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Capitol Idea: It’s The Jobs, Stupid

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Let's start with a thought experiment.

Think about the pitched battles President Obama has faced trying to pass his healthcare reform and climate change agenda through Congress this year.

Now imagine how different those struggles might have been if they came to pass as the massive unemployment rate began to fall, instead of as they have during a time when joblessness rose to record levels not seen in decades.

In reality, the difference is unknowable and entirely hypothetical. But it's logical to conclude that the president would have had an easier time enacting his reforms if the deep economic fears in the country were being soothed by news more Americans were going back to work.

To be sure, this is not to say Obama would have gotten a free ride. But there's been evidence to suggest that the intensity of the opposition to the president and his policies has been driven by a heightened sense of generalized anxiety and doubt brought on by the uncertainty people have for their livelihoods.

Some 55 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of the jobs issue, according to a recent USA Today poll. Polls also rank jobs and the economy as the top issues for Americans — not healthcare or climate change.

That creates a perception that Obama's out-of-step with ordinary Americans.

"There's a general sense in the population that the politicians have not paid enough attention to this issue. They've taken care of the banks. But what about Main Street?" Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, is quoted as saying.

Obama must become the jobs president. Obama needs to focus on that "like a laser beam" on jobs, to borrow a phrase from the last Democrat in the White House.

A look back at Bill Clinton's presidency is instructive. Like Obama, Clinton struggled along with the economy he inherited. Then jobs came back, Clinton presided over the longest peace-time economic expansion in history, and his personal approval grew accordingly — so much so that he maintained popularity even during his Impeachment.

Thursday's White House jobs summit must be the start, not the end, of Obama's jobs agenda.

If Obama focuses much more heavily on job-creation, he, too will do well while doing good. Democrats fret openly about going into the 2010 election saddled by such a bad economy. Then there is the little matter of Obama's own re-election two years later.

Some estimates put unemployment that year still at a quite-high 6.8 percent to 7.5 percent. Those aren't good numbers to campaign on.

The White House needs to start talking, and delivering, nearly every day on providing millions of Americans the good-paying jobs they need.

The Oval Office may not become a career-placement center, but it's got to come darn close to take dramatic action to push down that soaring unemployment rate.

Concentrating so intensely on the employment crisis might disrupt Obama's own idea about his agenda, but it will buy him goodwill and calm the background anxiety that ultimately will allow for a smoother time for all of the rest of the reforms he intends. Jobs will beget votes, and he will have an entire second term to devote to his other causes.

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About Scott Nance

  • Well, there is no question, Baronius, that the climate is changing and that the change is not most favorable to business or business as usual. We are at the crossroads, no doubt about it.

  • Baronius

    to comment 22:

    In order to grow, companies need to have some expectation of success. A company won’t barrel into a market if it’s unsure whether it can make a profit. In a perfectly healthy, strong economy, proposals like cap-and-trade and healthcare reform would introduce uncertainty into a company’s plans. The proposals would keep a company from expanding, even if they’re ultimately economically beneficial. So I don’t think we’d see Scott’s hypothetical scenario.

    And that’s under the best of circumstances. I believe that both pieces of legislation will hurt business in the short and long runs. And we’re definitely not in an economic growth spurt anyway.

  • I have to agree, Handy. Uncertainty is part of life, especially when we forging the future. There never is or ought to be a safe, foolproof way, to proceed. It may be the conservative’s dream, but that’s all it is.

  • The uncertainty created by major pending legislation is a real concern, one that the president said his staff and advisers discussed even before he was inaugurated. But he considers the goals of the legislation too important to delay. There will always be some special interest or other carping, loudly, about any legislation.

    Neither the climate nor health bills would take instantaneous effect even if passed today.

  • I don’t quite follow, although what you say in the second paragraph makes sense.

  • Baronius

    Roger, I tried to explain it in the second paragraph.

  • “We wouldn’t have a scenario with low unemployment, economic growth, and two looming bills with the potential impact of cap-and-trade and health care reform.”

    Could you explain this?

  • Baronius

    Scott implies that the economy and the current legislative debates are unrelated. I disagree. We wouldn’t have a scenario with low unemployment, economic growth, and two looming bills with the potential impact of cap-and-trade and health care reform.

