Joe Nocera Wants Businesses to Solve the Jobs Problem In 2008, rather than lay off workers, German companies reduced employee hours and the government used money set aside to pay people a portion of their lost wages. "As we suffer through our own economic hard times, the German approach is something we can only envy. Here, companies quickly lay off workers, many of whom never find their way back into the full-time labor force," writes Joe Nocera in The New York Times. But the government is looking pretty helpless at this point. "With all their cash, companies shouldn't be waiting for Congress to give them tax incentives to hire people," he writes. "They should be trying to jump-start the economy--and fend off another recession--by making investments, and hiring workers, that will lead to renewed prosperity." Unfortunately a private sector emphasis on promoting "shareholder value" above all else has business leaders focused only on short-term profits. In fact, helping the economy as a whole "get on its feet again," would benefit these companies in the long term. Businesses could enter into a joint commitment facility whereby their promise to hire a certain number of workers would only go into effect if their competitors made a similar promise. That kind of idea might not work, Nocera concedes, but it gets Americans thinking creatively about a job issue that isn't getting solved.
Joanna Weiss on 'The Help,' Barack Obama, and Progress "The Help," a movie based on a bestselling book about black maids in the South, is "the definition of a crowd-pleaser," writes Joanna Weiss in The Boston Globe. "A film that lets us pat ourselves on the back over how far we've come." The movie tells the story of Skeeter, a girl raised by a black maid, that returns from college, interviews many black maids anonymously, and publishes their experiences in a book which influences others. Audiences can celebrate that America no longer resembles the overtly racist society depicted in the film. But Weiss cautions the American audience against just cheering for battles on equality that we have already won. "If we've lost most of our tolerance for stark discrimination, we've moved onto different battles, over subtler ills: embedded prejudices, achievement gaps, structural inequalities." In "The Help," the racists are more cartoonish in their villainy and they get satisfying but mild comeuppances. Americans cheer such plots because we look for validation and symbolism. For instance, Barack Obama won the presidency in part because of what he stood for, Weiss argues. His presidency has not turned out to be quite the transformative unifier that was sought. On the other hand, he does represent the progress we like to applaud in movies like "The Help." After all, "He's not only the first black president now; he's also just the president, capable of plenty of misjudgments and mistakes. If he wins or loses in 2012, it will be largely on his merits, his actions, his ability to translate ideas into a campaign," she writes. "That's not Hollywood-caliber drama, but it’s progress."