When Meaningless “Advisory Councils” Attack

Politicians asked to make a tough decision often resort to “advisory councils” and “task forces” as a way to defer making the decision.  Convince people that the decision involves a complex issue, pledge to appoint a “blue-ribbon panel” filled with the finest “subject-matter experts” who will make recommendations, and then lean back and enjoy the respite for however long it takes the panel to investigate, and talk, and hear from other subject matter experts.

It’s pretty foolproof, unless you forget that it’s a double-edged sword.  You’ve argued that the issue is a vital one, meriting careful analysis by this top-notch council of eggheads, so you can’t blow them off or fail to meet with them.  If you do, you’re either communicating that the issue isn’t really that important, or that the creation of the panel was an obvious dodge — or both.

That’s why the news that President Obama’s “Jobs Council” hasn’t met in half a year is such a dumb, self-inflicted wound for the President — one that should cause staff heads to roll.  You can’t expect the President to remember the name of every pointless commission, panel, and advisory group currently examining various issues or federal governmental functions, much less think about how often they’ve met.  When the President’s “Jobs Council” was formed, a staff member should have calendared a meeting every two months, no exceptions, and scheduled the President’s other events around that standing meeting — at least until the election occurs. The President would be bored for an hour or two, but that’s a small price to pay for the political value of the “advisory council” device.

Instead, the President looks like he’s more interested in fund-raising and making speeches to high school students than meeting with the experts to hear their thoughts on how we can get the economy moving again and create the significant jobs that accompany economic expansion.  That’s not a great message to send during an election year, when high unemployment and economic issues are weighing very heavily on the minds of huge numbers of voters.

When People Give Up

The April unemployment rate dropped slightly, to 8.1 percent.  Unfortunately, the decline was due not so much to the creation of new jobs, but to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people just quit looking for work.

Under the government’s approach to calculating the unemployment rate, those people just aren’t counted as unemployed any more.  As a result of the continuing decline in the number of people looking for work, the share of Americans who are part of the labor force — either working or actively looking — has reached its lowest point in 30 years.  Some of the people who have quit looking for work are early retiring Baby Boomers, but many are people who have just given up hope of finding a job.

There is a tremendous human cost when people give up.  They may have started their job search with confidence, sending out resumes and answering want ads and going to job fairs.  But, after months without success, grim reality creeps in.  They know they have failed, and it embarrasses them.  Often, because they are embarrassed, they lash out at family and friends.  They limit their horizons, rationalize their failure, and stop dreaming of a better future.  They focus, instead, on settling and making do with what they have left.  The whole process sucks the air out of their balloon and they face life deflated and defeated.

There’s a reason why many parents won’t allow their kids to quit a sports team or a school activity once they’ve committed to it.  That’s because quitting tends to lead to more quitting.  Once you’ve stopped trying in one area, and just accepted your reduced status, it becomes progressively easier to quit in other areas, too — whether it is school, or work, or relationships.  Quitting is cancerous.

I think this is the hidden, long-term issue we will be dealing with if this recession ever ends.  There are people of all age groups who have given up.  The younger ones may have moved back in with their parents; the older ones may be slowly spending their savings and trying to hold on.  Will those people ever be reinvigorated, given their confidence back, and returned to the point where they dare to dream again?

Bleak, Bleak, Bleak

I haven’t written about the economy for a while, and there is a reason for that:  I am trying to maintain a positive attitude this summer, and the economic news has been unrelentingly bad.  Avoidance therefore is the only path to optimism.

Of course, it is impossible to fully ignore the news, which is discouraging.  The latest report on unemployment, which came out yesterday, is a good example.  Every month, millions of Americans remain out of work, as the economy continues to be mired in a recession.  And when the bad economic news is combined with the reports on the lack of progress toward a political agreement that would meaningfully address our national budget and deficit issues, it becomes hard to put on a happy face.

As a lifelong Cleveland sports fan, I am used to pessimism and disappointment.  As a country, however, we sure could use some good economic news for a change.

A Heap of Trouble

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Bob often writes about the problems of the University of Michigan football team, but those problems pale in comparison to the problems the state of Michigan has, and more specifically the city of Detroit. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I happened to stumble on to some pictures shown in this article of downtown Detroit and I am wondering how does this happen ?

In 1913 Detroit was the world’s car capital with Henry Ford building the first of his factories employing 90,000 workers to supply the growing American middle class with fairly inexpensive transportation, the Model T. Yet in less than 100 years Michigan is facing a $2 billion dollar shortfall and a loss of 500,000 residents since 2001.

The state is caught in a downward spiral that has the states youngest, best and brightest choosing to move out of the state which leaves less people to pay for needed services and higher taxes for those that stay.

Since the youngest are leaving the state in big numbers the population is becoming increasing older, meaning more Medcaid payments, not to mention the states very high unemployment rate of 13%.

I wonder what happens to a state if they can’t get these trends turned around ? Yesterday I heard Ben Bernanke say that the Federal Reserve will not get involved in state bailouts and I don’t think I am in favor of the federal government doing so, but it’s ashame to see such a dramatic decline in what was once such a vibrant city.

Hopefully this isn’t the trend of things to come.