This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Daron Acemoglu, Professor of Economics at MIT.
Project Syndicate: You argue that the goal of creating good jobs “should guide policymakers’ approach to everything from technology, regulation, and taxes to education and social programs.” That’s easier said than done in the best of times, much less in an era marked by deep political polarization. What types of measures are policymakers likely to agree on, and which reforms are most urgent?
Daron Acemoglu: Most people are not motivated exclusively by income. They want meaningful and secure employment, which gives them the sense of being rewarded for their labor. This means that “good jobs” – which are reasonably secure and offer decent wages – are very important for a population’s welfare and for the healthy functioning of democratic institutions.
Policymakers have largely ignored the good-jobs imperative. But there is no guarantee that markets will naturally produce enough good jobs. Left to their own devices, employers might have incentives instead to create lower-wage jobs, to automate, or to squeeze their workers (in terms of wages or security), in order to increase their profits.
I see four broad areas where policy can contribute to the creation of good jobs. The first is minimum wages. If the problem is that employers are keeping wages too low – and creating the kinds of lower-productivity, lower-quality jobs that enable them to get away with it – then a wage floor would be effective.
We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Acemoglu's picks:
by Richard Wrangham
This brilliant book sheds light on why humans are, on one hand, compassionate, cooperative, and egalitarian, and, on the other hand, violent, domineering, and murderous. It advances a thought-provoking “self-domestication” hypothesis, which claims that humans made themselves much more domesticated and cooperative than most other apes, such as chimpanzees, because they formed coalitions that killed and drove away excessively dominant individuals. This idea seems to have stronger theoretical (and evidential) foundations than most group-selection hypotheses, which claim that we became cooperative, fair, and moral in order to defend our group against external enemies.
by Tony Judt
This prescient and original book – which I am now reading for the second time – identifies the fault lines in the American and British economic and political systems, showing why powerful political backlashes were inevitable.
From the PS Archive
Acemoglu argued that universal basic income schemes are not just unrealistic and ineffective, but also suspect on democratic grounds. Read the commentary.
Acemoglu and Robinson identify the three structural factors that have been crucial to right-wing nationalists’ success. Read the commentary.
Around the web
In an EconTalk podcast, Acemoglu makes the case for policies that could lead to good jobs across skill levels. Listen to the discussion.
Acemoglu engages in a wide-ranging conversation with fellow economist Tyler Cowen, covering topics from the biggest challenges currently facing the Middle East to the economic causes and effects of democratization. Listen to the podcast.