Today’s NYT lead editorial, The Myth of Job Creation, tries to make the case that both Governor Romney and President Obama erred during the last debate in agreeing that, “Government does not create jobs.” The Times goes on to argue that government certainly creates jobs, “millions of them — including teachers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, sailors, astronauts, epidemiologists, antiterrorism agents, park rangers, diplomats, governors (Mr. Romney’s old job) and congressmen (like Paul Ryan).”
So, what I would like to be able to say to The Times and to politicians is, “Government didn't create those jobs. Those jobs were demanded by the citizens who want excellent public schools, safe streets, appropriate infrastructure, trustworthy national security, protection from plagues and pestilence, and wise and unselfish leaders.” Then I would like to say to the politicians that their job has always been and is to provide those things needed by the citizens and best done by government with as few employees and as little expense as possible because good government is necessary overhead for a successful society and not an end in itself. I would remind them that, as any good business person can tell us, the right amount of overhead expense is a very good thing. More than that is counterproductive waste.
But I would be only partly right because the fact is that government often goes beyond its charge to provide the basic needs of society best met by government at minimum expense and as efficiently as possible and begins creating jobs. And, when that happens, we not only have unnecessary expense and waste at the government level, but also reduce the productivity of the private sector as a result of work created by the government, taxes diverted from private investment and consumption to pay for it, and private sector overhead jobs necessitated by it. And that is the situation we are facing today, one of the root causes of our long-term decline in productivity and unbelievable accumulated debt.
Unproductive job creation happens everywhere but more often with government than in the private sector because private businesses are faced daily with that fundamental problem of the science of economics, scarce resources, and threatened with plummeting profits and stock prices and bankruptcies when they fail to manage their balance sheets and income statements properly. Our federal government does not face such mundane realities in the short term and can always “print money” so to speak even for the long term. But the end result of too much of that will be far more disastrous than private company failures because it will bring our economy and all of us down.
Christian theology teaches that God created the universe out of nothing, which is a lot different from making or building something beginning with some basic raw materials. We certainly want to avoid "creation" of meaningless and counterproductive jobs out of nothing and should categorize “job creation” as a “politically incorrect” term, stop obsessing about it, and instead focus our attention on identification of work that needs to be done to improve our national productivity and how best to do it. I think such a change in emphasis might result in a few million meaningful, productive, and well-paying jobs. And anybody who thinks about it carefully would much rather have meaningful and productive work to do than be stuck with a “created” job.
If you are doubting what I say about government waste, take a look at the tip of the iceberg in Senator Tom Coburn's 2012 Government Waste Book.