Of Snake Oil, Puff Balls, and the Need for a Real Jobs Plan from the President

Today the President met with business leaders on his “jobs and competitiveness council,” who suggested more public-private partnerships to train workers, less government red-tape in obtaining permits, and more jobs in travel and tourism, among other things. The President then toured a manufacturing plant in North Carolina, and made an eloquent speech about the need for more jobs.


Doesn’t the White House get it? The President has to have a bold jobs plan, with specifics. Why not exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for the next year? Why not a new WPA for the long-term unemployed, and a Civilian Conservation Corps for the legions of young jobless Americans? Why not allow people to declare bankruptcy on their primary residences, and thereby reorganize their mortgage debt?

Or a hundred other ways to boost demand.

Fluff won’t get us anywhere. In fact, it creates a policy vacuum that will be filled by Republicans intent on convincing Americans that cutting federal spending and reducing taxes on the rich will create jobs.

Most Americans are smart enough to see through this. But if the Republican snake oil is the only remedy being offered, some people will buy it. And if the President and Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to obsess about reaching an agreement to raise the debt limit, they risk making the snake oil seem like a legitimate cure.

The puff balls being offered by the CEOs on the President’s jobs and competitiveness council are hardly a substitute. These CEOs won’t suggest hard-ball ideas to boost demand. Why should they? Their companies rely less and less on consumers in the United States – and, for that matter, on American workers. For several years now, these companies’ foreign sales have been growing faster than their US sales and they’ve been creating more jobs abroad than here.

Consider GE, whose Chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, is also the chairman of the President’s jobs council. By the end of last year, 54 percent of GE’s 287,000 employees worked outside the United States. That’s a turnaround from as recently as 2005, when a majority of the firm’s workers were still located in the United States.

GE and the other companies represented on the President’s jobs council will continue to do fine regardless of shriveled demand in the United States. But unless demand is boosted here, American workers will continue to be hard hit.

If the choice is between Republican snake oil and the puff balls of the President’s job’s council, America will be in deeper and deeper trouble. So will the President.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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