Tuesday’s main Republican presidential candidate debate was the most substantive of the four so far. It was run by Fox Business, which apparently was determined to avoid personal history and overly combative questions. Although the inquiries were easy at times, they allowed the eight on the stage to showcase what they felt strongest about, especially on the directed topics of jobs, taxes, and the economy in general. Several months into a campaign which has too often seemed to produce platitudes at best and personal attacks of questionable merit at worst, it was fine for these top-ranking 2016 hopefuls to give parts of their stump speeches to the nation instead of to highly partisan crowds, and in relative peace.
Fox also published similar material in a November 6th Elizabeth MacDonald article, “In Their Own Words: The GOP Candidates on the Economy.” Between that and what they said in Tuesday’s debate, we have solid material on candidates’ views on improving our jobs situation. The eight combined for ten different ideas, with each advocating from one to six of them. So who spoke up for what, and how much merit do these proposals have?
Most common was removing anti-employment regulations, voiced by six: Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina. Although it may be the easiest to say, and one of the best and seemingly most obvious, there are reasons, beyond the ideological positions of those in power, why more have not been cut already. To name three, many have entrenched and highly influential special interests supporting them, there would be great difficulty in identifying (let alone even-handedly evaluating) these destructive rules, and a focused effort to remove them would call for a level of bipartisan cooperation and commitment vastly past what we have seen in Congress for decades. That is not to say that assessing and eliminating many employment-related regulations is a bad idea, but that getting there would be much more difficult than passing a new program.
The second most frequently named measure, suggested by Rubio, Bush, Kasich, and Rand Paul, was to cut corporate taxes. I have advocated adjusting the business tax code to reward companies that create American jobs, but what these four want is not the same, and does not have merit. According to Standard & Poor’s, 2,000 American nonfinancial companies now combine for $1.82 trillion in cash and other investments, which is, amazingly, more than double what it was in 2008, only six years before and prior to the Great Recession. At the same time our country is over 17 million jobs short, with the total number of positions barely higher now than seven years ago. If big business is so much flusher with so few jobs added, why would trillions more from tax savings help?
Three ideas gathered expressed support from three candidates apiece. Rubio, Cruz, and Bush all spoke up for comprehensively maximizing United States energy resources. It has been an oddity that our country is one of the few in the developed world that does not get the most of what it has, not only in fossil fuels but renewable ones such as wind and hydroelectric. It is insufficient to assert either that environmental concerns are automatically more important than all others put together or that a need to develop other sources justifies sharp limits on coal and oil production. More jobs are a certainty with more energy work, which comes ahead in other ways as well, so these three Republicans are correct here. The same cannot be said for another idea from the same three, repealing Obamacare. That program is certainly flawed, and will eventually get the rework it needs, but in the meantime it is the only comprehensive healthcare program, a clear necessity, the United States has ever had. It is not reasonable to presume that if it is repealed it will quickly be replaced by a better system, so that should only be done with simultaneous replacement. As for jobs, it is hard to see how any program which causes the total amount of health care resources to climb sharply can cut them, therefore no merit here. The third three-person idea, leaving the minimum wage the same, is, as I have written repeatedly before, classically positive for the number of jobs, a point made by Carson, Rubio, and Donald Trump.
Two suggestions were made by two candidates. Rubio and Trump spoke out for the need for less illegal immigration, and, in the case of Trump, advocating comprehensive deportation. Yes, Donald, going door-to-door would create tens of thousands of jobs, but it’s unworkable if not just silly. I give partial credit for the rest of the idea, since it is unclear how many positions vacated by undocumented foreigners would actually then be filled by Americans. The second, a flat income tax requested by Cruz and Paul, is an intriguing if probably fatally regressive revenue-collecting idea with pro-employment effects possible but hardly guaranteed.
Three remaining thoughts on improving American employment were put forward by one candidate each. Kasich said there would be more jobs if the budget were balanced – why, and how quickly? Rubio advocated more vocational training, and hinted that it has stopped taking place, which would be a surprise to millions at community colleges and the like; that has only a small amount of merit, as too many of the jobs for which it prepares workers are shrinking in number. I was surprised that only Paul spoke out for an end to the payroll tax, which is regressive, takes money away from those most likely to need it and spend it, and charges businesses for having employees at a time when we would be better off paying them instead.
Of these ten ideas, only one – that of more vocational training – is likely to be supported by either major Democratic candidate. These are conservative suggestions. That, however, does not mean that liberals should reject them out of hand. Just as the more Democratic idea of a WPA-style infrastructure project, which both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have advocated, should also be by Republicans, more liberals would do well to consider, for example, whether we really need as many employment-related regulations as are now on the books. The country, after all, belongs to all of us, and even official joblessness won’t keep dropping forever. We have had almost seven years under a moderate Democrat – whether we should have nine, five, or just one more is for us, considering the thoughts above, to decide.