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A Bum Steer

Obama’s advice to college students.

Oct 25, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 06 • By ANDREW B. WILSON
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President Obama continues to sell his omnibus anti-work, anti-jobs, and antigrowth program at colleges and universities across the country. This is a setting where “most folks” (to use a favorite presidential expression) cling to their own version of guns and religion—consisting of left-wing political causes and a devout sense of being the bearers of a new Enlightenment. With little knowledge and experience of the world outside the campus gates, they cheer the vilification of business and commerce.

A Bum Steer

At the outset of every speech, Obama laments the sorry state of the economy. He blames it on the “great mess” or the “deep hole” that he inherited upon coming to office. In his telling, government had no hand in creating this mess—other than the sins of omission of previous administrations which encouraged the recklessness and rapacity of private enterprise. Talking of the future as if it were a game of blackjack, the president says he is prepared to “double down” on education and an oil-free future. 

He makes promises: easy money in the form of more low-interest college loans for young people; early forgiveness of those loans for those who forswear the private sector and go into public sector jobs; the ability of campus hangers-on to stay on their parents’ health care plans until the age of 26; and the realization of his vision of a “clean energy future,” which is supposed to create “hundreds of thousands of new American jobs by 2012” and enable Team USA to surge ahead of India, China, and other rapidly growing nations in international competitiveness. 

Stripped to the essentials, all this is to say: Hey, why be in any hurry to get a job in this economy? You’ve probably got it pretty good where you are. But if you have to work, you’ll find the best jobs in the public sector and in other parts of the economy (energy, health care, the environment) that we have brought under government control. That’s where the action is.

From time immemorial, older generations have warned children nearing adulthood that they must get ready to fend for themselves. Obama throws that advice out the window. He tells college students they needn’t worry about being pushed out of the parental nest. 

“How many people are under the age of 26 in this crowd,” he asked a rally in Madison in late September, confident of the applause that would greet his next words: “Every single one of you, when you get out of college, if you have not found a job that offers you health care, you’re gonna be able to stay on your parents’ health care until you’re 26 years old, so you don’t end up taking the risk and getting sick and being bankrupt.” 

In a celebrated remark earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took this thought a step further. She said of Obamacare: “We see it as an entrepreneurial bill, a bill that says to someone, ‘If you want to be creative, and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your skill, your passion, your aspirations, because you will have health care.’ ”

The underlying idea seems to be, why should people have to work if they have better things to do with their time? The notion that having to step up to adult responsibilities is a productive incentive seems alien to the progressive mind. And when it comes to college loans, Obama would skew the incentives toward jobs that are already imperiled.

“Starting in 2014,” he explained, “we’re going to be in a situation where young people can cap their debt [for college loans] at 10 percent of their salary, regardless of what that salary is. And if you go into something like teaching, for example, or if you’re a police officer or firefighter, public service jobs of one sort or another, then that’s forgiven after ten years.”

One has to wonder whether the president has been reading the newspapers. In my home town of St. Louis, the big news this morning is that city officials are prepared to cut as many as 60 firefighting positions, about 10 percent of the workforce. Jeff Rainford, a top city official, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “If costs continue to rise as they have in the past, we won’t have a fire department, we’ll just have a fire pension. At some point, someone has to stand up for the taxpayers.”

The problem in St. Louis, as in other communities across the nation, is that the bill has come due for overly generous public sector compensation and pension plans that allow people to retire at close to full salary after working for only 25 to 30 years. In St. Louis, pension costs for city workers have soared from $7 million in 2000 to $61 million this year. The city now pays more for pensions and health care than it does for a host of services including trash collection, street repair, and snow removal.

Obama must know that roughly a third of the $814 billion stimulus package has gone to helping state and municipal governments patch budgetary holes. The St. Louis Fire Department is now hoping for a $5 million federal grant to stave off some of the cuts made necessary by fast-rising pension obligations, which account for nearly one-third of the department’s budget, up from one-eighth in 2001. 

The president would seem to be steering students into occupations that have already benefited from too much taxpayer support—enough to bring many communities and even whole states to the verge of bankruptcy. At the same time, and for the same reason, these very occupations have little to offer in terms of opportunity for future employment. 

Of course, public sector unions represent a large and important part of Obama’s political base. It would be silly to expect him to criticize unions. But he might at least acknowledge that the free market is the greatest wealth- and job-creating machine known to man.

In a free society and an open economy, countless individuals seek to meet their own needs by meeting the needs of others. That is how wealth is created. And that is why most people both have to work and find working worthwhile.

Andrew B. Wilson is a writer and business consultant.


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