Obama's Jobs Machine


ACRU Staff


October 17, 2011

This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published October 17, 2011 in The Washington Times.

How does paying people not to work constitute a key element of a “jobs bill”? President Obama’s goofy, gimmicky American Jobs Act, which even the Harry Reid-led Senate rejected Wednesday and the adult-led House regards with head-shaking bemusement, would throw another $447 billion “stimulus” at the economy and extend unemployment benefits for another year.

Pass it now. Pass it now. It worked so well last time.

The answer to the question above is that it makes perfect sense within Mr. Obama’s worldview that government activity in itself “creates jobs.” So when government as middleman shifts money from people who have jobs to those who don’t, it reduces unemployment. Got that? Never mind that stubborn unemployment rate, which won’t sink below 9.1 percent no matter how many Obama-inspired demonstrators occupy Wall Street.

This is not a commentary, by the way, on how and when governments should assist people down on their luck. Many have been hit hard by this awful economy. But under the principle of subsidiarity, the federal government is dead last in the list of entities responsible for people’s well-being, with the family at the top, followed by church, community, local governments, etc. That’s the way things work best.

Most Americans believe in at least some safety net for the poorest of the poor, but few think that adding people to the dole is a positive development. The exception, of course, is the unwashed masses trying to overthrow capitalism. They are demanding that everything be free, all the time, for everybody. Then there are the Democrats, who, out of compassion, work to create ever-more poor people to vote for them and name buildings after them.

But, as I said, this column is not about that. It’s about the administration’s odd views about job creation.

In August, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack actually claimed on MSNBC that record increases in food stamps (we’re above 45 million people and counting) are an economic engine:

“You have to recognize that it’s also an economic stimulus. Every dollar of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity. If people are able to buy a little more in the grocery store, someone has to stock it, package it, shelve it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs. It’s the most direct stimulus you can get in the economy during these tough times.”

If that’s the case, why not issue food stamps to 100 million people, or even 200 million? Imagine all the shelf-stocking jobs.

The Department of Agriculture’s website boasts, “We help put healthy food on the table for over 40 million people each month.”

You out there still foolishly buying your own groceries – come join us!

No, it doesn’t say that last line, but in the Food Stamps Make America Stronger Outreach Toolkit, Page 4 shows a gallon of milk and a hunk of government cheese with a large headline:

“How to milk this toolkit for all it’s worth!”

If you’re a taxpayer, have you felt “milked” lately? I know I have.

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, as the economy tanked, people were steadily added to the food stamp rolls, with an estimated 17.8 million in December 1978 to 18.9 million in February 1979, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Mr. Jimmy, like Mr. Obama, was creating all sorts of jobs. The program cost just $7.4 billion in fiscal 1980. The current annual tab for food stamps is more than $85 billion.

Apart from getting more people on food stamps, where else has the administration triumphed in its quest to create jobs? Why, by imposing more regulations in a shorter time than any administration in history.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alone is becoming a virtual jobs machine, with its thousands of bureaucrats micromanaging America down to your backyard birdbath (“aviary wetland” – just kidding, I think). As Investors Business Daily notes, the EPA claimed in February that “in periods of high unemployment, an increase in labor demand due to regulation may have a stimulative effect that results in a net increase in overall employment.”

It sure does, at least in the public sector. A Washington Times editorial noted in September that the EPA’s “sweeping greenhouse gas emission rules” would need 10,000 new state-level employees to administer them and 230,000 federal employees with a $21 billion budget. The EPA already has 17,417 employees and a $10.3 billion budget.

While it’s busy creating new busybody jobs, the EPA is crushing private-sector jobs in most of the energy industry (oil, coal and gas) and even in the cement business. The agency’s draconian new air-quality standards “will close or idle 18 cement plants, costing 1,800 high-wage jobs and a loss of up to 9 million tons of domestic production capacity,” according to a letter signed by 25 U.S. senators to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The new EPA anti-global-warming rules also may idle up to one-fifth of America’s coal-fired electricity plants within 10 years, according to the Wood McKenzie consulting firm, cited in the Financial Times of London. Blackouts, anyone? That should create jobs for flashlight manufacturers. And battery makers. And candle makers. And for more bureaucrats to regulate them.

It’s not just the EPA. The entire federal government is growing like Topsy. Back in August, Investor’s Business Daily reported that the 80,000-page Federal Register had expanded its list of rules by 18 percent in 2010 alone and that regulatory agencies’ combined budgets now top $54 billion, with more than 281,000 employees (out of the 2 million federal work force).

Just because U.S. Census Bureau employees were warned recently not to sleep on the job, that’s no reason not to marvel at this federal fountain of job creation.

Yes, government jobs are booming, while the private sector, which pays for it all, is depressed, managers are afraid to hire, and the unemployed are wondering when their nightmare will end. That answer should be easy.



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