Bruce Glensky | The economy and the meaning of life

01/12/2013 4:00 PM

01/11/2013 12:14 PM

The study of the economy is the social science of how man organizes himself to provide for society’s needs and wants. The meaning of life is the philosophical argument that provides excitement for the individual to get out of bed in the morning and pursue goals that are uniquely his own. Many will say that their souls are intertwined with their careers and that when their careers have prematurely ended, that their very souls have been destroyed.

The last sentence is a statement of the negative. Ayn Rand made the argument in the positive when she wrote “The Fountainhead.” Specifically, her argument was that 3 percent of people have such an immense drive of inquiry, the pursuit of knowledge, and the creative nature, that all of society is driven technologically forward by their activity. In essence, it is this group that provides the productivity that drives the standard of living for all of us.

Unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed was part of the recent debate over the fiscal cliff. The argument against was that those individuals who have been unemployed for greater than two years simply were not looking hard enough for a job. The argument in favor was that the economic conditions today are unique, and that the need for a bigger economic safety net is therefore uniquely required.

Fifty-five percent of college graduates in the last four years have not been able to join the work force in jobs related to their field of study. We know that students who enter the job market during a recession never recover their lost earning power. They had passion for their field of study and yet their souls are modified before they have had a chance to develop.

There are forty-five million people in this country who are either unemployed or under-employed. For them, their souls have the passion to do more, but they are locked in economic activity that does not utilize their skills. How does this exist in the presence of free markets? Doesn’t the free market recognize this concept of “individual soulfulness?”

Last year, President Obama was contacted by a woman from Austin, Texas whose husband was unemployed for two years. Obama was surprised to learn that this man had a degree in electronic engineering. How could long-term unemployment exist in this “hot market?” Could it be that in electronic engineering that degrees from Stanford and MIT have immense value and degrees from the University of Texas have no value at all? The response most surely has to be highly improbable or not likely.

Could it be that the fountainhead of electronic engineering sorts the wheat from the chaff by both graduate schools and academic research; that the fountainhead is reserved for the 3 percent and that the free market is working? Should this man accept his new normal?

Is it possible that his passion for his work and his family left little time for group identity; that his interconnectedness was weak and therefore his career management was weak? Would not an employer benefit from a man or woman whose passion and soul was so intertwined with their work that they spent 98 percent of the time in productive endeavor for their employer and only 2 percent in career management, networking with others and looking for the next job?

In a competitive economy, this individual should be able to buy their way back into their soulfulness by working for lower compensation. Yes, the lower wage would drive the value of a college education downward with professorial compensation to follow. The next generation would have a lower, affordable basis for that education.

Society benefits from a skilled, educated, and mobile work force. The ability of the individual to price their skills in a free market is critical to societal well-being; labor markets must be fluid, not sticky. The soul, passion, and performance of the individual are the substance of a meritocracy, not interconnectedness.

Contact Glensky, a former Wall Street financial manager who now lives in North Myrtle Beach, at

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