Don’t overlook a few things in jobs debate

Judging by the Review-Journal’s front page on Tuesday, jobs are all the rage.

They are reportedly President Obama’s No. 1 priority. He’ll make the issue the subject of a speech on Thursday night, only three years into his recession-wracked presidency.

Jobs are the top focus of the Republican Congress, too. And they were the subject of a speech given by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, as he prepares for another Republican debate in California this evening.

Well, with all this attention, we should have this problem wrapped up by the end of the week, right?

Since you’re going to hear a lot of talk about jobs this week, it might be important to keep a few things in mind.

First, the oft-repeated notion that government does not create jobs is a total myth. Who, pray tell, is fighting our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and our pseudo-war in Libya? Are those not American soldiers hired by the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force?

Who comes running when you call 9-1-1 to report a fire or burglary in progress? Who teaches your kids in public schools? Hell, who built the Hoover Dam, to which Las Vegas owes its entire existence?

That’s right: Those were government jobs, created by the government. Moreover, there are tons of private-sector workers who also benefit from the government, in the form of contracted work to build things such as roads, radios, office buildings, airplanes and tanks. While those people work for a private company, their livelihood comes from the government.

Now, only a fool would argue the government can or should create all jobs. That’s been tried, and it didn’t work. We need a vibrant private sector to employ the vast majority of people in this country, those who pay the taxes that go to pay the salaries of government workers. That’s where this week’s debate is centered.

Second, it’s important to remember that attacking regulations as a campaign theme is sometimes short-sighted. For example, Romney declared in his speech Tuesday that regulations cost Americans too much ($1.7 trillion per year!) and vowed that for every new one created, an old one of equal or greater cost must be repealed.

Cue the applause. But let’s consider the substance of regulations before we simply look at the cost. For example, regulations that at one time would have prevented the buying, selling and bundling of the exotic securities at the heart of the financial meltdown of 2008 were erased during President Bill Clinton’s term. They’d been put in place to prevent some of the very things that occurred in the crisis, and while clever investors may have found ways around them, they served an important purpose.

Many, if not most, regulations, in fact, can be traced to a bad act perpetrated by one person or company against another. And while many regulations (and the regulators behind them) go too far in trying to prohibit all bad acts, most are not dreamt up simply to burden businessmen as much as to protect the public.

Third, keep in mind that a balanced budget sounds great in a speech, but is harder to implement in practice. Romney’s version — outlined in his new economic plan booklet, “Believe in America” — would avoid the temptation to balance the books by raising taxes by imposing a supermajority requirement to do so. (Nevada has the same thing in its constitution.) But in almost all cases (think, Senate cloture) supermajorities frustrate democracy rather than advance the will of the people.

America needs jobs, there’s no doubt. But America also deserves an honest conversation about how we get them.

 

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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