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Week in Review

This week WRM had two essays that should be read together. The first looked at the multi-faceted crisis facing the American young today, examining factors from the decline of marriage to economic stagnation. He argued that a major factor is the the imbalances in the job market: 

Automation is going to continue eating away at the clerical and professional jobs: stuff-processing factory jobs and information-processing office jobs will continue to be vulnerable to advances in IT. Until we build a service based economy that brings the supply and demand of labor into a better balance, both employment and incomes will continue to be serious problems for the country at large and for young people trying to start and build families.

One challenge to fixing this supply/demand balance in the service sector is the belief that service jobs breed servility and creates class distinctions. That belief flared up on the internet this week when the NYT ran a story about nanny consulting firms, and WRM’s second essay was a response to the outrage:

Working with and for people is not inherently degrading. Teachers and doctors work with people and are rightly respected for what they do. Hair stylists and chefs can be awesomely talented and some will end up extremely wealthy.

Moreover, the new service economy is not going to be a revival of the old feudal system. There may well be nannies and butlers in the future, but they will be much better compensated and much more in demand than even the most loyal of the Downton Abbey crowd. A nanny who is learning to be a nutritionist and a gourmet cook has a much brighter future than Lady Mary’s lady’s maid.

More than that, many of the new service workers are going to be internet-enabled workers who function more like professionals than like lackeys. There will be people who help you and your kids figure out where to go to college and how to get in. There will be job and life coaches who help you keep your skills up and manage your career path in an increasingly complex world. There will be many more music, dance and theater teachers and coaches than we have today. More people will work with athletic trainers and coaches. There will be more professional nutritionists who may double as personal shoppers and in some cases as chefs.

The same Europe that once welcomed President Obama with wild enthusiasm is now going sour on his foreign policy, but the big news internationally this week centers on Russia and India. Russia is rapidly losing friends in the area, and is reaching out to Vietnam to compensate for other losses. But the true pearl of great price is Ukraine, who will decide this month whether to cast her lot in with Russia or with the EU. Meanwhile, India is beefing up its Navy at the same time that it snubs the Commonwealth conference, a meeting of the heads of state of former British colonies, which is being held in Sri Lanka this week. To top it off, price controls and early Christmas shopping are combining to cause riots in Venezuela, and a new Japanese military technology research center suggests the country’s re-militarization is continuing apace.

Obamacare is facing more opposition than its fiercest critics dared hoped possible, so much so that the polls this week showed skyrocketing distrust of the Democratic party’s ability to handle health care policy. In response, President Obama attempted to shift blame for the ongoing market disruption onto the insurance industry by proposing a “fix” that leaves them in the lurch. Wonks, staffers, and industry experts were stunned by the President’s “fix,” which many believe is not only unworkable but will even make the problems with the law worse. Things have gotten so bad that the NYT pondered whether the ACA rollout will be Obama’s Katrina moment, and Bill Clinton himself publicly called for changes to the law.

The week brought both good and bad news on the energy front. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is making good progress in winning over the country’s opposition party to support his energy reforms, and US oil production surpassed imports last month for the first time since 1995. A new IEA report confirms that the shale revolution will put America in good economic stead for many years to come. On the other hand, the evidence becomes clearer every day that the green preference for corn ethanol is wrecking the planet, and the New York Times is doing its best to promote solar energy, another failed green idea. Cap off your reading of our energy coverage by looking at these insightful (though occasionally silly) predictions by economist David Levinson about how commuting will help make the work week shorter and more humane.

In education news, we found out that bad policy and economic trends aren’t the only thing driving youth unemployment: college grads often lack the basic skills and habits to succeed. Given the way our educational system isolates students from responsibility and the world of work, this, sadly, isn’t surprising. Luckily reform measures are making progress on the state level, and some MOOCs are forming an innovative new partnership with Linked-in. But—surprise!—law schools continue to hemorrhage money—colleges and graduate programs need deep structural changes to survive.

[Image: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks while Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu listens during a meeting in the Oval Office, September 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama was meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Syria and Iran; courtesy Getty.]

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