Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
In either event, Romney's choice may be the best thing that has happened to this campaign. Why? As I noted before, so far both candidates have been short on substantive proposals. Ryan, a solid fiscal conservative, has made more recent ones than I've seen from Obama, Biden, and Romney combined - he will tell you exactly what he wants to do with spending and taxes. He, unlike the others, is also a master negotiator, and perhaps more comfortable with working out solutions than either of the presidential candidates.
The immediate reaction on Ryan was not good on the jobs issue. Matthew Yglesias of Slate wrote that "the large jobs deficit built up during that period [is] going to receed [sic] further into the rearview mirror, [since] Romney is essentially conceding that the past 18 months of 150,000 jobs per month are good enough to get Obama re-elected, and he needs to wage a campaign about something bigger, [so] the issue that ought to dominate the campaign is going to fade into obscurity."
I see the opposite. I see the Republican candidates answering questions on jobs, and on the economy, with proposals much more specific than those currently on the Romney website, which, though now having a headline that "Americans deserve more jobs and more take-home pay" and a link to "Mitt's Plan," offers little more than vague ideas such as "give every family access to a great school and quality teachers," shaky promises the likes of "replace Obamacare with real health care reform," and economic errors such as "curtail the unfair trade practices of countries like China" immediately followed by "open new markets for American goods and services."
Watch the Romney campaign website. I expect that within two months it will have a jobs plan with specific proposals and dollar amounts. That will force the Obama campaign to respond in kind. The plans will be, in effect wish lists - both sides will know they will need to negotiate. After the election, which will probably end with the House, Senate, and White House split in some fashion, jobs will be on more and more people's minds. Then we will move from the two starting points to real substance and real debate. That is what we need, whether Ryan is elected or not.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
As I mentioned last week, both sides are going nowhere on job policy now, with the liberals advocating only general stimuli. That viewpoint was taken to an extreme in a Friday Slate magazine piece by Matthew Yglesias (http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2012/08/job_growth_s_been_stalled_for_18_months_and_nobody_s_doing_anything_about_it_.html ). It started well with the title "The Jobs Stall," and the beginning of the subtitle "for 18 months we've been on track to never return to full employment," but got disappointing, and whiny, with "why won't the Federal Reserve do something?" The article itself offered few specifics on what this "something" might mean, so here are some possibilities.
First, a WPA-style infrastructure jobs project is badly needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated over two years ago that fully maintaining our bridges and highways alone would cost $1.2 trillion, a number that would be higher now. With over 32 million Americans wanting to work full-time and not doing so, wages would not need to be anything like full union scale, and union members themselves would have plenty of work at their pay scales, especially supervising. We don't have the choice of not keeping bridges and roads in good condition, unless we want to fall further behind (and we are behind) the rest of the Western and Pacific world on infrastructure, including airports, towers, and computer systems as well.
Second, more unemployment benefits. Even if you don't like stimuli in general, it is only common sense to see that putting money into the hands of those who don't have it will allow them to buy more goods and services, and largely will not be saved but spent. True, longer and larger benefits discourage some people from working, but with opportunities so poor, and the median length of unemployment well over half a year now, the vast majority will be rightfully helped.
So how about a general stimuli, giving almost everyone more money? No. Cheapening the dollar will hurt our prosperity, by making imports more expensive, and will not solve the problem, as the jobs crisis is permanent. How about cutting interest rates further? That neither. They can't get much lower anyway - my interest-bearing checking account paid 0.05% last month - and large companies have more money now than they can constructively use anyway. Extensive relief for those whose houses dropped in value? Wrong again. We do not need even more encouragement for speculative investments on margin, and if people are working, their being "upside down" on a house they live in is not a problem of true national concern.
Overall stimuli are not going to solve the problem. Work's New Age has been caused by automation, globalization, increased efficiency, longer life expectancy, and additional largely good trends. We can stimulate the economy by helping specific people in need, especially those without jobs, and by sanctioning work that must be done anyway. If we spread money around more generally, we will only find that the money is worth less and less, with the lack of work as permanent as ever. If Mitt Romney can articulate this as his position, he may indeed win in November - and the country will be better off. If he cannot, it will be up to the voters, and the Obama camp, to stop us from seeing only more of same.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
At the same time, the Washington Post ran an opinion poll on what election issues were most important to respondents. As of a few minutes ago the results were 59% for "the economy," 20% for "health care," 8% for "the budget deficit," 4% for "foreign policy," 1% for "terrorism," something rounding to 0% for both "the environment" and "education," and 12% for other. Though the Post skews to the left in both writing and readership, one issue out of seven getting a majority seems significant.
So, Barack and Mitt, where are we going with the economy? What are your plans, other than stimulating the economy in general and cutting taxes and spending in general? How will you make your ideas happen? Do you think the jobs crisis might be permanent, and if not, why is it getting worse and worse despite our economy showing no other signs of recession? What ideas, if any, will you consider from the other side? If you are inaugurated next year and can implement what you want, at what point and with what outcomes will you admit your course of action needs adjustments or even a total overhaul? If you disagree that the key employment number is the 32 million-plus Americans who want to work full time and are not, why? How will you convince those on the other side that your efforts are worthwhile?
As an uncommited voter, I'm waiting for Obama's and Romney's answers to these questions and others like them. As a patriotic American, I'm hoping we get somewhere on this monumental historical change in the next four years, so we are not starting the next campaign in an even deeper hole. As an author and economics commentator, I want to see my ideas converted into progress. But we're now less than 100 days before we go to the polls, and it doesn't look good.
In a democracy, it is said, people always get the leaders, and leadership, they deserve. I hope, somehow, this time around that proves to be a good thing.