Make Progress, Not Work | Econ Chronicles

As technological developments increased the US agricultural worker’s output tremendously over the last two centuries, the share of the population employed in agriculture fell from around 90 percent to around 2 percent.

The lay American public supposes that when workers lose their jobs, we become worse off — they suffer from what economist Bryan Caplan calls the make-work bias. But would anyone prefer to live in a society in which many went hungry and no one enjoyed the wealth, financial security, job growth, and innovation created as a result of all those workers losing their farm jobs?

Unfortunately, the more that democracies enact policies that reflect the make-work bias, the closer we come to such a society. Follow Caplan, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter, as he explains the gap between the lay public and the professional economist’s views about the merits and demerits of making work for individuals instead of letting them find work.


  1. Robert Schimenz

    “Make Progress, Not Work” is a great video that will be very useful in my high school economics class. I’ll be certain to try the Econ Chronicles series in my class next year.

  2. Polanco

    The problem is how to give politicians insentives to think longer term than the next election.  

  3. Anonymous

    Would nation wide projects help encourage this? Like say rebuilding the highway infrastructure?

  4. diamond_max

    I guess I can see from sides for it and opposing it.

  5. Matt Wavle

    Find a skill that you can get really good at AND enjoy.  Then do it for yourself, as in directly to your own list of clients.  The market changes so quickly that currently developed college degrees of significant value become at least partially outdated by the time they can be completed.  The solution for this is what you are doing right now.  Become self-taught, and autodidact. At 43 let me say, I am impressed with a high school aged young person who shows your kind of drive.  Keep up the good work. 

  6. Matt Wavle

    The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: “Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?”

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