Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Human Suffering is Absolute

The expanding Main Street Depression in the US is now accelerating, and in absolute terms, the level of human suffering reached to date surpasses that of the Great Depression of the 1930's. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 15.1 million Americans were unemployed as of July 2010. In contrast, 12.8 million Americans were unemployed at the peak of the Great Depression in 1933.

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I personally refuse to marginalize human suffering using ratio analysis, and I would urge our fiscal and monetary policy-makers to do the same. When historians study wars, they count casualties in absolute numbers of souls rather than as percentages of some given population. Likewise, economists must learn to study depressions using the absolute numbers of people effected. The Main Street Depression now imploding America is a horrific event in our nation's history that needs to be understood in absolute terms and numbers that make it real rather than abstract. Said another way, economists must learn that human suffering is absolute.

Related Posts:

Main Street Depression Imploding America

Percentage Employed in US Continues Slide

Unemployed Should Consider Emigration

Depressions Past and Present

Main Street USA in Economic Depression

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are really truly an idiot. Which is why you are an "economist"." You simply don't exist in the real world. The policies you seem to think will help mankind are actually themselves extremely cruel. You are just not bright.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Hi Anonymous, getting back to the "real world" is what I am advocating, and human suffering is always real. The human suffering that is resulting from the Main Street Depression is as real as it gets...

Anonymous said...

Human suffering is absolute, however, there are now programs that use income from workers (taxpayers) to help reduce the suffering of unemployed. Hence the other side of the ratio DOES matter and that safety net (imperfect though it may be) didn't exist in the Great Depression.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Hi Anonymous, if you believe the "other side of the ratio" matters, then you still do not understand that human suffering is absolute, sorry...

Anonymous said...

HUH?

you are proposing the following:

A country had a population of 100000people with 10000 unemployed (that is 10%). In absolute terms that's 10000 people.

After 100 years this country grew to 1000000 people, with an unemployment of 20000 people. Dear God! According to you we should all be horrified as it is DOUBLE the previous amount. We should not look at the ratio, just the absolute amount. Well 20000 people out of 1000000 would be 2% unemployment rate. What a FANTASTIC employment situation.

OK I will not continue at this point because your post is just plain silly.

Are you sure you're a DR?

Anonymous said...

So if I understand you right a system with 2 people that has one unemployed is superior two a system that has one million people with two unemployed, simply because 1<2 ?? Really? I don't think that I would want to live in your world.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Hello Anonymous, I maintain that human suffering is absolute. Ratios only marginalize the suffering of people, and so yes, absolute terms must be used to describe that suffering. "Macro-thinking" about human suffering is part of the problem, because suffering is not something to be "managed" -- human suffering is absolute...

Anonymous said...

Ratios portray the mount of suffering accurately as absolute numbers equal fuzzy math for you to bolster your erroneous statement.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Sorry Anonymous, but you have it backwards. Ratios are about "fuzzy" math. Absolute numbers are not at all "fuzzy."

Anonymous said...

Absolutes and ratios only matter to the person trying to make a point. If the Ratio was in favor of the person trying to make a point then it would be used.

As others have stated, you are using numbers because they work in your favor. The great depression cannot be compared to the conditions today. I dont see people setting up tents in NYC because they have no place to go.

Yes we all agree more people may be unemployed today but they have food, shelter and 100+ weeks of unemployment benefits.

Anonymous said...

Sorry DR William, but I am having to go with anonymous1 with this one. Back in the 30's, you didn't get 99 weeks of unemployment checks for sitting on your butt. I also have yet to see the soup lines that we had back then. We are able to offset this "absolute" suffering due to the fact that we have more people contributing to taxes to the social system. Plus we can trillions from the Chinese to fund this. Long term, sure it may be a problem, but we are yet to hit the long term mark so it's hard to tell.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Human suffering is absolute...

Anonymous said...

Simple question: would you rather be unemployed back in the 30's or now? That will give you your answer that everything is relative.

