In favor of Learned Irony

I missed this Paul Krugman column earlier this week:

Against Learned Helplessness

…on both sides of the Atlantic, a consensus has emerged among movers and shakers that nothing can or should be done about jobs. Instead of a determination to do something about the ongoing suffering and economic waste, one sees a proliferation of excuses for inaction, garbed in the language of wisdom and responsibility.

So someone needs to say the obvious: inventing reasons not to put the unemployed back to work is neither wise nor responsible.

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The unemployed, you see, are (and should be!) just sitting around waiting for the government to Do Something. But the government isn’t. They’re not even talking about it. Instead:

What kinds of excuses am I talking about? Well, consider last week’s release of the latest report on the economic outlook by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D…

So what did the O.E.C.D. have to say about high unemployment in its member countries? … “go structural” – that is, to focus on long-run reforms that would have little impact on the current employment situation.

And how do we know that there’s no room for policies to put the unemployed back to work? The secretary general didn’t say – and the report itself never even suggests possible solutions to the employment crisis. All it does is highlight the risks, as it sees them, of any departure from orthodox policy.

Krugman, of course, does have “possible solutions:” government make-work programs, and encouraging higher inflation to devalue mortgage debts. But the government isn’t doing those things, and if the government won’t Do Something, or at least talk about Doing Something, then the rest of us are…

…well, helpless. And, I daresay, we’ve learned that helplessness thanks to people like Krugman, who’ve spent decades telling us that Doing Something is the government’s job.

I’m sidestepping Krugman’s actual point a little. His conclusion is that political leaders are adopting a “learned helplessness” about jobs because they don’t want to — or think the can’t — Do Something.

As usual, the irony of his theme escapes him. The best way to “learn helplessness” is to do exactly what he takes for granted we should do: depend on someone else.

When individuals believe they can only wait for the government to Do Something, and when national leaders believe it’s up to some international community to Do Something, they forget how to Do Something themselves. They become helpless, not because they really are, but because they’ve learned that it’s somebody else’s job.

Walter Russell Mead addressed this recently:

The American Dream is not in the last analysis a farm or a home and a good job. It is the dream that through hard work and good choices the average American can be prosperous and independent, and that ordinary people with these life experiences can govern themselves wisely and well without the ‘guidance’ of their ‘betters’.

If so, then Krugman thinks the American Dream is a bad joke.

(Posted by The TrogloPundit)

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