    Businesses use capital and labor to create goods. Capital costs are dependent on the price of energy. Labor costs are dependent on the price of employee benefits. No one today has any idea what the price of energy or employee benefits is going to be next year, or even how those prices will be determined. In this climate, how is a business supposed to expand?

  • The modest drop in unemployment announced this morning — along with downward revisions of the numbers of jobs lost in Sept and Oct — may give the administration some [small] breathing room.

  • Geek Girl,

    It is a pleasure to read someone with your spunk and determination. And I’ve read enough of what you write to know that you know what rough is, you know what pain is, and you know not to be deceived by rhetoric. It’s people like you, Joanne, and Silas Kain who should be running things in the States. Your economy would not be ready to fall into a stinkhole if people like you had the reins.

    Unfortunately there are no adults to run things in the States anymore – at least who are being allowed near the reins of power. And you are broke and in hock to the commie Chinese. When you are in debt, you either produce enough to satisfy the creditor – or you kill him. Hitler came to power on just that concept – killing Germany’s creditors. I’m not saying that this is what you should do. But when you have all those nukes, threatening to do so – indirectly, of course – is an option.

    I’m simply pointing out that there is this huge 2 ton Chinese guy out there that you Americans owe a lot of money to, and at some point he will want to see some profit on his loans and investments in the States. And the kiddies playing at running America do not seem to have a clue.

  • Arch Conservative

    You’re from Michigan right Joanne? The premier example of how Democrats do economics and job creation. What’s the unemployment rate there up to now? 57% or something like that?

    Don’t forget to tell Granholm, since she seems intent on being the last person in the state, to shut the lights off when she leaves.

  • Yeah, all I did was ‘spinmeistering’…with credible references including the conservative Wall Street Journal.

    And useful the info was too. Thanks for providing it since it was useful in proving my point.

    Now look back at your comments – did you provide even ONE credible reference to back up what you claimed? Even one? No, you provided no reference whatsoever. All you gave was rhetoric.

    My only comment of substance on this thread was in response to your comment and referenced your data. Why do I need to repost links you already provided?

    You have rhetoric. I have verifiable FACT. Bearing that in mind, one must ask who is truly being the ‘spinmeister’.

    Facts which you draw the wrong conclusions from — either accidentally or deliberately — and then when asked about them you respond with personal attacks rather than answers.


  • I agree with you, Joanne. As much as I respect Glenn, I don’t see how he can derive comfort from his narrative in #3. I don’t see how anyone can. These jobs loses are cumulative, and they’re not going to be recouped in the near or far distant future – not unless we revitalize our industries, our manufacturing sector, and exponentially increase our technological industries so as to put these people back to work after extensive manpower training and retooling. I don’t see any progress being made in this direction and on those fronts, do you? So yes, we are in the process of creating a sizable underclass, an army in fact, who will either remain on some form of government welfare or be forced to work full or part time as security guards or burger flappers.

    Should I feel optimistic?

  • I love how people see the recession as ending. It’s only just begun.

    Take my lovely state, where the writing was on the wall eight to ten years ago. Our governor talks a good game about job growth, but she has nothing to show for it. (By the way, she’s one who was picked to help the administration on this big job summit.) That’s because our business tax rate is enough for some people to relocate just miles south of the border. There’s always been talk of “retraining” — retraining for WHAT? There aren’t any opportunities to retrain FOR. Meanwhile people leave by the droves. Michigan has lost 100,000 jobs this year alone, about 1M in the last nine years.

    There’s going to be something more than talk and a photo-op to turn it around. Tax incentives, incentives for companies to keep their jobs within the border and for exports is the only way out of this mess.

  • Arch Conservative

    It’s not my problem if you find the truth offensive and we can’t all always write long winded rambling posts that go nowhere.

  • Scott, I see the point you’re trying to make about the importance of dealing with the unemployment rate. And I agree that jobs creation has got to be a White House priority right now, but I’m afraid that some of the things you’ve written are really reaching to get there.