JM said...

This is a humanistic issue, and a tragedy in the making. Dr. William is 100% right; beyond these charts, middle-class families with disabled children will lose benefits and vocational services because of PARASITES like Blankfein. And the best thing is that Goldman Sach's and Co. have managed to dupe the people into thinking it is the public sectors fault.

These crooks have the salaries of city-budgets. Don't start with the Mao-Beck spiel. This being said, I am not a socialist..I just believe that a balance b/w public/private sector is healthy. What is not healthy is disgusting "usury" and illegal credit issuing

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Thanks for your comment Anonymous, but human suffering, like grief, is not relative -- human suffering is absolute...

Anonymous said...

According to you , being unemployed in Africa is exactly the same as being unemployed in the USA. Since it's all abosulute we can look at it apples to apples....
Ahh this American system, you have everything handed to you and you still complain...

Anonymous said...

If I didn't read the news, I wouldn't know there is a "Main Street Depression" in the US with lots of human suffering.

I don't know a single person unemployed. Everyone in my circle of friends/acquaintances/co-workers are fully employed, buying houses/new cars, going on vacation, etc. In other words, living as most middle class do.

I continue to get raises and bonuses at work (as I have for the last 3-4 years). Some benefits that were suspended at the start of the recession have been restored (401k company match, etc). My company continues to have record increased revenues/profit. And I just got an unsolicited job offer from another firm.

I'm sure there is some suffering out there, and unemployment, but I certainly don't see it and am not exposed to it. Life is good. I think I will stop reading the news, it only gets me down.

Anonymous said...

The truth is, most people tha are suffering created their own. They are the one's who took out speculative loans on houses they couldn't afford. never gamble with money you can't afford to lose, 1st rule of investing.

Also most unemployed people are from industries that are inefficient and unable to compete in the global market. how long did you think you could continue getting paid $25/hr to bolt a nut on a car wheel?

While you were getting overpaid to do this, you should have been hoarding your money and preparing yourself for a new line of work instead of blowing it on toys.

We all have to lie in the beds we make.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Hi Anonymous, you said that "the truth is..." What evidence do you have that "most people that are suffering created their own"? Absolute numbers of human-beings suffering is as real as the truth gets from my perspective.

Anonymous said...

Dr W:
The evidence lies in our current predicament.

Sure some people are victims of consequence, but our society as a whole created our current turmoil.

instead of looking at creating long term sustainable growth, we chose to be greedy. No interest mortgages, negative equity loans, all so we could flip houses into short term profits.

look at what that got us.

Remember that foreclosures, and negative equity sitautions aren't in the thousands, they are in the millions.

Also, people supporting the fake mortgage financing industry now are unemployed, because it was never a sustainable path.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for commenting. I agree with you that "society as a whole created our current turmoil." However, knowing the proximate cause of human suffering does not erase or mitigate that suffering. My point is to say that more human-beings are suffering from unemployment in the US today than at the peak of the Great Depression in 1933. This fact is real and should not be distorted, rationalized, marginalized, or demonized. Human suffering is absolute. Thanks again for commenting...

Anonymous said...

Ok so your contribution to the world is : more people are unemplyed today than in 1933.

Wow, thanks for that insightful thought.

Not meaning to be rude, but your article doesn't add anything new

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for agreeing with my point...

Anonymous said...

Until it happens to you, you will not understand. I lost my job twice within 7 months of each other and I have a graduate degree.
I did everything corectly, by saving for a home, retirement, etc. and it is all gone. Now I have to start over. Listen to the Dr., that's why he is a Dr.
I hope you don't lose your job, but yet, you will not understand what the rest of us are going through currently.

Anonymous said...

Dr. McKibbin, you're not getting the first responder's point. What he's saying is that he's perfectly happy with over 15 million Americans unemployed. That's their problem, not his. And as long as they're unemployed, he's in a better financial and social position.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Americans with jobs should refrain from publicly minimizing, distorting, rationalizing, marginalizing, or demonizing the plight of those who are suffering from unemployment -- it's only decent -- human suffering is absolute...

