Archive for the ‘jobs’ Category
In the New York Times on Sunday, January 24, 2010, Thomas Friedman writes in his piece, “More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” about programs that can be helpful in getting the economy moving. For example,
Obama should make the centerpiece of his presidency mobilizing a million new start-up companies that won’t just give us temporary highway jobs, but lasting good jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. The best way to counter the Tea Party movement, which is all about stopping things, is with an Innovation Movement, which is all about starting things.
Fine. Let’s support programs that can provide education and opportunity. But Friedman also gives the president some advice.
Well, here’s my free advice to Obama, post-Massachusetts. If you think that the right response is to unleash a populist backlash against bankers, you’re wrong. Please, please re-regulate the banks in a smart way. But remember: in the long run, Americans don’t rally to angry politicians. They do not bring out the best in us. We rally to inspirational, hopeful ones. They bring out the best in us. And right now we need to be at our best.
This is a bad piece of political advice. It pretends that one can decontextualize a politician’s responses and hides behind the phrase “in the long run” in order to do so. President Franklin Roosevelt sounded pretty angry when he spoke to the nation about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—you remember, “a date which will live in infamy.” And then there was his cousin, Theodore. He got pretty angry at those old monopolies in order to help pass some progressive anti-trust laws. In general, can you imagine how the American people would react if an American president did not get angry at a perceived threat, domestic or foreign, to the well-being of the nation?
To say that Americans don’t rally in the long run to angry politicians is one of those innocuous truisms that mean little in the real political world, for everything depends on what one means by “the long run.” (As Keynes said, “in the long run we’ll all be dead.”) In the short run, and medium runs, the American people surely do rally to an angry president, as long as they can connect with the anger. They also rally to presidents who know when to get angry and when to be inspirational. (Presumably this would mean getting angry on and off, so it would sort of be in the long run.) Oh, yes, and then there are those presidential moments that combine anger and inspiration.
Since the statement about anger is so obviously off the mark and hackneyed, one might be inclined to look for some other motivation for Friedman tossing it out. Here’s my guess. Friedman is scared that if Obama goes too far in attacking the bankers a rift may develop between his administration and the wonderful world of capital. And then America may find itself falling behind foreign nations in the new flat world of economic competition that we face. According to Friedman, entrepreneurs, who at some point will require capital, are the movers and shakers in this world, and it will be a pretty scary place for those places and persons who aren’t on board in terms of the new world order.
But back home, in the meantime, Obama only gets to use the bully pulpit with one hand tied behind his back while he is trying to back Wall Street down. (Note Machiavelli here: it is better that the prince be loved and feared.) Friedman wants Obama to re-regulate the banks. In the real world of American politics just how is he supposed to accomplish this without some heavy duty support in Congress? And given the special interests standing in the way of reforms, you can kiss them good-bye if the American people don’t get sufficiently excited about the issue to get their representatives worried about reelection.
I have a piece of advice for Mr. Friedman and I hope that he won’t mind. It is in the spirit of his advice to the president: Don’t worry! Obama won’t forget about being loved over the long run.
UPDATE, January 27, 2010
For readers who may have felt that I was being a bit unfair to Friedman by claiming that he may have been motivated by fear, I suggest that you check out his column today, “Adult’s Only, Please.” Here is an excerpt. Catch the last line. (He does acknowledge that Obama might be justified in being a bit peeved by the way some on Wall Street have behaved, but hey, just let’s not make them too angry. And if you do, well, you are not being an adult, which of course Friedman is.)
Lately, we’ve seen an explosion of situational thinking. I support the broad proposals President Obama put forth last week to prevent banks from becoming too big to fail and to protect taxpayers from banks that get in trouble by speculating and then expect us to bail them out. But the way the president unveiled his proposals — “if those folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have” — left me feeling as though he was looking for a way to bash the banks right after the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts, in order to score a few cheap political points more than to initiate a serious national discussion about an incredibly complex issue.
President Obama is so much better when he takes a heated, knotty issue, like civil rights or banking reform, and talks to the country like adults. He is so much better at making us smarter than angrier. Going to war with the banks for a quick political sugar high after an electoral loss will just work against him and us. It will spook the banks into lending even less and slow the recovery even more.
I am a professor by trade. I like the idea of making people smarter (or perhaps I should say, better educated), especially over the long run. But I think we all know the danger of coming off like a professor discussing fire codes while the house is burning down.