    “Now imagine how different those struggles might have been if they came to pass as the massive unemployment rate began to fall”
    I have to ask if you really believe that?
    Do you really believe that the employment rate is the cause of the struggle over healthcare reform? That Obama would be getting massive Republican support if the unemployment rate dropped? I’m pretty sure, hypothetically, that it wouldn’t make any difference in resistance to the plan. The reason there’s a struggle over healthcare reform is because it’s a bad plan. That’s what happens when you try to push legislation through too quickly. That’s when Congress does its job and kicks it back. I don’t think anyone on either side of the issue is truly satisfied with this plan. It needs to be completely re-worked. I have no reason to believe that if the unemployment rate dropped Republicans would happily support an unsatisfactory healthcare plan.
    “But it’s logical to conclude that the president would have had an easier time enacting his reforms if the deep economic fears in the country were being soothed by news more Americans were going back to work.”
    No. Not a logical conclusion. Not even in the realm of reasonable possibilities.

    “Polls also rank jobs and the economy as the top issues for Americans — not healthcare or climate change.”
    I have no idea which polls you’re refering to. I’m sure there are polls that show that. And polls that show just the opposite. And polls that show that ending the war is a top issue as well. The problem with polls is that they are quoted time and again as if they are reliable and yet noone believes them unless they confirm their own beliefs. It’s hard to believe that Americans have only two concerns right now. I bet if you did a poll of the top three concerns Healthcare Reform would be in there. This is where it would have been nice to have some links, if these are polls about which issues the President should be dealing with then it makes sense. Healthcare Reform is now in the hands of Congress, the President is letting them do their job, the issue of troop deployment was the hot issue two weeks ago. That’s been taken care of. I’d say those polls are probably a reflection of where the focus is going next. Or perhaps not. I could stand on a streetcorner in Atlanta and poll people on whether they think Obama is doing a good job. I could do the same on a streetcorner in New York. Which poll would you prefer to quote? Probably the one that supports your claim. Polls are to American opinion as Wikipedia is to facts.
    As far as ‘creating the perception that Obama is out-of-step with Americans’, creating the perception for whom? I really wish you had backed that statement up with a reliable source (not FOX or Wikipedia). That’s not my perception. My perception is that there are too many issues in the priority queue right now and none are going to be easily dealt with.

    I don’t know what to say about that quote by Larry Mishel. Which politicians? Haven’t paid enough attention to which issue? Was he speaking about Obama specifically? Taken care of the banks? Which banks, the ones that have failed or the ones that are under investigation? By ‘taken care of’ was he refering to making them answer for bad lending practices or was he speaking of bailouts? And what is Main Street? This whole quote is more confusing than useful, since there is nothing within it to even know what “this issue” is.

    “The White House needs to start talking, and delivering, nearly every day on providing millions of Americans the good-paying jobs they need.”

    The White House is not going to deliver good-paying jobs to millions of Americans. Ever. I can’t think of a time when the President was assigned to find employment for individuals, nor when there was a requirement that jobs were good-paying. Ultimately the ability to attain a good-paying career rests on the individual and the work they do to achieve their goals, as it should. Talk about big government–I certainly don’t want any President choosing my job or salary for me. I agree that jobs creation should be the priority and that should start with discussions on how to support small business so they can hire again without using all of their profits to cover employee health insurance. Which goes back to healthcare. And now we’ve come full circle. Economy, Jobs, Healthcare. If one fails they all fail.

    I don’t mean to come off as hyper-critical, but it happens when a writer is extremely knowledgable about the subject matter, they forget that some readers are coming to them for information. It’s happened to me in the past when writing geek. I once wrote about Windows Vista being incompatible with certain VPN clients. I got a two line email from a client that I’ll never forget–it read “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Am I a VPN client?” I wanted to respond “Are you in your computer right now?” (Only geeks would get that.) It reminded me that I’m writing to people who do not share my frame of reference, but they’re reading me because they want to understand. Looking forward to reading more… quietly.