Anonymous said...

So what is you definition of suffering?
is it a 2 block walk to the bus stop instead of 1?
I "struggled" to pay for college and had to work while attending....is that suffering?
I think not. As others have pointed out, while not all of them, there are many who are preferring to stay unemployed until benefits run out. So interviewees are asking to defer starting that new job or be paid "under the table" until their 126 weeks are up....So maybe their suffering is not so bad...and certainly you CANNOT say that 100% of the unemployed are suffering. So what exactly do the numbers really mean??

Anonymous said...

Ok, I do not ish anything bad upon anybody.

As i said, everyone must lie in the beds they make.

And I do feel bad for those who did everything right, weren't greedy but are now suffering as a result of others.

however, we did have a decade of exponential growth, in which we should have been saving for a rainy day. It's here now.

JF said...

Some people just don't get it. May I rephrase that. Some working people just don't get it.

Times have changed, and losing a job now is more likely and more devastating than ever before. Chances are slim that you will find a job soon, no matter how educated, experienced or good a worker you are. Your savings, which have taken years to build up, will be gone in a few short months. Your house will possibly be gone, too. And you'll know what it's really like to feel hunger. If that's not suffering, what is?

Anyone who bashes the unemployed should be very careful of what they say. There's a good chance they will no longer be the breadwinner, but in the bread line soon.

Anonymous said...

JF has just described me.

I have two degrees, had about two years worth of mortgage payments in savings and retirement funds, have a house that I could very reasonably afford while employed and no other debt. Due to cutbacks, I lost my job approximately 14 months ago. I have submitted a couple hundred job applications both throughout US and internationally and have had no luck. Either I am under or over qualified. I am working part-time in a minimum wage job and listed my house for sale 8 months ago (no offers even though it's priced equal to those in the neighborhood and less than it's original purchase price).

I am not lazy. I am certainly not uneducated. I am not "living off the government." If you ever got an unemployment check you'd laugh at the thought of living off it! I collected less than $250 a week - and that was if I didn't work part time somewhere as your net income for a week is subtracted from that $250 so many weeks I collected $0. I didn't live beyond my means. I am a hard-working, tax-paying citizen who desperately needs a real job comparable to the ones I have held for the past 15 years.

Unfortunately, I am not alone. I can name several educated hard working people in exactly my situation. We come from middle class families. We are not people who are asking for handouts. We are people who contribute in the community. I volunteer in the school system, on several 5K race committees and with the local soup kitchen.

At the end of each day I am thankful I still have a roof over my head and food to eat. I still consider myself one of the lucky ones and hope that the next application will land me a job.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Hi Anonymous, my heart goes out to you and others who are suffering hard times during this "Main Street Depression" -- best wishes to you as you continue your search for suitable employment in America -- more Americans today are suffering from job losses (in absolute numbers) than at the peak of the Great Depression in 1933...

FYF said...

Thank you for this post. I think it is important to remember that in a race to compare the suffering of people, nobody is a winner. Unemployment does not include all of the people searching for work, people who did and gave up, and the underemployed. I wish we had more people in Congress who think the same way we do. Perhaps then there would be more effort put into making sure that jobs are created rather than reducing taxes on estates and the rich's personal income.

Anonymous said...

And what happens when the govt. wakes up and stops extending unemployment benefits?

Anonymous said...

I like how some of these comments are like "I am educated, I am middle class, etc, and unemployed." (which is sad) However, there seems to be this idea that's not stated that if you are working class or a minority, then you deserve what's coming to you. People with just high school diplomas deserve good jobs. African Americans deserve good jobs. Women deserve good jobs. Latinos deserve good jobs. Not everyone can be super educated upper middle class white men, and yes, garbage men deserve to be paid a decent living.

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