November 10, 2004
We heard a lot about jobs in this past year in the context of the presidential election. People seem to take for granted that the President, or government in general, can create jobs in the United States and it's merely a question of which policy can create more. Oh, really? Let's pretend for a few minutes that the economy is something the government is supposed to be concerned with. Name one way in which the government can create jobs.
[crickets chirping] [looks at wrist-watch]
Well? Seriously, send me an e-mail if you can think of one. I promise to post it here. Until then, here are some of the tools at the government's disposal for creating jobs that I'm already familiar with… and, at the risk of ruining the ending, I intend to crap all over them.
One obvious way for the government to create jobs is to do so literally by directly employing people. This is, of course, necessary for a variety of legitimate reasons. I'm only concerned with the government programs created with the mind-set that putting people to work is paramount, while providing a benefit to the public is a secondary concern. It's easy to see the benefit to the public of whatever is being done by these people and it's easy to see that they are now employed, where perhaps they weren't before, but that's an incomplete picture. What you don't see are any of the costs. In order to pay these employees, money had to be taken out of the marketplace through taxation. What could we be producing instead with this money if it weren't taken from us? Are we to believe that taking money away from business owners will have no impact on their ability to employ people? And that taking money away from consumers has no negative consequences for the job market? Unfortunately, it doesn't pay politically to think things through in this manner. Politicians only need to be able to provide the appearance that they "did something".
One thing the government does to protect American jobs is to create artificial price supports for certain products. This protects, and maybe even adds jobs in the industries responsible for those products, but what about the rest of the country? Sugar is a perfect example. We pay $2 billion dollars per year for sugar above and beyond what it's actually worth. Divide that up amongst each individual and the country hardly notices, but it still costs us, and the industries that rely on purchasing a lot of sugar most certainly notice. Numerous candy manufacturers have relocated to Canada in the past few years and there's no reason for this trend to reverse. How, exactly is this a good way to protect American jobs?
Tariffs are another good way to screw things up without even trying. A recent example is one of my biggest beefs with President Bush. The tariffs he enacted to protect the American steel industry created, by the wildest estimates, 16 to 20 thousand jobs. The American industries that were required to pay the inflated steel prices ended up losing jobs for obvious reasons. The estimates vary, but there were somewhere between 15 and 200 thousand jobs lost. So, in the best case, looking only at jobs, we broke even, but that's not the whole picture. Pretend that the job count balanced out in the end. What about all the extra money we spent on steel with nothing additional to show for it? What a way to pump up the economy.
Bush claims to have created jobs by pushing his tax cut through. Ehhhh, not exactly. Although the tax cuts were the right move and did lead to job creation, it was only because taxes were preventing these jobs from being created sooner. If I stood on your chest for 10 minutes, then got off, could I claim credit for finding you some air? I don't think so.
Unemployment benefits: Ugh. OK, this stupid program is sold to us as more of a safety net than as a way to protect or create jobs, but it deserves a mention. If the government pays you when you don't have a job, all it does is reduce incentive for you to find an employer to pay you instead. And once again, these benefits must be paid for by taking money away from consumers and business people. Who do you think is going to give you a job in the end? Wouldn't the job market be just a teeny bit bigger if we were spending all that money instead of giving it to the government?
Most of these programs, unemployment benefits especially, are advocated by liberals. They would like you to believe that they are the compassionate ones that look out for the poor. Don't buy this crap. I remember not long after September 11th, liberals were lamenting the enormous job losses in NYC's service industries and screaming for more unemployment benefits for the people affected. Around the same time, a bunch of super-wealthy types were going to gather in New York for a global economic forum. So, what do the liberals do? They organize a massive protest against the forum. These whiney little douche-bags had the following to say.
Since September 11, hundreds of thousands of workers from the travel industry, hotels, restaurants, and others have lost their jobs. … It is obscene that these modern day corporate robber barons and the government officials who do their bidding will hold their celebrated annual meeting at the Waldorf in New York City while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are being forced onto the unemployment lines.
Can you think of anything better for "the travel industry, hotels, restaurants, and others" in a city than an invasion of rich people? I can't. The forum's attendees want to exchange money for services and liberals find this obscene. On the other hand, if we were to take the same money from the same rich people in taxes, then pay it out to the same service industry workers in the form of unemployment benefits, getting nothing in return, liberals would think we were finally on the right track. Huh? I mean… huh!? Fuck these people. They are interested only in harming capitalism and weakening America, not helping those in need.
In case you haven't picked up on a pattern, I'll spell it out. There is absolutely nothing the government can do to create jobs, and most attempts to protect existing jobs impose costs that outweigh benefits. Almost any action the government takes (which boils down to either taxing, or regulating) results in the destruction of jobs, so the only avenue available for improving the job market is to simply leave it alone. Cross your fingers that Bush will figure this out in the next 4 years.