Central Planning the Job Market: We Need More Data! | Print Version
by Bradley Doucet*
Le Québécois Libre, May 15, 2014, No 322
Link: http://www.quebecoislibre.org/14/140515-5.html

We the People of the federal parliamentary democracy of Canada, in Order to form a more perfect picture of our country’s Job Market, establish full Employment, insure domestic Training, provide for the common pool of Labour, promote the general working stiff, and secure the Blessings of Productivity to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this promise to further Tax the general populace in order to fund the collection of More Data.

For it is not sufficient to know our nation’s monthly job vacancy numbers broken down by province and territory; we also need to know which specific regions within those provinces and territories are in need of labour, as well as which specific skills are in short supply. So speaketh the Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, in his spring report to the august body of Parliament, and so agreeeth the director of Statscan’s labour statistics division, Alison Hale, in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

This data is of the utmost importance so that we the people might better plan the utilization of our brawn and brains, and put these qualities to work producing goods and services for our fellow citizens. Of course, individually, we cannot be counted upon to act in our own best interests, nor to spontaneously coordinate our actions to the benefit of others in society, for we are, as individuals, sorely lacking in basic common sense. It is to save us from ourselves, and more specifically from our ignorance and folly, that governments are instituted among us.

And thankfully, the world is so designed that only the very best of the species, who are not beset with such flaws and peccadillos as afflict the mere mortals among us, are attracted to and manage to grab hold of the reins of power in order to use it for the betterment of the rest of us. Furthermore, far from being a corrupting influence, as some would have it, power polishes the virtue of those who wield it, until they verily shine with goodness and competence.

Our honourable representatives in government, however noble and true and pure of heart they be, have need of data in order to serve us better. In order to design plans that will centrally coordinate the supply and demand for temporary foreign workers and employment insurance—central plans, we might call them—the government needs a finer grain of information. How else will it decide which kinds of people, from which foreign countries, with which particular skill sets, it will allow private companies to hire? How else will it organize the minute details of the workings of the employment insurance program?

According to The Globe and Mail, Nathan Cullen, finance critic for the Official Opposition, accused the government of relying on nothing but anecdotes to rationalize its policy decisions. “They’re definitely not relying on data, because it doesn’t exist,” he said, adding, “Certainly collecting more data about something so important as the labour market would be important, because the government spends billions on programs, essentially blind.”

Indeed, the kind of survey needed to give the gift of sight to government planners in this particular matter of job vacancies by region and by specific skill would cost well in excess of $5 million, said Ms. Hale. Meanwhile, Statscan’s core budget, which does not include spending on the census or contracted surveys, has been cut by more than 7%, or $29.3 million, over the past two years. Its remaining core budget of some three or four hundred million dollars is all tied up in other, equally important work providing data for other, equally important central plans.

Some ideologues oppose the government’s involvement in the job market, arguing that no amount of data collection would ever suffice for the top-down organization of such complex and dynamic interactions. They claim that central plans cannot be but blunt instruments, bruising and smashing individual hopes and dreams, and distorting the incentives and price signals that would otherwise allow individual workers and employers to make the best use of their resources given the constraints of reality. They believe that without allowing free play to the forces of the market, the data that central planners need never even emerges and therefore cannot be collected. Some go so far as to call for the dismantling of the programs on which the government spends those billions, given the impossibility of resolving its inherent blindness.

We must reject out of hand the siren call of such troublemakers, preferably without examining their reasoning too closely. If we, as a society, do not empower our elected representatives and unelected bureaucrats to collect the data they need, even if that data is mangled and destroyed in the process, then companies will be doomed to pay for and conduct their own employee searches and decide for themselves whether looking beyond the country’s borders is worth the effort. Job seekers, too, will be left to their own devices, and have to figure out where to look for work based solely on massive advertising campaigns, free job search websites, employment services, word of mouth, and intimate knowledge of the details of their own lives, preferences, and personal quirks.

One shudders to think of the chaos into which this great country of ours would surely be plunged were it not for the guidance of our wise and beneficent leaders. Let us hold fast and give them the tools they need to collect ever more data!

* Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL's English Editor.