McArdle: real 21st century problem is providing meaningful jobs for all

Megan McArdle considers the recent rioting in Sweden and suggests developed nations have a long-term problem of finding meaningful jobs for all:

In too many places, for too many people, the modern industrialized democracies are not working. People can live, but they are cut off from the broader society. And the number of these people seems to be increasing. It’s too hard for many people to find a decent job. And taking from the rich to buy them health care and day care and subsidized housing does not repair the hole this leaves in their lives.

It looks to me as if the great task of the next few decades will be to find ways to employ all the people on the margins productively, and with dignity. But this is not, mostly, the question that most public policy debates are engaged in addressing. That question is hard, and no one has a good answer, so instead we debate technical questions about stimulus multipliers and minimum wages, and have the occasional knock down, drag out fight about who has a moral right to how much cash. There’s nothing wrong with those debates, and I myself have been a spirited participant. But the harder questions have much more important answers.

Interesting analysis. Simply providing a safety net may not be enough moving forward. Expectations have changed, both for those receiving government or private aid and those providing the aid. People expect to have an opportunity to make decent money as well as pursue something that interests them.

It boils down to this: what happens if you have developed societies with relatively high unemployment, particularly for disadvantages groups, for decades with little change?

h/t Instapundit

Baby names and growing entropy

In recent years, the percentage of people who give their babies popular names has dropped. In other words, the range of baby names has increased and more people are seeking unique names. One baby name expert explains why sociologists have taken an interest in this trend:

“The more diverse naming styles become, the more we are going to read into somebody’s name,” Wattenberg said. She analyzed baby name statistics from the U.S. Social Security Administration to calculate a measure called Shannon entropy from the field of information theory. This measure is used to describe the information contained in a message – in this case, how much is communicated by the choice of a name…

Wattenberg calculated a sharp rise in name entropy over time. She found that this measure of the information carried by names has risen as much in the past 25 years as it did in the full century before that. (The measure is independent of the number of babies born.)…

“Sociologists love names,” Wattenberg said. “They’re practically the only case of a choice with broad fashion patterns that there’s no commercial influence on. There’s no company out there spending millions to convince you Brayden is a perfect name for your son.” (Studies have shown that movies, celebrities and other cultural trends do have an impact on the popularity of certain names.)

To understand how the meaning communicated through names has evolved, Wattenberg suggests thinking about an office with a dress code requiring all employees to wear gray or blue suits to work every day. Seeing a man dressed in a blue suit in such an environment would tell you very little about that man’s taste or personality.

Compare that to an office with no dress code. Here employees’ sartorial choices vary widely, so the outfit worn by anyone in that office could tell you a fair bit about that person as an individual. In this case, the same blue suit might reveal significant clues about its wearer.

The same goes for names. In an era where there are a lot more choices available, each choice carries more weight.

This sounds like an interesting analysis. And it sounds like Wattenberg is on to something – sociologists in the last few decades are very interested in how people make decisions that involve symbols, values, and meanings. In a name, parents have a fairly unconstrained choice.

While this is interesting, I want to know more:

1. Even if parents have a lot of choice in choosing names, why have they, as a whole, shifted toward a wider range of names? The article suggests it is indicative of individualism – but why choose to be more individualistic with baby names? How has this happened?

2. Do these new names affect the children’s lives? If parents are giving kids more unique names, are there any consequences to this?

3. Have other countries experienced similar trends? Or is this individualistic trend an American phenomenon?