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August 17, 2005

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Incompetents? (Bush Labor Department Issue)

David Wessel writes about the drawbacks of having the government run by people who don't care whether or not its programs work:

WSJ.com - Capital: To qualify for wage insurance, a group of workers must declare interest when they apply for conventional trade aid, and then must show they lack easily transferable skills, a very hard-to-interpret standard.... [T]he ball moved to the Labor Department, which waited until the day the law said the program was to begin... to issue guidelines.... 38 states reported "at least some difficulty" in implementing the program....

Initially, the Labor Department trade-adjustment-assistance application form didn't even include a box to check to apply for wage insurance... the current form still requires employers... to know what "alternative trade adjustment assistance" is.

Workers laid off by VF Intimates LP of Johnstown, Pa., were denied wage insurance in September 2004 because no one checked the box. After eight months of back and forth... the [Labor] department reversed itself in May and declared the workers eligible.... [I]n contrast to some other Labor programs, wage insurance gets surprisingly little marketing. "Our federal partners haven't issued flyers or anything like that," says Curtis Morrow of North Carolina's Employment Security Commission. The Labor Department's Web site is far from user-friendly, in contrast to Agriculture and Commerce department sites for aid to farmers and firms hurt by trade.

Howard Rosen, a former Democratic congressional staffer long involved with helping workers hurt by trade, is baffled and frustrated by the administration's lack of enthusiasm for what he deems the most efficient way to help dislocated workers because it nudges them back to work. "I just wish the Labor Department was as aggressive in pursuing trade adjustment assistance as the U.S. Trade Representative is in pursuing free-trade agreements," he says.

Calling attention to workers hurt by trade is uncomfortable for free traders. They prefer to focus on benefits of low-cost imports and high-paying export jobs. But the only way to persuade the public and politicians not to erect barriers to globalization and trade is to equip young workers to compete and protect older workers who are harmed. Creating programs with a few votes in Congress, and then botching the execution, doesn't help.

Posted by DeLong at August 17, 2005 08:36 PM