Through the Eyes of Yankelovich

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Through the Eyes of Yankelovich Photographs courtesy of Daniel Yankelovich

Through the Eyes of Yankelovich

Challenging the Economist Worldview

IN a recent New York Times article, the noted American economist Tyler Cowen challenged one of the truisms of economic theory: the assumption that it is just a matter of time before technological innovation replaces all the jobs that it destroys. Economists have taken this assumption for granted ever since Britain proved the Luddite challenge unfounded in the late 18th century. The Luddites wanted to destroy the new machines that they felt were destroying their jobs. But as time passed, technology came to be seen as a mighty creator as well as destroyer of jobs.

Cowen points to an ever-growing abundance of evidence that technology in today’s global economy is threatening skilled middle-class jobs and low-skilled ones. This is reducing the ranks of highly paid workers and lowering the wages of the typical four-year-college graduates.

As a non-economist, I have been waiting a long time for an economist of Cowen’s stature to point to a threat that is increasingly recognized outside the economist profession. For non-economists, there is something mystical and illogical about the assumption that there will always be enough good jobs to go around. It reveals a superstitious faith in the concept of a self-sustaining economy always striving for equilibrium. Indeed, I think Cowen’s question should be reframed in stronger terms: “Why, we should ask ourselves, should we go on believing in the ‘old normal’ when the evidence all points in a different direction?”

Could the reasons we hold onto the old faith simply be that (1) it serves the selfish interests of a lot of people in positions of power, and/or (2) it reflects the arbitrary and mostly incorrect assumption of many traditional economists that a capitalist economy works best on automatic pilot?

If current trends continue, the situation will become so threatening to the stability of our societies that economists will lose their credibility and we will be plunged into a serious political crisis.

I propose that our two economies — that of Japan and that of the United States — provisionally adopt the hypothesis that, as Cowen puts it, “We are witnessing a fundamental transformation unveiled in bits and pieces.” I propose that we form a Japan-U.S. Commission consisting of the most insightful and least ideological industrialists, political leaders, social scientists, journalists and public intellectuals of both nations.

Economists and lawyers can serve as outside consultants but not be a part of the commission. Their input would be highly valued, but not decisive. It would be funded and staffed to produce a range of possible solutions, some far-reaching in nature.

If we do not take this sort of initiative, we may lose one or two decades before we are forced to face the fundamental nature of this transformation. The delay could have harsh and unacceptable consequences. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

Written By:

Daniel Yankelovich

Tokyo Journal columnist Daniel Yankelovich is a renowned social researcher and public opinion analyst who was born in 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. He earned both his bachelor's degree (1946) and M.A.(1950) from Harvard University, and carried out post-graduate studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. He also holds honorary doctorates from Washington University and George Washington University largely for his work in the public sector.

He has served in the following roles: Founder, The New York Times/Yankelovich Poll now known as the New York Times/CBS Poll; Chairman, Educational Testing Service (ETS); Founding President, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics; Trustee, Brown University; Trustee, The Kettering Foundation; Fellow, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Member, Council on Foreign Relations, and Director of a number of corporate boards, including CBS; USWEST; the Meredith Corporation; Loral Space and Communications; Diversified Energies and ARKLA.

He has taught as a Research Professor of Psychology at New York University, a Professor of Psychology in the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, and a Visiting Professor at the University of California at San Diego. He was named a Distinguished Scholar at the University of California at Irvine and served as a Senior Fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

In addition to authoring hundreds of articles and speeches, Daniel Yankelovich is the author, editor or co-author of twelve books, the most recent being Toward Wiser Public Judgment (Vanderbilt University Press, 2011). Others include Profit with Honor: The New Stage of Market Capitalism; The Magic of Dialogue; New Rules: Searching for Self-fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down; Coming to Public Judgment; Ego and Instinct: The Psychoanalytic View of Human Nature-Revised; Beyond the Beltway: Engaging the Public in U.S. Foreign Policy; and Making Democracy Work in a Complex World, Starting with the People.

He is the recipient of The Parlin Award for his pioneering work in marketing research, the Dinerman Award of the World Association of Public Opinion Research and the Outstanding Achievement Award from the New York Chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research.


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