers and the shareholders. That’s why people who represent the interests of managers and shareholders don’t like them. It’s a perfectly understandable sentiment, but not one that the broader public should find persuasive.
And just to add to the pile of putatively obvious insights here, these social goods -- "reasonable quality infrastructure and a reasonably healthy and well-educated population" -- are not free, nor cheap, nor spontaneously naturally-occurring in the manner of dandelions or gravity.

I detest beginning-of-year predictions -- there's actually nothing significant about the changeover in year -- but 2009 strikes me as a year when we'll be challenged to recognize and embrace the blindingly obvious: austerity in ideas matched to austerity of conditions. I hope I am wrong, and not only for the sake of discrediting beginning-of-year predictions.

No comments: