Wednesday, June 01, 2011

More of the same

At the Hill blog, Rick Manning, the communications director of Americans for Limited Government, has called my attention to this NY Times editorial from Sunday on the current economic situation. The Times editors think that
Republican lawmakers have responded to renewed signs of weakness with a jobs plan that prescribes more of the same “fixes” that Republicans always recommend no matter the problem: mainly high-end tax cuts, deregulation, more domestic oil drilling and federal spending cuts.

The White House has offered sounder ideas, including job retraining, plans to boost educational achievement and tax increases to help cover needed spending. But its economic team is mainly focused on negotiations to raise the debt limit, presumably parrying Republican demands for deep spending cuts that could weaken the economy further while still reaching an agreement on the necessary increase.

Manning notes that
In just a few lines, the Times managed to encapsulate the left’s complete lack of understanding of why jobs are created.

To be clear, jobs get created in private enterprise when additional labor is required to produce goods or services that will increase the profit of the enterprise.

Jobs don’t get created:

A: because people are trained to do them.

B: because people have higher educational attainment.

C: by raising taxes on those who we hope will create the jobs.
Which is, of course, absolutely correct.

But I'm a little more interested, today, in the rhetorical sleight-of-hand that the Times is using here, and the unstated assumptions that go into it.
Republican lawmakers have responded ... with a jobs plan that prescribes more of the same “fixes” that Republicans always recommend no matter the problem: ... The White House has offered sounder ideas
So, while both parties are, in this instance, absolutely true to their undergirding philosophies and the wishes of their supporters, the Republicans are offering "more of the same" while the White House has "sounder ideas." The evidence that these ideas are "sounder" is assumed to be true, or left as an exercise for the reader. No doubt the typical Times reader shares those assumptions, so it would be a waste of time to actually make the case. But both parties are offering "more of the same." The Republicans are, in fact, offering "tax cuts, deregulation, more domestic oil drilling and federal spending cuts." Those are the policies that Republicans always tend to favor. The Democrats, on the other hand, when they can be bothered to offer anything, offer things like "job retraining, plans to boost educational achievement and tax increases to help cover needed spending." It's quite a trick to condemn one party for offering "more of the same" while at the same time praising the other party for offering "more of the same," but that's what they've done here.

Note that there's nothing inherently wrong with criticizing one set of ideas while supporting the other. There's nothing dishonest about it. But "more of the same" is a fundamentally dishonest criticism.

And what, exactly, are those "sounder ideas" of the Democrats?
job retraining
That sounds good, doesn't it? "Job retraining." Helping people help themselves. Out-of-work pastry chefs learn how to fill the critical gaps in our power-supply infrastructure capabilites or traffic control. Who wouldn't want to increase his or her job skills?

But here's the problem with that lovely sounding idea - currently, there are millions of Americans out of work who want jobs. Where, exactly, are the millions of jobs that they would fill if they were "retrained"? If we train all of our out-of-work coal miners to run Microsoft Word and Excel, does that fix the unemployment problem? Shall we re-train all of our out-of-work auto workers as nuclear physicists? How, by what mechanism, does "job retraining" create a single new job, never mind the millions that are missing from the economy as a result of the disruptions of the past few years? (OK, so you get a hundred thousand government-paid "retrainers" hired by the Federal government, and a couple of thousand bureaucrats to administer the program. How do you create any jobs beyond those?)

The Times has, of course, no answer for those questions, if they ever considered them, which is profoundly unlikely.
plans to boost educational achievement
"Plans to boost educational achievement." Oh, they've got "plans to boost educational achievement" - that'll generate millions of jobs!

How, exactly? I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for an answer.
tax increases to help cover needed spending
Because apparently, the government isn't spending enough already.

To do them justice, one could see unemployment dropping if the government spent more. Yes, the first stimulus was a disaster, but there's always room for the old Keynsian classic, "hire two million people to dig holes and two million more to fill them in." That'll address the unemployment rate, at least in the short term, and it's not like it would significantly change the debt situation - we've already got no chance of staying solvent without massive tax increases, so what's a little more?

So maybe the Times is one-for-three on this section. Or maybe they just think that "sounder" means "sounds nicer to us."
But its economic team is mainly focused on negotiations to raise the debt limit, presumably parrying Republican demands for deep spending cuts that could weaken the economy further while still reaching an agreement on the necessary increase.
"Parrying Rebublican demands for deep spending cuts that could weaken the economy..." As with everything else that they've written, the question comes again - "HOW?" What is the mechanism by which "spending cuts...weaken the economy"? What is the mechanism by which the Federal Government is increasing the economic productivity of the country? Even assuming that there is some mechanism or mechanisms by which government spending increases economic output, where's a single shred of evidence to suggest that there's still room for more economic productivity to be had by raising taxes and spending? The government has been on a wild spending spree for the past four years now (thanks, Nancy and Harry and Barack!) and the economy doesn't seem, at least to my untrained eyes, to have gotten better. What can they offer to support the Democrats "more of the same"?

Nothing. And they don't bother trying. It's just "more of the same" from the New York Times...

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