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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press NYT Shows the Increasing Role of Luck and Randomness on Its Oped Page

NYT Shows the Increasing Role of Luck and Randomness on Its Oped Page

Saturday, 10 March 2012 21:35

The country is suffering as a result of continued high unemployment, growing inequality, and the loss of trillions of dollars of wealth that has left the huge baby boom cohorts unprepared for retirement. In this situation what does the NYT put on its oped page? A piece by Todd and Victoria Buchholz complaining that young people increasing think that luck is the main determinant of economic outcomes in the United States.

It is understandable that young people would see luck as the main determinant of outcomes, since it clearly is not qualifications. Anyone want to argue that the people who sent the economy into the toilet were the most talented folks available for the job?

But much of the rest of the piece also makes no sense. The Buchholzes complain that 18-year-olds are much less likely to have a drivers license today than 30 years ago. This is taken as a reduced impulse to mobility.

That could be the case, but the more likely explanation is the increased restrictions that states are placing on young drivers. Did the Buchholzes not know about these restrictions or did they just choose to ignore them because they didn't fit their story?

They also complain that people are less likely to move across state lines. Again, if they had done their homework they would know that interstate moves always drop in a downturn. It is not surprising that in a downturn as bad as the current one, there would be a big falloff in mobility.

After all, there is no point in moving if there is nowhere to go. In other downturns there were areas of solid growth even as the rest of the nation was slumping. For example, in the 1981-82 recession, many people could look to the oil boom in Texas as a source of employment.

Where would someone go for a job today? The Buchholzes suggest North Dakota with its 3.3 percent unemployment rate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Dakota currently has roughly 400,000 jobs. If the number of jobs increased by 10 percent (a huge rise), it could absorb less than 0.4 percent of the unemployed workers in the country.

Perhaps unemployed workers don't drop everything and rush to North Dakota because they have a better understanding of economics and arithmetic than the Buchholzes. Their likelihood of getting a good paying job in North Dakota is in fact very low. If the Buchholzes did their homework before writing a column for the NYT, they would know this. 

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Emily, March 11, 2012 12:48
The Times is trying. so. hard. to make its revamped Sunday review section a success. Unfortunately, it's either random and off-base (like today) or just really boring. Earlier this week they let John "Torture Memo" Yoo co-write an op-ed, which I can only take as a sign that the editorial staff is on vacation.
The Joads and the Waltons
written by Chris, March 11, 2012 7:27
Young people need to be more like Tom Joad?! This reminds me of when George H.W. Bush said, in the middle of a recession, that Americans needed to be less like the Simpsons and more like the Waltons. Also, they seem to have misunderstood the spirit of Springsteen's song if all they can say is that it's "depressing."
written by runst, March 11, 2012 7:44
It's almost as if the Buchholzes got an op-ed into the NYT because of luck, rather than merit.
written by spooz, March 11, 2012 8:46
Maybe one reason young people aren't getting drivers licenses is the high cost of driving, between insurance and fuel, not to mention a car. Affording those things on low wages due to under/unemployment is getting harder and harder.
written by skeptonomist, March 11, 2012 9:56
Since wealth in the US has increasingly been generated by finance rather than production, and there is a large element of chance in finance (when it is honest), there are valid grounds for an increasing belief in the role of chance.

The Comerica automobile affordability index is based on median family income. Real family income increased for a long time mainly because of the increasing participation of women, that is second earners in the family; individual wages have been basically stagnant or worse since the 70's. Since second earners (wives) generally need vehicles too, the money available for teenagers' cars may have actually decreased.
Random in the 1980s
written by Helaine, March 11, 2012 1:01
I'm so glad you took this up, because I just have to point out to someone, somewhere that the phrase "random" was so frequently spoken by students at the Pioneer Valley colleges (that's Smith, Amherst, UMass, etc.) that I say it to this day. It's not a new usage.
Candy From Strangers
written by Beth in OR, March 12, 2012 2:17
Thank you for taking on these aspersions, Dean. The unemployed just don't want to work meme was false to begin with and remains false today. Now they're hustling for the oil & gas fields.

"...But sometime in the past 30 years, someone has hit the brakes and Americans — particularly young Americans — have become risk-averse and sedentary...." Bucholz piece.

Oh really? What happened about 30 years ago? Oh, wages stagnated, two incomes were suddenly required to pay the basic housing and living costs of one family, and the value of community support and family once again became critically necessary. Industry became less important than quality of life once again.

"...For about $200, young Nevadans who face a statewide 13 percent jobless rate can hop a Greyhound bus to North Dakota, where they’ll find a welcome sign and a 3.3 percent rate. " Bucholzes, again.

Yes, head out to the oil & gas rush, kids. Toxic? Prove it! What do you mean you're a business major, not a heavy truck mechanic? You have a degree in Library Science, and you don't know how to weld? What's wrong with you? http://rapidcityjournal.com/ne...3ce6c.html

Get out there, ya slackers. They'll be building housing next year, so you'll only have to sleep in shifts temporarily.

And Ladies, there's work for you, too. You can sling burgers to a bunch of Hate Radio-loving oil riggers. You'll make almost $15 an hour with potential for side jobs. Doesn't that sound great? jeebus.
So many Buchholz errors . . .
written by Hugh Sansom, March 12, 2012 3:55
I always get a kick out of someone who teaches college students (if Todd Buchholz still does that) making errors that would earn failing marks for a student. The Times op-ed is so riddled with error and deception that it is scarcely worth reading at all. For example, the two writers trumpet the number of "20-somethings" living at home... No mention of what percentages are in college compared with 1980 and might still be listing as their legal residence their parents' home. The percentages attending college has certainly risen significantly. Likewise, the two simply falsify some things. In fact, "The Great Recession" had begun in 2008. It's official start is now placed in 2007. As we all should know (and certainly someone billing himself as an economist should), the downturn was well underway in 2007, unemployment rising, etc. Another factor to consider in young adults living at home. And housing costs drastically outpaced inflation in that interval. There had been little if any deflation of the bubble by 2008 — yet another reason for people in their early 20s to be at home rather than heading off to the metropolis of North Dakota.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.