Monday, May 14, 2012

Obama's timid jobs program

President Obama's weekly address of 05/12/2012 pitched for a timid set of jobs proposals that hardly begin to deal with the magnitude3 of the jobs crisis US workers face today. But they are very much in line with his "just a slight change in priorities" approach to drawing contrasts between Democrats and Republicans.

Not surprisingly, the short address is full of tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. Here is the President's uninspiring laundry list from Saturday:

First, Congress should stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and use that money to cover moving expenses for companies that bring jobs back to America.
A good idea. It relies on tax changes, staying firmly within the neoliberal framework of relatively passive government.

Second, Congress should help the millions of Americans who have worked hard and made their mortgage payments on time refinance their mortgages at lower rates and save at least $3,000 a year.
It would be great if the Administration would come up with a decent and effective program of mortgage relief. Every attempt so far has floundered on the Administration's unwillingness to meet reactionary Republican criticism of such a program head-on. As Paul Krugman writes in his just-published End This Depression Now! (2012), the Administration's "attempts to provide homeowner relief have been, to put it bluntly, a total bust." And putting on his pundit's hat, he believe that the main reason is "because both the plans for relief and their implementation have been crippled by fear that some undeserving debtors might receive relief, and that this would provide a political backlash." In other words, the chronic policy ailment of the Obama Administration: timidity in the face of relentless, irreconcilable Republican criticism.

Third, Congress should help small business owners by giving them a tax break for hiring more workers and paying them higher wages. Small businesses are the engine of economic growth in this country. We shouldn’t be holding them back – we should be making it easier for them to succeed.
Tax breaks for "small business owners". Another lazy formulation that leaves the Democrats in the shadowland of offering "just a slight change in priorities" from the Republicans and buying uncritically into the Republican partisan framing.

Fourth, if Congress fails to act soon, clean energy companies will see their taxes go up and could be forced to lay off employees. These companies are putting Americans to work and helping break our dependence on foreign oil. Congress should extend these tax credits.
Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts: "just a slight change in priorities" from the Republicans.

And finally, Congress should help our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan by creating a Veterans Job Corps. Our men and women in uniform have served this country with honor. Now it's our turn to serve them.
To do what? Give them a place to hang out during the day while they look for jobs that aren't there? Programs targeted for veterans always evoke a certain amount of goodwill. But that leaves Obama here too in the "just a slight change in priorities" trap. Veterans need jobs and so do other unemployed workers. The same policies that would create jobs for veterans would create the jobs that non-veterans need. The same kinds of assistance in job-search, interviewing skills, etc., that veterans may need are the same kind that other unemployed people also need.

It may be out of step with the current American political culture to say so, but we need to understand the real implication of the message that veterans but not other unemployed people are deserving of government support of some kind in getting jobs. This is actually a throwback to the days of "veterans preference" hiring for government jobs, when local jobs in particular were seen more as patronage rewards and when government jobs required less skills and particular education than they do today. It may be that at some point, veterans-preference hiring actually reduced straight partisan patronage hiring, which could be considered a "good government" effect. But veterans-preference hiring also became yet another excuse for discriminating against women in hiring for public jobs.

In terms of the need for the President to push for employment policies of the magnitude needed, he needs to stress how jobs programs, including the intentional creation of public service jobs, can be effective: for veterans, for students graduating from high school and college, for older workers facing significantly more discrimination in hiring than twentysomething or thirtysomething veterans.

The President on Saturday offered weak policies in comparison to the jobs crisis, weak politics given the economic situation and the gushers of corporate money for Republicans that the Citizens United decision has produced.

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