Theres one reason, and one reason only, that President Barack Obamas stimulus passed so swiftly through Congress: Most Americans are worried about their jobs. And Barack Obama promises to save or create four million jobs. Even Obamas most ardent opponents embrace the make jobs programs embedded in the stimulus. Construction projects that put people to work, that fits the bill, Sarah Palin told Greta Van Susteran of Fox News. But these big, huge, expanded social programs thats not right, thats not fair.
Neither Republicans nor Democrats get it. The problem isnt just the pork barrel social welfare spending. Its not merely the redistributionist scheme disguised as tax cuts. The public relations backbone of this bill -- government spending on our nations crumbling infrastructure -- is misguided. While the countrys infrastructure may need revamping, this sort of spending will not stimulate the economy. It will not create the kind of jobs Americans need.
When politicians embrace government make jobs programs, they demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of employment in the economy. The goal of a thriving economy isnt full employment -- its raising the standard of living. Employment rate means nothing if the jobs it measures do not create wealth for the economy. During the Great Depression (1930-1940), the United States had an average unemployment rate of almost 18 percent; the USSR, by contrast, had full employment. And yet when the Oscar-nominated movie The Grapes of Wrath, chronicling the Great Depression, premiered in 1941, the USSR banned the movie for the simple reason that the poverty-stricken Joads owned a car -- a luxury virtually no Soviet outside the government enjoyed. Full employment did not breed prosperity.
Thats because not all jobs are created equal. Valuable jobs provide products and services the free market supports; useless jobs provide products and services the free market would not support. Valuable jobs provide products and services that enrich quality of life, making it cheaper to live better; useless jobs provide products and services that have minor impact on quality of life.