Saturday, August 12, 2006

Polish Labor Economics 102

Ok, last time I wrote that Poland lacks the capital base to use the labor force it already has. Great, what does that mean? Its the economic version of being all dressed up with nowhere to go. Often, young people get some kind of education or another, but then get no meaningful employment. So, they reason with some fair justification, they need skills or experience. So this impacts the educational choices that young people have to make, ie they study computer programming, economics, hospitality and tourism, get an intership at an accounting firm, whatever.

This obscures what it is that young people (others too, but especially the young) really have to offer the economy at large; talent, ambition, and energy. By comparison "skills" are worth much less (with some exceptions). Experience is in general worth more than skills but still a lot less than talent. A skill that is in demand at one time is often out of date by the time a person could learn it from scratch anyway. More importantly, our ambition and energy comes closer to expressing who we really are or aspire to be, whereas often a skill is just impersonal technique.
Frankly I suspect that this delusion occurs all over the Continent, but is especially severe in Poland. In any case, that's where I am now and where I can see enough of it to comment on.

The thing about a weak capital base is that the jobs that it generates don't demand much in the way of talent or ambition. They are mostly just a function of drudgery, of one sort or another.

One area of intersection of the Catholic Social Tradition and Leftist ecnomics is the "priority of labor over capital". There is something to be said for this, in that people have real human needs and there is something ugly about the prospect of failing to fulfill them while at the same time adding money to some plutocrat's bank account. But if the revulsion is real, the underlying scenario isn't. Capital doesn't just compete with with human needs, it is also the means of fulfilling them. And not just the baser needs, but some of the higher ones as well. Our creativity, ambition, personality all require capital to be exercised properly.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


This post is a perfect example why I am a political amateur instead of a professional. The CT primary broke in Lamont's favor just at about exactly the same day that I wrote it. Now the Left netroots of the Democratic party can take solace in going one-for-life in competitive elections as opposed to their prior oh-for-life. That may sound a bit sarcastic, but it's not. There is a substantial psychological hurdle to clear when you are attempting to do something that has never been done, or at least never been done by you.

At this point, the race itself is actually more in flux now than ever. If Lieberman somehow could have scraped 50.5% of the primary vote, the general election would be a waltz. But he didn't, so at this point you gotta figure that all three candidates have a legit shot. The one thing going for Lieberman is that he finished close enough to make his third party candidacy credible.

But who cares about one Senate seat? The psycological state of the netroots is far more interesting and IMO far important as well. There was a thin little volume written a couple of years ago called The Uncivil War, by David Lebedoff (a liberal as it happens). His point is that the politica agenda of the new rootless intelligentsia (which equates pretty clearly to the Left netroots) is a class interest, and a fairly narrow one at that. Think of them as 21st century rail barons.

What Lebedoff forgot to mention is that all Left politics derives its legitimacy from the support of the people, and the netroots plainly do not have it. This is something the GOP or the Right in general should have picked up on a long time ago. They haven't had to confront this yet because largely they speak to their own echo chamber. But someday they will.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Mickey Kaus is an eccentric liberal, one of the few who will pursue an honest argument with the left. Recently he has been hitting the immigration issue pretty hard, but in the linked post he really exposes the Democrats Achilles' heel. I find him persuasive. A couple of quick points:

1. As I wrote a little bit ago, the GOP is lost its favor among the body politic. As far as I'm concerned, it already had by 2004. The only reason why the President won reelection is because the Democrats in general and John Kerry in particular were not trusted on security issues. As soon as the Democrats can hold their current coalition but at the same time get rid of their owned-by-interest-group mentality and their nasty partisanship, they'll win.

2. The Republicans have not had an ideological revolution since the 1970s. We are all Reagan's children, as it were. But if the GOP base cannot assert control of their Congressional majorities, or the President, we are due for one soon.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Polish Labor Economics 101

Looking back to the Solidarity era in Poland, as I sometimes do, one of the most striking things of it is that the underlying social movement really could not be justified in terms of standard of living (or geopolitics for that matter). Because the initial consequence of the strikes, social discord, and resistance to communism was to worsen economic conditions from their previously low base. In fact, at many times it probably looked as though that would be the only consequence.

Nonetheless, Polish politics today are dominated by standard-of-living issues, at least that's the way it looks to me.

How did that happen? Ok, let's pretend we're back in the US for a moment and look at the American labor market, especially the entry level. Roughly speaking we can divide into thirds. First is the big firms; Deloitte & Touche, JP Morgan, Caterpillar, 3M, Intel, etc. Every year they stand ready to hire thousands of eductated young people, both college graduates and MBAs.

