The Agenda

The Broken Jobs Machine

The changing employment landscape has been a subject of great interest to me for at least the last ten years. Long before the downturn, we’ve been masking structural problems through credit expansion. To oversimplify, the expansion of the housing sector helped prop up the wages of less-skilled men while the expansion of the public sector has helped insulate a large and growing swathe of the middle class. Both trends are unsustainable. Last year, I suggested that the right embrace a jobs agenda as the heart of its 2010 campaign. That hasn’t happened. But it still makes sense.

Ron Brownstein has written a provocative column on “repairing the jobs machine” that’s worth a look, though he chooses to lead with a misleading headline number that he walks back almost immediately. After noting that the U.S. economy might create more jobs in 2010 than it did during the Bush years if the past four months are matched in the next eight months, he writes:

 To compare job growth in 2010 with Bush’s record ignores the nearly 4 million jobs lost in Obama’s first year, during the freefall that began in Bush’s final months. That’s like ignoring a meteor strike. Over time, voters are likely to judge Obama by his degree of success in eliminating that deficit and reducing unemployment. Still, if the economy this year produces more than 1 million jobs — or, conceivably, more than 2 million — that will give Democrats more ammunition to argue that their agenda has started to turn the tide.

Leaving aside this slightly strange exercise, Brownstein is absolutely right to suggest that the jobs machine was broken long before the downturn. The deeper question, however, is whether the White House’s favored approach to creating jobs — buoying the housing sector and the public sector in an unsustainable manner — represents a real fix. I’d argue, in contrast, that it represents a doubling down on failed policies that span the Clinton and Bush presidencies rather than a new direction.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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