Saturday, March 3, 2012
My point was that the high dollar wouldn't destroy jobs so much as "displace" them: shift them from contracting industries to expanding industries.
This would happen because the high dollar was the market economy's way of helping us restructure our economy to take full advantage of the marked and long-lasting change in what the rest of the world wants to buy from us at higher prices (primary commodities) and sell to us at lower prices (manufactures and tradeable services such as tourism).
So employment would fall in manufacturing and tourism but would increase in mining and construction, as well as in the services sector.
(This is not to imply that all the workers losing their jobs in manufacturing would move simply and easily to jobs in the expanding industries. Some may encounter difficulty making the switch, which is why governments should help them retrain and relocate. Some older workers will never make the transition. And some of the new jobs will go to people from outside manufacturing.)
People are often vague about which industries are included in the services sector, so I offered some examples of those likely to expand: "health, education and training, public administration, the science professions and arts and recreation".
Ah, said my reader, gotcha. "Surely the funding for many of the job types identified comes from the public purse, that money being generated by taxes on employees, companies, profits from investment in local manufacturing and [from] the businesses, secondary and tertiary, generated from manufacturing," he wrote.
"Where is your viable break-even point here between job creation and taxes/wealth creation sufficient to create those [public sector] jobs?"
See his argument? You have manufacturing and the rest of the private sector it supports, which creates the wealth and the jobs and pays the taxes governments use to finance all their activities, creating public sector jobs in the process.
If you allow the manufacturing sector to contract, you erode the economy's wealth- and job-creating capacity, thus reducing the tax governments are able to collect and use to create jobs in the public sector.
So there must be some point below which you can't allow the private sector to fall, otherwise you also destroy jobs in the public sector.
Convinced? I'm not. The reader's riposte is built on two related misconceptions.
One is that the private sector is productive - it generates the wealth and creates the jobs - whereas the public sector is essentially parasitic: it appropriates some of the private sector-created wealth via taxation and redistributes it to presumably worthy causes, employing public servants in the process.
Sorry, not true. What is this "wealth" that's being created? It's more accurately described as income: the income that's generated when employers and employees produce all the goods and services that make up the nation's gross domestic product.
So "wealth" is generated when people go to work and their employer provides them with the equipment and direction to do what they do. The workers receive income in return for their work. They pay some of that income in direct and indirect taxes but most of the rest they spend on the goods and services they need, which generates continuing demand for all the stuff that they and other workers have produced.
If you think this description of the economy is circular, you're right: supply (production) creates demand (spending) and demand leads to supply. Point is, there's no important distinction between goods and services produced in the private sector and those produced in the public sector. Nor between goods and services paid for in the marketplace and those paid for via taxation.
To imagine otherwise is to imply that someone working on a production line producing cans of beans is productive (generating "wealth") but doctors and nurses who fix broken legs and save lives, or people who teach our children to read and write, are unproductive (generating no wealth).
Many doctors are self-employed and there are plenty of private hospitals; many teachers work for non-government schools. We're being asked to believe that those in the private sector are productive wealth-generators but those in the public sector are unproductive wealth-appropriators.
We could, if we wished, leave the whole of healthcare and education to the private sector. Would that make the economy vastly more productive? Hardly. (What it would mean is a lot of people being unable to afford education or healthcare.)
The reader's argument also implies that only people working in the private sector pay tax and contribute to the cost of publicly-provided goods and services. Rubbish. Everyone who works is productive and everyone who earns and spends income pays taxes, regardless of their sector.
The second misconception is that economies are built like the pharaohs built the pyramids: one level on top of another. You start with a base of primary industry (farming and mining), then put secondary industry (manufacturing) on top of that and tertiary industry (services) on top of that.
Take away one of the lower building blocks and you lose the basis on which to build the levels above it. If you had no manufacturing sector, for instance, how could you have a services sector?
If you were building a closed economy - one that didn't trade with other economies - that's the way you'd do it. But, like all economies, we have considerable trade with other countries. Why? Because it makes us wealthier.
We specialise in producing things we're relatively good at, they specialise in producing what they're relatively good at, and we trade. That leaves both sides better off and means you don't have to do everything to have a viable economy. Indeed, the more you insist on doing things you're not good at, the more you forgo wealth.
These days, the rich countries of Europe have little mining and waste taxes propping up their inefficient farmers when they could buy from us more cheaply. Our natural endowment (plus 200 years of experience) makes us highly-efficient producers of rural and mineral commodities, which are now in great demand as poor countries develop. The workforces in the rich countries are too highly skilled and expensive for them to be used to make things in factories, so manufacturing in these countries is shifting to Asia.
So where are the jobs being created in the rich economies? In the services sector. The range of simple to sophisticated services we can perform for other people in our country - or for foreigners - is infinite.
And everyone with a job that involves "doing things" is generating wealth.