Some good news on the jobs front recently. January unemployment decreased to 9.7 percent. New jobless claims fell last week. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits is also down.
As the employment outlook slowly heals, Washington is poised to enact its third stimulus measure in three years. The efficacy of the legislation is in doubt. The first Bush stimulus of temporary tax rebates and government spending did not forestall the financial collapse and Great Recession. The second, trillion-dollar Obama stimulus of temporary tax rebates and massive government spending may have saved state and local government jobs, but it did so while doing next to nothing to promote private-sector job creation and adding massively to the debt. What makes us think the third stimulus, weighted heavily toward temporary small business tax credits, will be any different? Over to you, AP:
Tax experts and business leaders said companies are unlikely to hire workers just to receive a tax break. Before businesses start hiring, they need increased demand for their products, more work for their employees and more revenue to pay those workers.
"We're skeptical that it's going to be a big job creator," said Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business. "There's certainly nothing wrong with giving a tax break to a business that's hired a new worker, especially in these tough times. But in terms of being an incentive to hire a lot of workers, we're skeptical."
Rys isn't alone. Here is the not-so-ringing endorsement of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: "I think this will provide a little bit more of a boost, a little more spark to make sure as we grow, we're creating more jobs than we otherwise would."
"A little bit more of a boost" is not exactly what the economy needs right now. What it needs is an agenda that ends Too Big To Fail rather than praising its beneficiaries; an agenda that permanently changes long-term incentives to invest and produce rather than dangling tax hikes over our heads like a Sword of Damocles; an agenda that forswears transformative ambitions and focuses instead on incremental measures to bring America's long-term fiscal problems into balance.
This would calm markets. This would give the economy the breathing space it needs to recover. The automatic stabilizer of government spending would still be there -- America's deficit was a record $1.4 trillion last year. But we wouldn't be making our long-term problem worse in the pursuit of such meager short-term gains.
I realize this sort of agenda isn't on the menu! But that is no reason to cease advocating one's preferred policies.
Meanwhile, the Senate is haggling over the "jobs" bill, which may not come to fruition until next month. Apparently only Reid and K Street lobbyists know what's in the Senate version. (Sen. Voinovich: "When a member of the Senate says his buddy got a copy of the bill through some lobbyists, ... that’s not very good.")
A larger problem is Nancy Pelosi, who is expressing doubts about the Senate package. Could internal Democratic squabbling and confusion over priorities -- the Congress still needs to pass a budget resolution and the reconciliation option on health care runs out in April -- result in gridlock on jobs? And if the jobs bill dies in conference, will the (all-too-slowly) recovering job market even notice?