Dieter K. Zschock’s monograph on the aggregate characteristics of the Colombian labor market is a useful discussion of what is likely to be the most troublesome politico-economic problem in Latin America over the next decade—unemployment. His main thesis, that the rate of growth of the Colombian labor force exceeds the rate of growth of employment by a very wide margin, is amply documented, but the study would have been more complete if he had considered the results of the unemployment surveys carried out by various universities in Colombia.
The author’s message is important; still, I find it difficult to be enthusiastic about this work. My objections are twofold. First, the author does not make any serious effort to verify his contention that inadequate educational attainments by the labor force are a major effective restraint on increasing the current rate of economic growth. This proposition cannot be treated as self-evident. To be sure, the Colombian educational system has serious deficiencies and could not, for example, train a labor force adequate to double the present rate of growth and maintain the new rate indefinitely. Nevertheless, it is far from clear that skill shortages are a fundamental barrier to the achievement of growth targets compatible with Colombia’s limited access to foreign exchange.
A second objection is that certain of the author’s policy conclusions strike me as being inconsistent with various generally accepted findings of development economists. For example, the recommendation that “the developmental gap between the high-productivity and low-productivity components of the economy should be reduced through a proportional redistribution of investment allocations from the former to the latter” directly contradicts the prevalent belief that investment opportunities in the craft or low-productivity sectors are usually very limited and that economic development is associated with the gradually declining importance of the craft sector. The author concludes that one of the most important inducements for employers to hire more workers would be a rapid expansion and improvement of educational preparation and vocational training. This is similarly problematical. There is no necessary connection between the aggregate demand for labor and the quality of the labor force. A highly trained labor force may very well induce employers to choose a less labor-intensive technology.