Saturday, February 8, 2014

Job Lock

Two boring stories really caught my attention this week. First, there was a report about a miserly practice by AOL (and, apparently, by many other firms) regarding 401k plans. Second, the kerfuffle that emerged over the possible impact of the Affordable Care Act on joblessness in the U.S. illustrates an example of how what's politically wise isn't the same as what is economically wise.

Let me address the latter of these topics: Despite its shortcomings, the ACA (or any health coverage reform) could win me over if it made labor markets more flexible. There are people who settle for miserable jobs because they're afraid leaving that job means leaving guaranteed medical coverage. Severing employment and health coverage could do us quite a bit of good, though it's a very tough institutional practice for this country to get over. The White House's retort to the CBO report, that the ACA might diminish job lock, and therefore might actually increase unemployment and underemployment makes economic sense. I could see these reforms allowing more Americans to work part-time and afford the lifestyle they want, or even to put up with short-term periods of unemployment and afford the lifestyle they want. I'm mangling my thoughts on this topic, and if I'm mangling it, how could politicians spin it?

The 401k lump sum match practice that is becoming more common has me really bothered. It's obvious to me how it cuts costs for a company, how it penalizes workers for leaving mid-year, and how it penalizes workers who stay throughout the year (in foresaken compounding interest). I could get behind a law requiring companies to make 401k matches on a monthly or quarterly basis, despite my misgivings about regulating business practices. That's how counter-productive I find the lump sum 401k match practice to be.

Ironically, I signed on to a career that is characterized by job lock. Public school teachers usually get locked in place after a half dozen years with one employer. I've been employed by the same district for more than 15 years: I'm prohibitively expensive for another district to hire. If I'm going to find a new job, it will be up or out, not over to another teaching gig somewhere else. I've accepted the golden handcuffs because it's the rigidity of my profession is part of a set of tradeoffs that allows me to do a job I love but still satisfactorily support my family.

People in the private sector didn't sign up for that deal.

The participants in our private sector labor force benefit from a market that offers fluidity. Workers benefit from a system that allows them to be free to look at other jobs. Employers benefit from a system that disincentivizes unhappy workers from sticking around due to job lock. This lump sum practice might just be an example of employers cutting their noses to spite their face.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Another snow day prompts me to teach

A friend sent me a link to an online article regarding eight mistakes the Axis powers made in World War II. He offered that it might be stuff I already knew. Not necessarily true. I'm wondering, had a student posed me this list instead of a colleague, and had a student posed it to me during classtime rather than via e-mail while I watched the 6ABC
hype machine, how would I have responded?

1) Italy's Invasion of Greece: This I never considered. It's an aspect of the war I didn't know about. If the article is right, then I have to think that those five lost weeks are pretty crucial.

2) Germany's Invasion of Russia: I don't think there was anyway Hitler and the Nazis could have not invaded Russia. There was too much ideologically and racially for them to ignore Russia. Nor do I think the Nazis would've even considered some sort of gentle absorption or incremental approach toward imperializing Russia or the lands on its periphery. It's hard for me to imagine any scenario where Germany doesn't invade Russia.

3) Japan's Invasion of Pearl Harbor: Two things come to mind. First, Japan vastly underestimated our willingness to retaliate. The Pacific Ocean is vast in a way that boggles the mind. How does America, distracted mightily by a more crucial war in Europe, assemble the military infrastructure to reach across the Pacific in sufficient time with sufficient numbers to dislodge and entrenched Japan defending an expanded empire. From a tactical point of view, it wasn't far-fetched. Second, we had been giving ambivalent and ambiguous signals regarding our involvement in Europe. We were in an undeclared naval war with Japan by December 1941. We were supplying vast quantities of material to the British and Russians. Yet we weren't willing to declare war against Hitler. And we were slowly and clumsily assembling an army for war.

4) Hitler's Declaration of War on the U.S.: I think our entry into the European war was inevitable. Hitler perhaps beat us by a few months. President Roosevelt was too committed to a Europe-first mentality to avoid war for much longer once we had been attacked in the Pacific. We had already committed to a shared vision of what the post-war world would look like with the Atlantic Charter. I've always considered Hitler's decision to declare war against the U.S. as a non-factor in shaping developments for World War II.

5) Hitler's Fixation on Wonder Weapons: I see their point, but hadn't less wondrous wonder weapons (i.e. the Stuka, advanced tanks) conquered Western and Central Europe so decisively. Also, Germany had some military shortcomings as a result of Treaty of Versailles provisions they couldn't overcome in the 1930s. They never had heavy bombers. They never had a navy sufficient for invading England. At a certain point, they had to pursue technologies which would allow them to cut corners.

6) Hitler's Underestimation of Sea Power: Was this an underestimation or was this an admission of economic reality, that Germany couldn't close the gap that had widened since World War I between them and the great naval powers?

7) Germany's Repression of the Occupied Territories: I think the authors are spot on right here. There's no way Germany could have endeared itself to the occupied peoples of Western Europe (though it could appeal to the Anti-Semitic elements in those nations) but it could have done more to build affinity amongst the ethnically muddled populations of Central and Eastern Europe.

8) The Inability of the Axis to get Spain and Turkey into the Fight: I don't know much about this. Seems like I have time to read, though, today.