August 15, 2017
More Americans would rather not work than take jobs for stingy wages
In the early years of the Obama administration, as new taxes on upper-income Americans were enacted as part of Obamacare and the expiry of the Bush tax cut loomed, it was common to hear libertarian types warn that businesspeople and entrepreneurs might just Go Galt.
That is to say, if they determined that losing 50 cents of every dollar in taxation wasn’t worth their trouble, they’d take a cue from the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged , fold up their businesses, and quit work altogether.
Check out this March 2009 Michelle Malkin column for an exegesis of this, um, idea. “Enough ,” she wrote. “While they take to the streets politically, untold numbers of America’s wealth producers are going on strike financially.”
The logic of protesting taxes on income above a certain threshold by forgoing all income—including the income taxed at much higher rates—always escaped me. But people don’t always behave in a rational manner, and they continually do have to weigh the utility of working for what will not be a satisfactory return against the free time or leisure they might enjoy from not working at all. Anyway, the movement fared about as well as the widely panned, hardly seen 2011 film adaptation of Rand’s book.
Fast-forward eight years, and it seems that a different group of people may be deciding to Go Galt: workers.
Earlier this week, the Department of Labor released the latest Job Opening and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) report, which tallies job openings, hires, and quits. In June, the number of open positions spiked to 6.2 million, up 461,000 from May. That’s slightly more than the entire population of Missouri. It’s a record, and it’s up 11 percent from June 2016.
There are plenty of explanations for the seeming shortage of workers. Baby boomers are exiting the workforce. Many of the undocumented immigrants who fill low-paying service jobs have left the country or have been deported. The economy has been expanding for more than eight years, and the unemployment rate is 4.3 percent.
Which means many of the people who can hold down jobs—or want to hold down jobs—already have them. In some areas, the need to pass drug tests is disqualifying individuals from the workforce. And in some instances, there just aren’t enough people with the relevant skills to fill the openings.