    Dave #1 – “spending government money on makework projects” I don’t know what he was thinking, throwing $300 a year at taxpayers was working so well 😉

    Ruvy #10 – I know that all of this must look bad from the outside and a lot of people are counting on our impending collapse, but you have to keep one thing in mind. We’re all fighting to fix things. That’s just what we do. I know it looks like a trainwreck to the rest of the world, but we’re experts at trainwrecking. It’s a relief to be arguing over the issues. No more Halliburton this and Guantanamo that, we’re done with the distractions and we’re all focused on finding the best solutions. There will be decisions and some people will hate them, but it’s that very discontent that keeps us moving forward.

    We’re a capitalist society for better or for worse. We strive for personal wealth and power. We embody the entrepreneurial spirit. We don’t whistle past graveyards, we step over the bodies. That’s why I became a soldier in the first place, because I love my country. In the words of George W. “They misunderestimated me.”

    Arch #2 – Just want you to know that I’m offended. It’s obvious you want to stir anger, get a reaction, so here’s my reaction–I can’t believe that I’m wasting my time addressing something this juvenile on a site that I visit for intellectual stimulation. It won’t happen again. I have no problem with language of any sort when a person is addressing a subject they are passionate about, but you came right out of the gate with it. That’s not helpful to those of us interested in the discussion. Other than violence it’s the lowest form of communication generally used by people who don’t have the intelligence to express their feelings with a reasonable argument. You unnecessarily defer to Nalle. As if he needs you to second his opinion. Why bother to comment if you have nothing useful to add? Dave is expressing his point of view quite well. I’m embarrassed by your genuflection, but it speaks volumes about your position. Your only point seems to be that Obama is hostile.
    Pot meet Kettle.

  • Glenn,

    Scott’s article is an attempt to save his sinking messiah, no-bama. It’s clear that if there will be free elections in the States in 2012, you will need the “un-bama” – the opposite of this over-educated, under-experienced Harvard grad with the mentality of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant élitist.

    The problem with all your spinmeistering on the economy is that you are broke – and that fact will start to take over your economy in early 2011. In other words, the pressure of hyper-inflation, caused by printing money backed by absolutely nothing, which is what the “porkulus” package delayed and covered up, will break your economy altogether. Let me repeat this basic fact – you are collectively broke and not merely tapped out, but entirely in hock to the commie Chinese.

    There were an awful lot of folks who whistled past the graveyard in 1929-30, trying to deny the obvious. And the obvious, in 1929-30 was far better than the obvious of 2009-2010. America was a creditor nation then.

    Glenn, you have such a mellifluous and tuneful whistle – did you learn it in the Navy? Because everything that you say to defend no-bama is whistling past the graveyard – just like all those fools in 1929-30.

    All I have to do is sit and watch the empire come crumbling down.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    Yeah, all I did was ‘spinmeistering’…with credible references including the conservative Wall Street Journal.

    Now look back at your comments – did you provide even ONE credible reference to back up what you claimed? Even one? No, you provided no reference whatsoever. All you gave was rhetoric.

    You have rhetoric. I have verifiable FACT. Bearing that in mind, one must ask who is truly being the ‘spinmeister’.

  • It was only less porky in the sens of not having all that many earmarks. After all, who needs earmarks when the whole thing is basically pork?


  • The much derided stimulus is almost certainly a major reason for the 3rd quarter growth in GDP. It was more of a GDP stimulus than a jobs stimulus — if in fact there is such a thing as a jobs stimulus.

    I don’t buy into the liberal notion that ‘we gotta do something’ about jobs. The administration is resisting anything that will cost very much more money.

    Next year their mantra will be deficit control, believe it or not. The White House is not as leftist as it is portrayed by some, not by a long shot. Even the stimulus, snarked at as a ‘grab bag’ of liberal spending, was actually outlined by centrists like Larry Summers. Yes, Congressional Dems filled in the blanks of the outline, but it was far less porky than the caricature has it.

  • I agree there’s always more than one solution to a problem. But by the same measure there are also many ways to make things worse. And there are certainly actions which make no sense at all in our current economic situation, and Obama seems bent on pursuing as many of them as possible.

    There are a lot of people who are absolutely wedded to the Keynesian economic model. It has never been proven to work. In fact, the evidence we have suggests that it is terribly flawed, which is why it was discredited until it was resurrected relatively recently.

