Jobless Recovery a Problem for Progressives

Thursday, 10 Jun 2010 11:03 AM

By George Will

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Concerning the job numbers from May, one can almost echo Henry James' exclamation after examining letters pertaining to Lord Byron's incest: "Nauseating, perhaps, but how quite inexpressibly significant." Except that the May numbers' significance can be expressed: A theory is being nibbled to death by facts.

Private-sector job creation almost stopped in May. The 41,000 jobs created were dwarfed by the 411,000 temporary and low-wage government jobs needed to administer the census.

Last year's stimulus having failed to hold unemployment below 8 percent as predicted, Barack Obama might advocate another stimulus — amending Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which mandates a census every 10 years. If it were every year, he could take credit for creating 564,000 — the current number of census takers — permanent jobs.

May's 41,000 jobs were one-fifth of the April number and substantially fewer than half the number needed to keep pace with the normal growth of the labor force. This is evidence against the theory that a growing government can be counted on to produce prosperity because a government dollar spent has a reliable multiplier effect as it ripples through the economy from which the government took the dollar.

Today's evidence suggesting sluggish job creation might give pause to a less confident person than Obama. But pauses are not in his repertoire of governance. Instead, yielding to what must be a metabolic urge toward statism, he says the Gulf oil spill is yet another reason for yet another explosion of government's control of economic life.

The spill supposedly makes it urgent to adopt a large tax increase in the form of cap-and-trade energy legislation, which also is climate legislation, the primary purpose of which is, or once was, to combat global warming, such as it is.

At any time, some economic conditions would be better than others, but the more certainty about conditions the better. Today, investors and employers are certain that uncertainties are multiplying.

They are uncertain about when interest rates will rise, and by how much.

They do not know how badly the economy will be burdened by the expiration, approximately 200 days from now, of the Bush tax cuts on high earners — aka investors and employers. They know the costs of Obamacare will be higher than was advertised, but not how much higher. They do not know the potential costs of cap-and-trade and other energy policies.

They do not know if "card check" — abolition of the right of secret ballot elections in unionization decisions — will pass, or how much the economy will be injured by making unions more muscular. They do not know how the functioning of the financial sector will be altered and impeded by the many new regulatory rules and agencies created by the financial reform legislation.

The economy has become dependent on government stimulation of demand, and no one knows what will happen as the stimulus spending wanes.

Uncertainty is a consequence of hyperkinetic government, which is a consequence of the governmental confidence that is a consequence of progressivism.

The premise of progressivism is that all will be well if enough power is concentrated in Washington, and enough Washington power is concentrated in the executive branch, and enough really clever experts are concentrated in the executive branch.

This is why the government's perceived impotence concerning the Gulf oil spill is subversive of the Obama administration's master narrative.

Obama is the first president whose presidential campaign was his qualification for the office he sought. He almost said so on Sept. 1, 2008, as a large hurricane made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Megan McArdle of the Atlantic has resurrected Obama's answer when he was asked if could handle such a crisis.

Using perhaps the royal plural — a harbinger of grandiosity to come — Obama cited the size, cost, and complexity of his campaign: "Our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years," and "indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect."

Progressives generally, and Obama especially, encourage expectations as large as the 1,428-page (cap-and-trade), 1,566-page (financial reform) and 2,409-page (healthcare) bills they churn out as "comprehensive" solutions to this and that. For a proper progressive, anything short of a "comprehensive" solution to, say, the problem of illegal immigration is unworthy of consideration.

For today's progressive president, the prospect of a jobless recovery is a comprehensive nightmare.


George Will's e-mail address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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