In a recent post I suggested that liberal arts majors, and philosophers in particular, should not despair as they face a difficult economy. Well, if the “Jobs Rated” section of CareerCast is to be trusted at all, philosophers and historians are in the top 12 of a ranking of 200 jobs for 2010, which includes the outlook for new positions through 2016, as well as other factors. Do I believe it? “When you wish upon a star….”
For the two hundred jobs and more detailed information about them click the link below. The methodology is also discussed.
2. Software Engineer
3. Computer Systems Analyst
7. Paralegal Assistant
10. Dental Hygienist
If you were wondering about everyone’s favorite profession, lawyers are at #80. Money, it seems, can’t buy happiness, although #80 isn’t bad.
Philosophy (Plato and Aristotle) versus The University of Louisiana, Lafayette (President Joseph E. Savoie)
Adios Plato, and Aristotle, and Kant, and Hegel, and Dewey, etc. I heard the news, today, oh boy. According to the New York Times article, “Making College ‘Relevant’,”
The University of Louisiana, Lafayette, is eliminating its philosophy major, while Michigan State University is doing away with American studies and classics, after years of declining enrollments in those majors.
So you’re not impressed. Who cares about some backwater school in the state that elected Bobby Jindal its governor. Perhaps, dear reader, there are some facts that you should know about The University of Louisiana, Lafayette, for they may reveal how serious the situation is for philosophy and philosophy majors. Fall enrollment was 16,320 at Lafayette, according to its web site. Also, according to its web site:
- The University of Louisiana at Lafayette owns a total of about 1,400 acres. Its main campus consists of 137 acres; the athletic complex and Cajundome sit on 243 acres; University Research Park has 148 acres; the Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology has 51 acres; and the Equine Center is comprised of 100 acres.
- UL Lafayette has a 600-acre farm/renewable resources laboratory with a 30-acre pond for crawfish and catfish culture in Cade, La.
- The Carnegie Foundation has designated UL Lafayette as a “Research University with High Research Activity.” That puts UL Lafayette in the same category as Clemson, Auburn and Baylor universities. The only other Louisiana institution in the same category is the University of New Orleans.
- The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
- UL Lafayette offers 78 undergraduate degree programs.
And it’s not as if the regents for the University care only about crawfish and catfish ponds and not philosophy. According to the Times:
When Louisiana’s regents voted to eliminate the philosophy major last spring, they agreed with faculty members that the subject is “a traditional core program of a broad-based liberal arts and science institution.” But they noted that, on average, 3.4 students had graduated as philosophy majors in the previous five years; in 2008, there were none. “One cannot help but recognize that philosophy as an essential undergraduate program has lost some credence among students,” the board concluded.
As a former chair of philosophy departments, and currently director of a Liberal Arts program, I can tell you that it would be rough to defend a major, any major, if there weren’t any majors. But here’s the thing. I simply can’t fathom how a campus with over 16,000 students did not have one philosophy major graduating in 2008. Usually universities offer dual majors and some students interested in philosophy take advantage of this opportunity. Also, philosophy is often the major of choice for students hoping to go on to law school. (None in Lafayette?) So either philosophy is on its death bed, which might be possible, and/or the people in Lafayette simply aren’t working very hard or in the right way to produce majors. (I counted four full-time faculty members in Lafayette’s Philosophy Department, which works out to approximately one philosophy professor for every 4,000 students. I can see that this is an institution that has worked diligently to make philosophy available to its students.)
And what about Michigan State? Well, it’s in Michigan, a state whose economy is currently as cold as its winters. (Aristotle claims that we turn to the study of philosophy only when the necessities of life have been addressed. Or in Feuerbach’s words, “Eat first, philosophize later.”) But the problem is not just down in Lafayette or up in Michigan.
I recently attended the Eastern Division Meeting of The American Philosophical Association and can report that things are indeed bleak in philosophy on the job front, that is, if you wish to become a professor of philosophy. And this is especially true for young people. Typically a very large number, if not the majority, of graduate students on the market gather for job interviews at this meeting. It is as much a professional gathering as it is a jobs fair. But fair it is not. The swings in our economy can make the conference feel more like Vegas in any given year than a symposium at Oxford.
I have no doubt that other liberal arts disciplines have seen a serious decline in new positions this year. Why should large swaths of academia be any different from the rest of the economy? But liberal arts majors should not despair, for the vast majority of them will never seek employment as professors. (And even those who want to become professors should remember that the market does change, even if it’s rarely very good, as it was in the 1960′s.) It seems that what we have been hearing for years–namely, that the liberal arts supply critical skills and tools that many employers appear to want–remains true. This too is spelled out in the article.
