Unemployment and the Long and Short Run

While Paul Campos is writing specifically about law professors, I think every academic economist should take this to heart (boldface mine):

A particularly critical benefit of their jobs that tenured legal academics tend to undervalue when they burble on about how they turned down lucrative careers for the vows of scholarly poverty is that their salaries don’t have to be — or haven’t had to be until now — discounted by any risk of falling to zero and staying there. It’s hard to put a number on just how valuable that benefit is, not merely in terms of extrapolating income into the future, but in terms of the psychic benefit of not having the shadow of possible economic disaster constantly falling on whatever career success a lawyer is currently enjoying. This is just another way in which, as a practical matter, legal academics aren’t really part of the legal profession at all.

One could be snarky and argue that tenured economists, by the same token, aren’t really part of the economy at all either. But that would be counterproductive, and we like helping!

In all seriousness, the reason I think a lot of pro-immigration and pro-‘free’ trade arguments are rejected out of hand is because there is no apparent recognition of, no empathy for what the person who loses his or her job experiences. Because, in the short run, you have a middle-aged person who has just seen his income drop precipitously, possible for the rest of his working life (assuming he can find a job again). And no amount of worker training, no pious homilies about how this is all for the better in the long run is going to change that. His life just took a nose dive. Faced with that prospect, oddly enough, a lot of people tend to resist these policies.

As we say around these parts, people have to like this crap.

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