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Doing More By Doing Less

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Each month, the federal government releases its unemployment report. As measurements of economic health go, you can’t get more basic than how many jobs we’re adding. And the simple fact is, we aren’t.

The unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent, the highest this year. Some 445,000 Americans became jobless. The economy added 18,000 jobs -- a paltry number in a country of more than 300 million people.

For perspective, consider this: According to labor expert James Sherk, the United States needs to add between 100,000 and 125,000 jobs a month simply to keep pace with population growth. And if we’re ever to get back to what economists consider full employment (about 5 percent unemployment), we’d have to have blockbuster growth for months on end.

This wasn’t what Americans were promised when the president’s much-vaulted “stimulus” became law. His plan to spend more than $700 billion in taxpayer money wasn’t sold as a panacea, no, but unemployment was certainly supposed to come down in its wake. Instead, we’ve seen just the opposite. The economy is stagnating.

Yet what are some liberals pushing for in the debt-ceiling package that’s being negotiated on Capitol Hill? More stimulus spending. We’re supposed to double-down on a failed policy in the hopes that it will magically start working?

That’s not all. The Environmental Protection Agency is about to pile even more regulations on an economy already straining under the weight of them. The EPA has new rules on smog, mercury, carbon dioxide, mining waste and vehicle emissions about to roll out. Even the White House has mixed feelings: Officials are “highly sensitive to the probability of political damage from a flood of government mandates that will strike particularly hard at the manufacturing sector in states crucial to the 2012 election,” The New York Times reports.

EPA Director Lisa Jackson knows this, but plans to proceed anyway. “We are doing our job,” she says. Thanks to her agency, though, a lot of people won’t be able to say that.

Even more troubling is President Obama’s oft-expressed desire to extract even more money from the rich, despite the fact that they already shoulder most of the nation’s tax burden. This not-so-subtle encouragement of class warfare may play well among the president’s natural constituency, but it’s singularly ineffective at growing an economy or creating wealth.

Ironically, these classic elements of central planning and top-down, big-government bureaucracy come on the 20th anniversary of Centesimus Annus, a 1991 encyclical on economic life written by Pope John Paul II as the Cold War was ending. Socialism had arisen a century earlier in response to the dehumanizing character of the Industrial Revolution, but the so-called solution it offered had made things worse. As Pope Leo XIII noted at the time:

“The Socialists encourage the poor man’s envy of the rich and strive to do away with private property, contending that individual possessions should become the common property of all … but their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that, were they carried into effect, the working man himself would be among the first to suffer.”

And that’s exactly what many working men and women are doing right now -- suffering, that is, not working -- due in large measure to the big-government solutions pushed by the current administration. However, as John Paul II wrote, “the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.”

Administration officials, though, apparently lack this historical perspective. So they keep repeating the mistakes of the past. They interfere with the market and try to reach deeper into the pockets of taxpayers.

Yet the best thing they can do is less. They can grow the economy if they step back. They can stem the tide of layoffs if they lay off. Will they?

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