Tuesday, October 11, 2011
In a seminar at the IMF, Tom Sargent said that when he was in graduate school at Harvard in the 1960s, low European unemployment rates “were viewed as a great success and envied” by Americans. John Kennedy’s May 1961 speech to the U.S. Congress, famous today for its rhetoric about the space race (“this nation should commit itself to . . . launching a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth”), was in fact concerned largely with matters much closer to home. First and foremost on the U.S. president’s mind was his country’s high unemployment: “Large-scale unemployment during a recession is bad enough, but large-scale unemployment during a period of prosperity would be intolerable.” The 1970’s and 1980’s, however, saw a reversal in fortunes as European unemployment rates shot up dramatically. Sargent’s seminar examined why this reversal in fortunes came about. Today, as fears are being expressed about America’s labor market becoming Euro-scelerotic, Sargent’s work on unemployment remains highly relevant.
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