There’s evidence, though, that employers also don’t want students specializing too soon. The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently asked employers who hire at least 25 percent of their workforce from two- or four-year colleges what they want institutions to teach. The answers did not suggest a narrow focus. Instead, 89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked for better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70 percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”
It’s possible that these prospective employers were telling the researchers what they wanted to hear, but for many good reasons, I think not. The fact is that the skills listed above are crucial to many, if not most, of the better paying jobs that will be available in the coming years. (Just speak with well-placed business executives and ask how important communication skills are for good positions in their companies.)
Of course none of this addresses the intrinsic value of studying the liberal arts, often something that people learn to appreciate only when they grow older (as the Times article points out). In this regard there is some good news for liberal arts and philosophy types: it seems that a lot of current students are interested in developing a meaningful philosophy of life. The author of the Times article, Kate Zernike, uses a UCLA survey to show how in the last four decades finances have become more important to entering freshmen than philosophical questions. But I prefer to see the glass half full. After years of being socialized into a hyper consumer based economy, almost half of the freshmen are still interested developing a meaningful philosophy of life.
Consider the change captured in the annual survey by the University of California, Los Angeles, of more than 400,000 incoming freshmen. In 1971, 37 percent responded that it was essential or very important to be “very well-off financially,” while 73 percent said the same about “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” In 2009, the values were nearly reversed: 78 percent identified wealth as a goal, while 48 percent were after a meaningful philosophy.
As a professor of liberal arts and philosophy, I’ll gladly take 48% and run with it…..
Kate Phillips reports the following in the NY Times on August 20, 2008 (article here):
“A dividing line shows up in this [NY Times/CBS] poll, according to the analysis by Mr. Cooper and Ms. Sussman:
Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, was trusted more by voters to handle their top concern, the economy. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said they were confident that Mr. Obama would make the right decisions on the economy, compared with 54 percent who expressed confidence that Mr. McCain would. When it came to foreign policy, the image was inverted: 66 percent expressed confidence in Mr. McCain to make the right decisions, and 55 percent in Mr. Obama.
The economy ranks far higher than national security or the Iraq war as a top concern among voters in the new survey, which indicated that respondents were more negative about the economy than at any time since 1992 when, as the article notes, Bill Clinton won the presidency with the admonishment that ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid’.”
McCain has hung out the bait: you hate the war, well I am going to keep making outrageous claims about winning it. Come and get me. And we will if we are not careful. Because he was wrong about the war from the get go and his foreign policy is a throwback to the Cold War. But it’s a trap. While most Americans agree that the war is bad news, it is not what they are mainly concerned about right now. Or more to the point, it is not the central concern of most of the undecided voters, those who will determine the outcome of the election. They want to talk jobs, wages, foreclosures, mortgages, retirement, and medical care. If Americans are basically confident that Obama can handle foreign policy, and the poll suggests that 55% of them already are, then Obama has crossed the most significant threshold. He doesn’t have to top McCain. He just has to make sure that enough people feel comfortable about his ability to handle foreign affairs so that they can go ahead and vote for him based on economic self-interest.
My conclusion: as painful as it might be for Obama and his supporters, they should avoid responding to McCain every time he raises the Iraq War and foreign policy. A better course: remind the American people as often as possible that the war is costing us 10 billion a month when we have no health care and the economy is tanking. (And they should also remind the American people that McCain said that he needed to study up on economics just a few months ago. A captain of the economy he is not.)
P.S. Yes, of course, there will be times that Obama and his supporters will have to respond about the war and discuss foreign policy, but this is different from getting sucked into an endless debate about the war. It was and is wrong, corrupt, and strategically stupid. But this is going to be a pocket book election unless something unforeseen and very big happens internationally. Focusing on the Iraq War and foreign affairs is not going to win the election for anyone but McCain. And then we will have to stare at this for years to come……
UPDATE: August 23, 2008. The selection of Joe Biden as the VP candidate should work beautifully with the strategy outlined above. The basic premise of this strategy is that Obama does not have to poll better than McCain on foreign policy; he just has to convince a majority of Americans that he can handle foreign policy well. The NY Times/CBS poll suggests that he has already crossed this threshold. Biden will not only help to make sure that he remains above this threshold, he will help Obama improve his standing. My guess is that the selection of Biden, and other moves that Obama will make, will push him well into the 60% range on the question of confidence in handling foreign affairs. (A 3-4% lead in the popular vote will almost surely translate into an electoral college win. That’s a 52%-48% win, without third party candidates included.)