robertisenberg

The Myth of Job Creation

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Predictably, TV attack ads have soured. They started hostile, and they grow meaner by the day. You can’t view YouTube without seeing President Obama, and you can’t turn on the evening news without seeing Romney. But the most childish mudslinging is also the most misleading: Who, they ask, has created more jobs?

Let’s get one thing straight: Politicians don’t “create” jobs. Indeed, nobody “creates” jobs. Jobs aren’t some raw material waiting to be smelted. Nobody waves a magic wand so that jobs appear in a burst of light. “Job creation” is among the most misleading buzz-idioms in the political bullshit lexicon. Set aside whether Obama or Romney had anything to do with a new job existing, or an old job vanishing. Creating jobs is a myth, and too many people accept it.

Which is absurd, because everybody knows how jobs come into existence. A quick summary:

  1. There is supply and demand. Someone needs a product or service, and someone else can supply a product or service.
  2. But the provider can’t do the work alone. There’s simply too much to be done.
  3. So s/he decides how the work should be allocated, draws up a budget, and hires people to divvy up the labor.

At no point does a politician personally enter a warehouse or Costco and say, “Oh, my, it seems you need some jobs here, don’t you?” Never does a governor’s enchanted unicorn stomp the dust until a 401K appears.

What politicians do do is encourage or discourage development in certain sectors, by supporting or not supporting certain bills and initiatives. But keep in mind that the “politician” is actually a cohort of aides and advisors, and “supporting or not supporting” certain “bills and initiatives” is a hurricane of lunches, meetings, conference calls, backroom deals, and more lobbyists than you or I could imagine. In other words, the politician behaves like a businessperson, weighing costs and benefits. Helping out-of-work citizens find employment is a nice side effect of a bull economy, but mostly the politician just wants to get re-elected, and if John Q. gets a cubicle job after three years on welfare, the politician looks good. But the only job the politician really cares about creating is his or her own.

Meanwhile, an attack ad never indicates what kinds of jobs these politicians have “created.” As far as we know, Romney or Obama “created” 50,000 minimum-wage food-service jobs, with no benefits, limited sick days, and no possibility of advancement, which all take place in an office park in Lowell, Massachusetts. For all we know, half these jobs were taken by people who already have jobs, but they can’t keep up with their mortgages, because they purchased their crummy little houses in increasingly dangerous neighborhoods through a predatory lender. Taking a second job at a Taco Bell to make ends meet doesn’t sound as compelling as “50,000 jobs created,” but if a politician helped developers rezone that land into the office park that made the Taco Bell possible—well, it looks good at the polls.

Americans are constantly told, these days, that they should just be happy to have a job. Unfortunately, this is accurate. A harsh truth about the American way of life is that our society has no obligation whatsoever to help you find employment. Our safety nets (free clinics, homeless shelters, food banks) exist only to make sure you don’t actually die in the street, which would embarrass politicians who are trying to get re-elected.

But when politicians “create” jobs, they often support sectors that are risky, short-term, or environmentally destructive. Take my neighboring state: Tens of thousands of West Virginians work as strip-miners. The money is decent (for now), it’s relatively skilled (heavy machinery is involved), but the work is finite, and the toxic run-off will make entire regions of West Virginia uninhabitable. A politician could say that s/he “created” 10,000 mining jobs, but once the last mountain is razed, what will all those workers do? They’ll stand in line, like everybody else, and probably in another state.

So let’s not be fooled into believing that “job creation” is anything but a rhetorical tactic. No politician can claim to invent jobs out of the ether, and the social reality of those jobs is usually dubious or even tragic. The politicians who claim to “create” jobs almost never conceived of them, much less worked out the logistics of hiring and execution. If anything, the politician listened to some seedy businesspeople, nodded, made some speeches, and signed a piece of paper. This does not make you a saint. It doesn’t even guarantee you humanity.

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