    But look, most of this is not about ideology. It’s simple common sense. Most of the money which has been allocated in these stimulus plans goes to programs which create few jobs, if any. And every dollar that Obama pulls out of the economy has to be funded somehow, through taxes or borrowing, and these things destroy rather than create jobs.

    Ultimately, I think that Obama may get very lucky on the job front if he doesn’t pass legislation which is too hostile to business, because we were heading towards a labor shortage until the recession came along, and that trend may reassert itself if enough businesses survive.


  • Dave, your mind operates strictly by ideological laws, but the world, actually, does not. Your assessment of Obama’s ‘ideological inability’ to create jobs is itself based entirely on inflexible dogma.

    The fact that a number of economists still say the first stimulus was too small, and we need to spend more, may strike you as nonsensical.

    But many very intelligent people have a very different view of the world than you. And your dead certainty that your ideology reflects immutable laws, as if it were physics, is what leads you to your recent extremist rhetoric, and your absolute conviction that we are headed toward invevitably greater disaster.

    There’s more than one way to approach a problem. Your own way is remarkably narrow and rigid.

    Whenever you start to write “the only way to do X is …” then you should start over. There is no ‘only way.’

  • I hope someone is paying you for this spinmeistering, Glenn. It’s a lot of work to make this stuff look positive when it’s so negative.

    Do you understand that a decline in net jobs lost is still jobs being lost? All you’re doing here is pointing out that as the downward spiral contiues we eventually reach a point where only essential jobs are left and the collapse of the job market has bottomed out.

    What you’re saying is that in mid 2010 we hit 12% unemployment. Then what? Where is there any indication employment will start to go up significantly at that point. You may expect it, but I see little evidence to support it. By then the damage done to the economy by the stimulus will really start to kick in and inflation will be on the rise and it’s going to be really grim.

    But keep hope alive.


  • Glenn Contrarian

    Scott –

    Despite what Dave and Arch postulated, I wouldn’t worry too much since they normally let their emotional desire for Obama to fail override their intellectual desire to make judgments using the facts at hand.

    Here are what I feel are more important indicators as to how well the American economy is recovering under the Obama administration:

    1 – According to most economists, the recession was over in August – that being the point at which the American economy began growing once more rather than contracting.

    2 – According to a recent article in Kiplinger’s (I can’t find the link yet, but I’ve posted it on BC before), at no time of recession since WWII has the interval of time between the bottoming of the stock market to the end of the recession been shorter than six months. If we accept the view of most economists, then, the economy under Obama recovered in record time – five months (March to August)…despite this being the worst recession since the Great Depression.

    3 – As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, since 1940 employment has NEVER improved following a major recession until at least a year after the end of that recession. In fact, if you’ll check the link above from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’ll see that unemployment did not improve until at least a year or two after the ends of the Arab Oil Embargo, the ’82-’83 Reagan recession, the late ’80’s recession, and the dot-com bubble.

    In other words, if our employment begins making positive gains before August 2010, Obama will have set another record.

    4 – The current trend in employment is certainly improving. It’s still far from certain, since we lost more jobs in November than expected (169K vice 150K)…but let’s look at the overall trend of jobs lost per month:
    July – 347,000
    August – 267,000
    September – 220,000
    October – 195,000
    November – 169,000

    The jobs will bump up in December as they normally do for the holiday season, and then they will probably dip more as they normally do in the first quarter of the new year…but if the current trend holds I estimate we’ll have positive job growth by June 2010.

    I know, the normal American attitude is “I ain’t done yet? Why not?”, but we’re getting there…perhaps in record time.

  • Arch Conservative

    Clinton has the .com boom.

    Obama isn’t that lucky and if he were he’d probably fuck it up any way with his hostility toward business and love of government.

    What Nalle just said.

  • Absolutely right, Scott. But the problem is that even if Obama were to focus on job creation, he’s ideologically incapable of accomplishing it. He has already shown that he believes that job creation comes from spending government money on makework projects, when the only real, longterm job creation comes from cutting government spending and reducing taxes and barriers for businesses to let them expand and create real jobs. Doing that is fundamenally contrary to his basic beliefs, so he will never succeed.