Second, there are semi-entrepreneurial jobs as well. Say a guy is a fairly sharp businessman and over the course of a couple of decades he accumlates 2 rental houses, 4 apartments, a little Italian restaurant, and a bowling alley. Managing all of it becomes a pain after a while so he hires his best friend's nephew to help him out. Or alternatively, a young person turns a high school hobby into a decent consulting business, like a recording engineer or computer repair person.

Finally, there's the basic service jobs, like working at the Gap, or as as a bartender or hostess.

Well, in Poland, the first is out. There is no Polish McKinsey or GE or Citibank. The second possibility exists, but that sector of the economy is much smaller than an American would recognize. That leaves the basic service jobs, which by default everybody has to get. This means that intelligent, college-educated young people, the ones who would be qualified to work for Booz-Allen, have to fight for a job at a hotel instead. In wage terms, a $10-12 / hr job is a fairly big deal in Poland.

So essentially half the available entry-level labor force up and left (or is in the process of leaving), mostly to the UK. Parts of the Polish political establishment think this is a bad thing, but I'm not sure. First, as I talk to people in that situation, most of them think of themselves as Polish and intend to return to Poland when they have some money or opportunity here. Certainly the majority of those who do have some opportunity here never leave in the first place. And even if it were different, you couldn't blame them anyway. You only get one life.

The point being, this will change when and if the Polish capital base is sufficient to profitiably utilize the talents of the labor force that it already has.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Whither the GOP

Most of the buzz among the great and the good among the Beltway is about whether or not the Republicans will lose control of Congress in the midterm elections. I have no idea, and frankly I don't think anybody else has a definitive handle on it either. In this case there are only guess, some more educated than others.

But whether or not the GOP does in fact lose Congress, it is clear to me that they deserve to. The range of issues where the base can feel faithfully represented in Congress gets narrower and narrower. In particular, the cause of spending restraint prior to the election appears to be completely lost, contrary to some of my helpful suggestions from another post. Congress would like to move on the immigration issue, but the President is unalterably opposed. And then there's national security.

The President's heart is in the right place on national security issues, but his strategic sense seems to be kind of wooden. Even with the successes that US Armed forces have had so far, it's getting harder and harder to suppose the Iraq war will end in such a way that most Americans will think consider it a positive outcome. I actually feel quite a bit of sympathy for the President. He had a difficult hand and played it as best as he could. Unfortunately, after some time, "stay the course" ceases to be a strategy and is merely a platitude. And gradually the American people feel less that the Iraqi war represents their interest and more that it is merely a project of W, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

The GOP still has credbility on judges, and that's just about it.

The point being is, that is a losing hand. Will the GOP establishment in Washington get the memo before or after the American body politic gets fed up enough to get rid of them?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ahhh, the joys of politics

To be honest, there aren't very many. This is from someone who has followed the cut and thrust of debate, contemporary culture, campaigns, elections, and so on for the better part of thirty years. Very often your guys lose, and even if they win they tend to disappoint while in office.

But, occasionally one does get a bit of Schadenfreude when the other team pulls out all the stops and loses anyway. I've got a feeling this is about to happen to Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Democratic Senatorial primary. For those who are blissfully unaware, Ned Lamont is running against Sen. Joe Lieberman. Unlike some on the Right, I'm not particularly enamored with Sen. Joe. In the 2000 campaign Joe repudiated most of the principled positions he ever took in order to get on the bottom end of the Presidential ticket. Ever since then I thought he was truly much more Machiavellian than his persona would lead you to believe.

I even agree with at least part of the complaint against him. If he loses the Democratic primary he get out of the race and support the winner. If he wants to run as an independent he should run as an independent now and let the D's nominate somebody else.

But reading the tea leaves it looks to me like he will win anyway, which means that the Internet-savvy hard left netroots will still be oh-for-life in real elections. This one especially will hurt, for all the hatred they have poured onto Joe's head combined with the realization that he will still be there.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The (non) shot heard around the world

In October 1978 John Paul II was elected pope, and in June of the next year he returned to Poland. He was there for nine days and saw millions of people. It is generally credited that this journey was the turning point that led to the strike in Gdansk and the formation of Solidarity a couple of years later.

It's very plausible to suppose that the return of John Paul to Poland was the most important event in world history after the end of World War II and before 9/11. But consider the other possible candidates; Suez, the Reagan-Gorbachev Rejkjavik summit in 1986, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Kennedy assassination, Gulf of Tonkin, etc. What is interesting to me is that the pope's trip is the only one of these that had no "objective" impact at all. Essentially the pope's trip consisted of several Masses and religious ceremonies, and speeches that he gave. Nothing changed except in the hearts of Poles who were there and those who heard of it secondhand. But that was quite a bit nonetheless.