As a college student many years ago I worked as a proofreader for the National Bureau of Economic Research. One of the papers we proofed argued that, contrary to news stories, there was no shortage of engineers in the U.S. The author had done extensive research into engineer salaries by specialty over time and found they either lagged or matched the rate of inflation.
He learned that engineering wages did not follow the rule of supply and demand because engineers—at the time at least—were seldom able to change jobs. A company could not obtain engineering help by offering higher wages and engineers were paid well enough and they may have been non-compete agreements, which meant wages were stable. And there was a shortage of engineers in the U.S.
Short, incisive, thought-provoking
I was reminded of this ancient experience in reading Paul Krugman's Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future. The book is a collection of Krugman's New York Times newspaper columns and blog posts arranged by category (Social Security, Obamacare, economic bubbles, austerity, the Euro, and more), each introduced by a brief essay. The columns are short, incisive, and thought-provoking.
Krugman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on international trade, began writing for the Times in 2000, and he published an earlier collection of columns in 2003, The Great Unraveling. He is unashamedly liberal; indeed published The Conscience of a Liberal in 2007. On the evidence of this book, he would have known to talk to an engineer before propounding his argument.
Because Krugman is a thoughtful liberal, conservatives should read his book so they can understand what one thoughtful liberal is saying. He says, for example, "Decades of conservative marketing have convinced Americans that government programs always create bloated bureaucracies, while the private sector is always lean and efficient. But when it comes to retirement security, the opposite is true. More than 99 percent of Social Security's revenues to go toward benefits, and less than 1 percent for overhead."
Why not better government programs
If we can develop an efficient, inexpensive government retirement program, why can't we also develop an efficient, inexpensive health care system? Or public higher education system? Or early childhood development system?
Rather than create and improve programs that would help make American great(er), right-wingers believe it is better to, as Grover Norquist famously said, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Rather than argue the benefits and drawbacks—i.e., use real information—right-wingers tend to call names: "It's socialism."
And so, Krugman writes, under Trump, "we now basically have an Environmental Protection Agency run on behalf of polluters, and Interior Department run by people who want to loot federal land, an Education Department run by the for-profit schools industry, and so on."
I thought the book was fascinating because Krugman not only outlines an economic or social or political issue but clearly and concisely explains why certain ideas are zombies that will not die. Ideas like Social Security is going to run out of money . . . the deficit will cause hyperinflation . . . austerity will lead to prosperity . . . tax cuts will spur economic growth . . . climate change is beyond human control . . . crypto currency is the future of money. (Okay, maybe this last one hasn't been around long enough to be a zombie, but just wait.)
Reportedly the Scottish writer, essayist, and historian Thomas Carlyle identified economics as "the dismal science" because at the time it appeared that population growth would inevitably outpace food production. That hasn't happened. It may not happen. But whether it does or not, Arguing with Zombies is a useful and interesting guide to why.