“Jobs, jobs, jobs.” That’s what candidates promise in Maine and all over the country. Their experience specially qualifies them, they say, to use their sought-after job in government to create employment for others.
It’s mostly a false promise. No single position in government, including the presidency, can with certainty guarantee more jobs. And candidates, who have created jobs in the private sector, are often amazingly short on details about how they would do the same thing in government.
Candidates like to give the impression they can translate business success into job creation once they are in government. But this is a case of unrealistic political promises facing off against reality we should have learned in high school civics class.
There are hundreds of people in Congress and legislatures. A legislative candidate can promise results, but he or she cannot produce them without the agreement of a majority of people, their fellow legislators, many of whom they barely know.
Even worse, the legislative body may be under the control of the opposition party, meaning they have no real chance of their job creation proposals succeeding.
Then, of course, there’s the president or governor. Executive approval is almost always needed before a legislator’s hot idea can be adopted.
And that also works the other way around. The chief executive depends on legislative approval to adopt most job-creation proposals.
Besides these very real institutional obstacles, there is the nitty-gritty of the proposals themselves. How would the candidate have government create jobs?
Government can do many things to promote job growth, and most of them are controversial. When a candidate promises to promote more and better jobs, the political hopeful should be asked which of the many difficult choices should be made.
With more funding, government itself can create jobs by hiring more people. Or public funds can be used to hire private sector and non-profit entities to carry out public functions, like building roads and bridges. But that could mean either higher taxes or more debt.
Another government policy, with a less certain result, is cutting taxes. That allows employers to keep more of their profits, which presumably can be used to finance expansion and more jobs.
Government can subsidize energy development by favorable tax credits. In fact, there is a broad array of tax subsidies at the federal and state levels that reduce the cost of conducting a business in the hope that the resulting growth will create employment.
Tax cutting is “trickle down” economics. But corporate chiefs are free to pay shareholders bigger dividends and not hire any new employees. Tax reductions directly tied to job creation have not proved broadly effective.
Many candidates want to cut government regulation in the belief that the easier it is to do business, the more business will be done.
If environmental rules are reduced, the private sector saves the cost of compliance. For many voters that trade-off is too costly, making it risky as a specific job-creation plan.
Regulators can control utility prices, keeping costs down for business. But an elected official usually cannot force such regulatory action, unless a legislative mandate is enacted.
Interest rates may be cut, making it easier for business to finance expansion by using cheaper money. But that’s mostly a function of the Federal Reserve, which is intentionally isolated from the kind of political pressures that elected officials exert.
If older people leave the work force at a younger age, they open new job opportunities for younger workers. For government to encourage that shift, it must assure retirees of access to a better retirement income and health care.
This is a partial laundry list of possible job creation measures. None of them can be produced by any single elected official, so candidates can easily over-promise, hoping to sway uncritical voters.
Rather than look at candidates’ promises, it’s better to look at their party’s programs and orientation. Most legislators will follow the party line, and most presidents and governors must rely on their party’s legislative support.
Politicians take the credit for job growth, but seldom take responsibility for economic slowdowns. That should be a sign for voters to be skeptical of political promises about matters public officials may influence but not control.
Remember that much if not most job growth is not the result of government action but of the innovation, risk-taking and skills of business managers.
When candidates say their ability to create jobs is proved by their private sector accomplishments, it’s possible the best thing they can do to create jobs is stay in the private sector.