After referring to David Brooks as the “Bard of the 1 Percent,” I was assaulted with a barrage of threatening letters and phone calls from representatives of Thomas Friedman who insisted that he holds this title. I will let the two NYT columnists slug it out between themselves and deal with the substance.
In Sunday’s column Mr. Friedman inadvertently warns us about the potential economic risks this country suffers from being run by incompetent CEOs. Friedman recounted a conversation he had with Chicago’s new mayor, and former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanual. Emanual reportedly told him:
“I had two young C.E.O.’s in the health care software business in the other day, sitting at this table. I asked them: ‘What can I do to help you?’ They said, ‘We have 50 job openings today, and we can’t find people.’ ”
Friedman then goes on to add:
“Doug Oberhelman, the C.E.O. of Caterpillar, which is based in Illinois, was quoted in Crain’s Chicago Business on Sept. 13 as saying: ‘We cannot find qualified hourly production people, and, for that matter, many technical, engineering service technicians, and even welders, and it is hurting our manufacturing base in the United States. The education system in the United States basically has failed them, and we have to retrain every person we hire.’”
While Friedman favorably quotes Emanual describing this as, “staring right into the whites of the eyes of the skills shortage,” the most obvious shortage of skills in this story is with the CEOs. Competent CEOs know that in a market economy you attract good workers by offering higher wages.
This is known as the principle of “supply and demand.” If the demand exceeds the supply, then the price of the item in question is supposed to rise. In this case the item in question is labor. If these companies were run by competent CEOs then they would be offering higher wages in order to attract the workers that they say they need. If they offered high enough wages people would leave competitors to work for their companies. They would also move from other parts of the country or even other countries to accept their job offers. In the long-run more people would train to get the skills needed to fill the positions these employers are offering.
However, there are no major occupational categories that show large wage gains at present. This means that if employers really are having trouble attracting good workers then it must be due to the fact that they don’t understand the basics of a market economy. Unfortunately nothing in Friedman’s column indicates that Emanual or anyone else is educating CEOs on how they can raise wages in order to attract the workers they need.
It is also worth noting that Friedman implies that the Chicago school system is desperately in need of the reform that Emanuel plans to give it. Emanuel’s predecessor as mayor, Richard Daley, also placed an emphasis on reforming Chicago’s schools. From 2001 to 2009 he installed Arne Duncan, currently President Obama’s Secretary of Education, as head of the Chicago school system. If Friedman and Emanual’s complaints about the current state of Chicago’s schools are accurate, this would imply that Duncan must not have been very successful in his tenure even though he was widely acclaimed as a reformer at the time.