Dec 062008

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek makes the case for layoffs on NPR’s Planet Money. More specifically, he explains how restrictive labor laws that make it harder to fire employees or lay them off also make it too expensive and too risky to hire employees in the first place. If there is anyone unfamiliar with that argument, now there is no excuse not to get familiar with it.

I certainly buy it, but there is also the matter of making it politically palatible. Too many libertarians make the argument, which is fine as far as it goes. But they don’t go the next step, which is to argue that we need to make an economy in which job loss is not so devastating, in which people can pick up and carry on.

The left of course has its own ideas on how to do that, mainly through social-welfare programs. There is a place for their safety nets — I for one would not advocate abolishing them — but the way they’re usually implemented makes them more like a trawler net than a safety net. And of course the motives of the left are less than pure when it comes to these things. Leftish minds concentrate wonderfully when it comes to designing programs to grow the government and make people dependent on their tender mercies. They go blank when it comes to ways to allow people to maintain their dignity and make their own choices.

Here are a few areas in which conservatives, libertarians, and non-leftish liberals could make a society in which job loss would not be so terrible:

  • Remove zoning regulations that make it hard for laid-off workers to start their own home-based businesses.
  • Remove the type of small-business regulation that almost requires specialists to deal with — including the kind of time-consuming, mind-numbing paperwork and kissing up to government officials that is so distasteful for independent-minded people. Again, this is so people can run their own businesses on the side or to provide an outlet when jobs are lost elsewhere.
  • Income tax cuts
  • Change the tax laws to foster portable benefits programs. And yes, maybe there is a place for a greater government role in paying for catastrophic or chronic health care (which could be done while reducing government involvement in other health care).
  • Property tax cuts
  • Change the tax laws that encourage people to get up to their eyeballs in debt, and instead make it worthwhile for them to save for a rainy day.

There are others that might come under the category of “A more equal capitalism” but I’ll stop here for now.