Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.  His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed on a podcast: https://mortonjohn.libsyn.com.

I spend too much time with old folks like me, folks who interpret the world through fantasies born of their experiences. They and I have hardening of the intellect as a result of inadequate interactions with the diverse people of our communities.

Take the self-righteous conservatives and liberals with whom I associate and identify. They (We) think they (we) understand today’s world because they (we) lived in yesterday’s world.

Conservatives view the world through cataracts that cloud the subtleties of life. Liberals wear lenses that put halos around strangers. But both “know” the truth and have inflexible remedies to cure all ailments.  

Take the imbalance between the demand for labor and the supply of labor. In the 19th century version of economics, an imbalance cannot exist; wages will adjust so that supply and demand come into balance and bless-ed equilibrium will prevail.

If this holy state does not exist, according to 20th century economics, it is the result of “sticky wages.” That is the failure of employers to raise wages and/or the failure of workers to lower their expectations. 

More recent thinking of conservatives and liberals blames government. Governments fail to educate workers to the needs of business today. Public schools fail to inculcate “business-friendly” values among students, such as punctuality, deference to authority, and good grooming.

Public transit doesn’t get low-paid workers to employment opportunities. Governments impose health, safety, and environmental rules that kill jobs. Simultaneously, governments fail to enforce health, safety, and environmental rules to protect workers and the general public.

In addition, government is weak in yielding to the demands of business/labor. Business subsidies are freely given under the fiction that business operates in the public interest. Labor subsidies are governmental payoffs for votes; how else can one explain a minimum wage?

This mismatch between jobs and workers could be solved by business accepting responsibility. Employers (public and private) do not offer much training for new hires. Our society operates on the premise workers are responsible for being “work-ready” at the time of employment.

Consider the teacher: S/he graduates with an education degree plus a few hours of classroom experience and is tossed into a teeming pot of teen hormones without any protection. Mentors are few, guidance is scarce. S/he is responsible for any further education or specialization.

Employers’ expectations are often unrealistic. Most are unwilling to change how they recruit their workforce. Similarly, they decline to pay either the taxes for public education or the fees/wages to support private training. Unions and other collectives could provide such training in many fields, but organizational inertia dominates the dynamic labor market.  

Fresh eyes connected to open minds are what we need for the many boards and committees operating under the name of Workforce Development.