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THE BAKER BLOG: Free market has a solution for the labor shortage (opinion)

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  • Ted Baker 

Welcome to the Baker Blog, Ted’s all too infrequent, left-leaning ramblings on truth, justice, and the American Way.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

There have been two seismic shifts in American attitudes toward work, life, and shopping in the past 80 years.

The rise of American consumerism following World War II

The first occurred right after World War II. The American soldier returned to a nation unlike the one he had left just a few years ago. During the war, America became very good at making things. The lack of availability of consumer goods during the war, combined with post-depression wage growth and what would become known as the baby boom led to a consumer economy unlike any the world had ever known. You buy homes, refrigerators, cars, and appliances and we’ll make them. Everybody wins!

Our duty as patriotic Americans was clear, work hard and buy stuff. It wasn’t exactly life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but nobody complained. When you buy American products, you’re keeping America strong. What’s good for General Motors is good for America.

More sophisticated advertising techniques began to prey on our vanity, our desires, and our fears. If we buy the same shaving cream as Joe Namath, we, too, can be surrounded by babes. It was the American Century.

Remember, after the 9/11 attacks, when our president urged us to be good Americans and go shopping? Buy a fridge, go to Disney World, make a terrorist cry.

COVID-19 brings fundamental economic change

But then came the second seismic shift. In 2020, COVID-19 led to the shutdown of significant parts of the economy. People had to make do with less money, and there were fewer things available to spend that money on.

A remarkable thing happened. A lot of us were kind of OK with it. We started getting used to being without some things. If we need less money, we don’t need to work as much. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to work a second job just to pay for the second car and daycare needed to hold a second job. Maybe our ultimate purpose ISN’T to work, buy and die.

Well, to the titans of capitalism, that idea is going over like a socialist in a punchbowl. They can’t find workers and they’re none too pleased. There’s no shortage of articles out there putting the blame squarely on… us, the lazy, unpatriotic, don’t want to work generation. Here’s an article saying that people are now taking all the vacation days they’re entitled to. Others are probably eating lunch every day. My God, what would GI Joe say?

In this particular article, Cornell economist Arthur Wheaton warns about what happens if we don’t get back to work. “Whether it’s groceries or whether it’s cars, if you can’t get enough of the product in, demand is higher than supply, you charge more money,” he said.

In the free market, if demand for a thing exceeds the supply of that thing, you must pay more for it. Shouldn’t that apply to labor as well?

If no one will work for you at 15 dollars per hour, offer 18. If that doesn’t work, offer 20. Eventually, wages will go high enough to entice people to return to work, and the free market will triumph again. You might have to make do with a little less money, but trust us, it’s not that bad.

Think I’m full of it? My email address is below.