Obama's Unemployment Fix: A Department of Jobs?

A president clueless about employment ponders a new government department.

The Obama administration has a big idea to bolster employment: a Department of Jobs. This isn’t a South Park episode satirizing the White House but an actual idea floated by an administration official in the New York Times. The irony of a “Department of Jobs” is clearly lost on the hapless president.

President Barack Obama has had difficulty creating jobs. But he is a master at creating new government bureaus, commissions, and agencies. He seems oblivious to the causal connection between the latter and the former.

The president has taken his message of government jobs to the Midwest in a bus-charioted campaign swing this week. The Potemkin-Village audiences are impressed with the president’s performance. One especially obsequious town-hall attendee in Cannon Falls, Minnesota proclaimed to Obama, “First, I want to echo the sentiments of those who have spoken before me in praising you and thanking you for all of your efforts and all the things that you’ve tried to do during probably one of the most difficult situations faced by any president in the face of unreasonable obstruction and opposition.” The president apparently enjoys a 100 percent approval rating in Cannon Falls. He rates support from just 39 percent of Americans in the latest Gallup poll. The president’s incapacity to perform the job of cultivating jobs stands as the main reason why so many Americans want him out of his job.

President Obama touted his bailout of Detroit in Cannon Falls. “But what we said was, if we’re going to help you, then you’ve got to change your ways,” Obama lectured about the auto industry. “You can’t just make money on SUVs and trucks. There is a place for SUVs and trucks, but as gas prices keep on going up, you have got to understand the market.”

The words fall on the heels of an announcement of an average industry standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Not one of the top 15 cars sold in the United States currently gets forty miles per gallon on the highway. In fact, the bestselling automobile in the United States is the Ford F-150. The large truck became the American top seller the year Obama graduated from Columbia University and remains so through the third year of his presidency. The bestselling vehicle for each of the Big Three is a truck or SUV. The Chevrolet Volt, Government Motors’ prized battery-gasoline hybrid, found just 125 owners in July.

Who, really, has “got to understand the market”?

As the president advertised his fundamental ignorance of markets in Minnesota, headlines in Massachusetts further highlighted his misconceptions. Evergreen Solar, beneficiary of tens of millions in stimulus funds, announced bankruptcy after having earlier shipped jobs to China. It no longer makes solar panels for the “green economy.” The White House had boasted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would create 800 “green” jobs for the Marlborough, Massachusetts-based company. The jobs never materialized. The stimulus funds dematerialized.

Back in Minnesota, Obama apparently didn’t get the memo. He bragged, “We have put billions of dollars into energy research and to help move in a direction of greater reliance on fuels that are homegrown.” The commander-in-chief even envisioned “fighter jets running on alternative fuels.”

Why not pour billions into flying bicycles or invisibility rays?

Businesses reliant on government and not business can’t survive in the market. The public doesn’t demand what the bureaucrats want. So, state-propped-up industries such as Evergreen Solar inevitably fail. If the administration’s unprecedented subsidies to corporations—euphemistically called “investments” by the president—are so wise, why do actual investors (the ones who make a living at this sort of thing) balk? The question answers itself.

A command economy, in which the government dictates through coercive regulation what cars will be made and through subsidies what companies will profit, can’t satisfy the needs and wants of the people. It replaces the democracy of the market, where 310 million consumers vote with their money on what products they like, with the autocracy of planners, where a few state officials decide winners and losers by remote. You should prefer electric go-carts to trucks. You should prefer collectivized medicine to your family doctor. You should prefer windmills to coal. So, you will. This is force. This is arrogance. This is doesn’t work.

The results prove far more damaging to our economy than billions in wasted tax dollars. Subsidies pervert the entrepreneurial impulse from pleasing consumers to pleasing a few guys in Washington. The subsidies give rise to a loathsome creature, the government entrepreneur, whose success depends on connections, lobbying, and perhaps bribery, but not on developing a popular product. Talents that might have been used to satisfy market demand have been reoriented to fulfill the bureaucrat’s command. It’s a waste of capital. Worse still, it’s a waste of human capital.

Predictably, attempts to manage a private economy with 310 million moving parts (by people who have never worked in the private economy no less!) has been disastrous to the private economy. Don’t believe it, the president insists. He assured his fawning Minnesota audience that “we’ve had a string of bad luck” around the world this year and that the economic slump started before his presidency “dating all the way back to 2007, 2008.”

President Obama cautioned his Minnesota audience not to “buy into this notion that somehow government is what’s holding us back.” Clearly a man thinking about establishing a federal “Department of Jobs” doesn’t.