Does John Boehner know what paychecks are made of?

By Felix Salmon
July 8, 2011
jobs report.

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It’s incredibly difficult to work out what is the most depressing part of today’s truly gruesome jobs report. The shrinking number of people in the labor force? The rise in U-6, broad underemployment, to 16.2%? The sharp spike in the newly unemployed? The downward revisions to April and May? The downtick in total hours worked? Maybe it’s the way that people leaving government jobs, for whatever reason, are finding it impossible to find new jobs in the private sector.

For me, it’s none of these things — it’s not, in fact, anything inside the report at all. Instead, it’s the reaction to the report from John Boehner:

“The American people are still asking the question: where are the jobs? Today’s report is more evidence that the misguided ‘stimulus’ spending binge, excessive regulations, and an overwhelming national debt continue to hold back private-sector job creation in our country. Legislation that raises taxes on small business job creators, fails to cut spending by a larger amount than a debt limit hike, or fails to restrain future spending will only make things worse – and won’t pass the House. Republicans are focused on jobs, and are ready to stop Washington from spending money it doesn’t have and make serious changes to the way we spend taxpayer dollars. We hope our Democratic counterparts will join us and seize this opportunity to do something big for our economy and our future, and help get Americans back to work.”

Opinions of the budget deficit and the national debt differ — some people think they’re a huge and important issue which needs to be dealt with in an urgent and serious way, while others think that the whole issue is overblown and that the debt is doing little if any harm at all to the US economy. But whichever side you stand on that debate, it’s downright bonkers to think that, at the margin, government spending reduces job creation, while pushing for ever-larger spending cuts is the way to be “focused on jobs”.

As Paul Krugman has explained extremely well, the economics of the deficit are not entirely obvious, and the president is no natural Keynsian.

The president just doesn’t like the kind of people who tell him counterintuitive things, who say that the government is not like a family, that it’s not right for the government to tighten its belt when Americans are tightening theirs, that unemployment is not caused by lack of the right skills. Certainly just about all the people who might have tried to make that argument have left the administration or are leaving soon…

To commenters saying that I need to have dinner with the president, or vice versa — been there, done that, didn’t help.

But if Krugman’s Keynsianism is unintuitive, the Republican stance on jobs is downright incomprehensible. Paychecks are made of money: they’re spending. If you spend less, you get fewer and smaller paychecks.

“Spend less money, create more jobs” is the kind of world one normally finds only in Woody Allen movies, and it’s a profoundly unserious stance for any politician to take. Spending cuts, whether they’re implemented by the public sector or the private sector, are never going to create jobs. And there’s simply no magical ju-jitsu whereby government spending cuts get reversed and amplified, becoming larger private-sector spending increases.

Boehner’s rhetoric, here, is a cynical play on our nation’s economic illiteracy. But the jobs crisis is far too big and too important to become a tactical political football. Now more than ever, it’s the job of government to come together and to do something constructive to create high-quality, long-term employment. Fast. Instead, the House majority is giving us aggressively harmful stupidity. Today’s a bad day in the annals of job statistics. But it’s equally bad in the annals of public service.

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