The first of the Presidential debates is scheduled for Wednesday evening. Whether or not these debates will prove decisive remains to be seen, but our Energion Political Roundtable is now at round 7 and focuses on jobs. You can check out the responses of my conversation partners – Allan Bevere, Elgin Hushbeck, Joel Watts, and Arthur Sido – at their blogs, but here’ I’ll offer my response to our question of the week:
What are the key policies that should be implemented in order to [create / facilitate the creation of / not impede the creation of] jobs? As always, feel free to compare your ideas to those of the candidates.
Although I’m not an expert on the government’s role in job creation, I do have some thoughts to share. Since I try to begin looking at the questions from a faith perspective, I can say that whatever role that government plays, or private enterprise for that matter, in job creation the policies should reflect God’s call for us as human beings to be good stewards of creation and attend to the needs of the least among us.
The two presidential candidates and their respective parties look at the question of government’s role in job creation very differently. Democrats see government having a greater role in both regulating and encouraging the creation of jobs, while Republicans tend toward letting the private sector decide what course to take. So, it’s not surprising that there has been a legislative impasse in recent years on this question. As for me, I believe that government can play a rather significant role from building/rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure to supporting education/training efforts that will enable Americans to find and retain jobs. There is, of course, also the public sector, which has been shrinking of late, especially at the local level. How many communities are struggling to provide services to the people?
Since a couple of job bills have been suggested, even if not passed, that deal with infrastructure, I’ll start there. It seems to me that great numbers of Americans could be employed rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure – roads, bridges, rail lines, the electrical grid. Much of our infrastructure is decades old and in disrepair. Some aspects, especially rail lines and the power grid are insufficient to meet the demands of today. What if we invested in these resources? Not only would we create jobs, but we would help the nation move forward into the new century. Think of all the roads and bridges built during the 50s and 60s. We’ve benefited for half a century. New infrastructure would enhance our future and offer great payback. While much of the actual construction work will be contracted out to private companies, it will take the government to plan and fund these upgrades.
Although our nation remains highly dependent on fossil fuel, new sources such as wind and solar, which may seem exotic to some offer clean and renewable sources to power our country well into the century. It will take some investment up front, but the jobs this effort creates will benefit many. Although private enterprise will play a significant role in this, government can pass laws and provide subsidies that will encourage these developments, just as we did with oil, coal, and the railroads. But wind and solar aren’t the only possibilities – there’s biomass and methane and other sources that could be developed if we devoted research and design funds to work on these sources. And then there’s the outdated delivery system. The current grid is inefficient, ineffective, and unable to continue to keep up with our needs for energy. All of this can be encouraged and supported by government, and jobs will result.
But if we’re going to create many of these new jobs, workers need education and training. The government can take a leading role in providing the kind of support that would make it possible for young people to get education and provide support for adults needing to upgrade skills or learn new ones as they pivot to a new vocation. This support can include both grants and loans. It can also include direct support to community colleges and other venues of education that demonstrate their ability to deliver.
Government can also provide incentives, subsidies, and loans to entrepreneurs and other forms of business – large and small – so they can create jobs. I think that an upgraded health reform package can also help ease the burden of businesses to provide health care for workers, making it easier to hire.
And if tax benefits are to be provided to corporations, we need to target them in ways that encourages job creation not hoarding of capital or sliding it off to tax havens.
In closing I’d like to note that in the past four years the size of government payrolls, especially at state, county, and local levels has shrunk considerably. Schools are making due with few teachers and support personnel. Police and fire departments have downsized. And these are the services that have been spared the most. Recreational and cultural opportunities – what are called quality of life services -- have suffered tremendously from cutbacks. And the community suffers as a result. Funding these would not only create jobs but enhance daily life.
When we look closely at what government does, we discover that it plays a much larger and significant role, than we often realize. Continuing to cut into these services may save money in the short term, but what about the long term? What does the future look like without these services and support?
You might be able to tell that I’m more likely to support the policies of the President rather than his challenger. I think he’s already suggested solutions to Congress, which if implemented would create jobs. So, maybe we should start with what’s already been proposed and move from there to build a better future.