Dr. Seuss and the Economy

Thursday, November 29 - Do I have your attention? We don’t often see those two subjects paired, right?

It certainly caught my attention when I opened my copy of “Reconnecting to Work: Policies to Mitigate Long-Term Unemployment and Its Consequences” recently published by the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

The forward, written by celebrated economist Richard B. Freeman of Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, carried the provocative title “What Happened to Shared Prosperity and How to Get Them Back: A Seussian Perspective.”

"Seussian" as in Dr. Seuss, AKA Theodor Geisel, creator of The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, Horton the Elephant and a whole lot of other characters you probably know from childhood.

Theodor Geisel who – even before his death in 1991 – was not generally recognized as a man who had perspective on the economy or jobs.

This doesn’t phase Freeman who attended a conference titled “Reconnecting to Work” at UCLA in 2011 as the United States was facing “9-10 percent unemployment and little sign of substantive job growth in the foreseeable future” and got to thinking. Using characters such as the Grinch, the Whos of Whoville, Horton , the Once-ler, Freeman very deftly – and quite humorously – sounds a warning that structural issues which he blames for the weak labor market are still prevalent. Yet he also declares “I am more optimistic than I was at the reconnecting to Work conference that the United States will come out of Wall Street’s financial implosion and the Great Recession with reforms that will restore full employment and prosperity for all citizens. I hope that economics and social science, and, more broadly, policy analysis, are up to the task of developing efficient programs to help attain this goal.”

It’s a great read and many of the essays assembled (written by scholars from around the world) are equally interesting. Particularly noteworthy for those of us who don’t study the minutae of economic trends is Chapter 4, “Causality in the Relationship between Mental Health and Unemployment” written by Timothy M. Diette and Arthur Goldsmith (both of Washington and Lee University), Darrick Hamilton (The New School) and William Darity Jr. (Duke University).

Diette et al find “extensive evidence of a direct link between mental health and involuntary joblessness; however, the possibility that poor emotional well-being leads to long periods of unemployment has left the question of causality unresolved. .. We find that long-term unemployment – but not short-term unemployment – promotes psychological distress among resilient persons.”

Learn more here.