Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Liberals worry about the short-run; conservatives about the long-run

Tyler Cowen reviews a book written by Clinton's chief economist who wants government to take a much larger hand in paid sick leave, parental leave, and care for the elderly, among other issues.

Professor Cowen correctly points out that, at best, the policies can have only a short-run effect.  As anyone who has read chapter 9 realizes, in the long run, attractive mandated benefits means that a firms do not have to pay as much to workers to attract them:
So let’s say America’s future means better sick leave and pregnancy leave for employed women, but a narrower choice of jobs, including lower pay, for those same women. Is that better? And do we trust the legal machinery of government to be making that decision anew over decades of social and economic change? Keep in mind that there is an alternative mechanism, which for all its imperfections is far more flexible: Let companies and workers make such decisions through employment bargains.

And this cannot be good:
Boushey doesn’t estimate or indicate the expense of her proposed mandatory benefits, although she does suggest on page 1 that the cost would be “very small.”

The idea that her policies would have only a small long-run effect probably reflect a deeper philosophical belief:
Charles L. Schultze, chief economist for former President Jimmy Carter, once proposed a simple test for telling a conservative economist from a liberal one. Ask each to fill in the blanks in this sentence with the words “long” and “short”: “Take care of the ____ run and the ____ run will take care of itself.”

Liberals, Mr. Schultze suggested, tend to worry most about short run, while conservatives are more concerned with the long run.

What could possibly go wrong?

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