Here's a thought: what if the 10 percent who aren't working on a paid job, just aren't necessary to the economy. Sure, we need their consumption. But we're all so productive that fewer people need actually work.
Not proposing this as a final conclusion, but as the theory of an economics layman.
Insofar as this employed — knock on wood! —observer is concerned, right now the problem is that there are lots of things being made on which fewer and fewer people feel comfortable spending money. That’s why savvy people, such as Economics Nobelist Paul Krugman and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, are worried about deflation rather than the government's deficit.
But suppose, just suppose, that the 10 percent of the workforce that's been on the bench for about a year is never going to work again. There are certainly many jobs that are never coming back, ask a linotypist, if you know what that is or someone who still calls himself that.
What then? Are we just going to go up to them, hand them a Luger like in the World War II movies, and walk away secure that they understand they’re supposed to do the "honorable" thing and shoot themselves?
Wait! Don't shoot yourselves yet. We need your consumption. Wouldn't it make sense to accept a high structural unemployment and instead fund a portion of the population as consumers?
As someone on the hiring side of the table employer, I remember the high-employment 1990s as a nightmare in which anyone who had a pulse could get a job. If you weren't in a Fortune 500 company with gazillions, you had to hire from the bottom of the barrel, as I realized when a candidate's reference suggested I call her parole officer.
Notice how courteous customer service folks have become since the recession started? They're the motivated folks who want to do a good job, or who understand the connection between treating customers well and holding onto one's job.
Why not subsidize the grumpy folks who really hated their job to stay home and shop online, pumping money into the economy and keeping the rest of us chugging along? Or am I missing something?