Obama vs. Jobs – July 5, 2010

President Obama likes to say that jobs are his highest priority, and well he might, since more than the immigration confusion, more than the unconscionable delay in skimming oil in the Gulf, and more than fecklessly allowing Iran to get the bomb, jobs will be the principal determinant of Democratic fortunes this November.  His problem, though, is that he doesn’t really mean it.

Oh, I know he is convinced that his $867 billion “stimulus” package was a jobs-first program, and that they claimed to have “created or saved” hundreds of thousands of jobs, but I note for the record that the number of government jobs has increased by hundreds of thousands since the beginning of the Obama administration, while private employment has declined.  Is that the way to get our economy growing again?  To recycle tax dollars into government workers’ pockets without creating additional wealth?  (And it is, I hope, a truism that does not need illustration that government jobs do not generate wealth – they merely take someone’s wealth and give it to someone else, hopefully but not always in return for a useful service.)
Further, the Obama administration does not seem to appreciate the role played by entrepreneurs in our economy, even as they utter the usual mom-and-apple-pie paeans to small business.  The wealthy, to these folks, are not those who have taken the risk of starting a successful business, or the ones who worked 16-hour days to make it prosper.  Rather, Team Obama seems to see the wealthy as someone who has, usually by less-than-legitimate means, taken more than their share of the nations’ economic pie, and therefore are the ones to be plucked when it comes to narrowing the Great Obama Deficit.
But totally apart from all that, I want to point out how much this administration favors its other priorities over the creation of jobs.  And for tonight, let’s focus on one priority alone – the environment.  For it’s clear that Obama considers jobs to be collateral damage on the way to realizing his prediction that he can “stop the seas from rising” and all the rest.
Start with Obama’s big target: his energy bill, known to critics as “cap and trade.”  As he has said repeatedly, he wants to move America away from the use of carbon-based energy and toward the green goal of renewable resources.  Let’s ignore for the moment the practicalities of this and look simply at the jobs picture.  Obama likes to tout the thousands of “green jobs” that will be created as this new economy begins to get traction.  Well, first, of all, I seriously doubt the job bonanza will be anything of the sort that is so confidently predicted, nor will those job be unexportable, as Obama promises.  After all, why would it not be cheaper to build solar panels in China, where the critical minerals like selenium are mined in abundance?  Further, Spain tried for some years to be the green jobs center of Europe, and discovered to its dismay that one green job cost approximately 1 1/2 jobs elsewhere in the economy – they are simply not productive enough to survive without floods of government subsidy, which means draining resources from another sector to pay for the solar panel installers.  And think of this – nearly three quarters of a million workers plied their daily trade in coal mining and oil extraction in the US in 2008.  If Cap and Trade prices those forms of energy increasingly out of the market (and that is Obama’s objective, stated plainly), how many of those jobs are going away?  Finally, the wise heads in Congress who are putting this program together have decided that, in order to level the playing field between the now-much-more-expensive energy situation in this country and our competitors in countries who are less enlightened about saving the earth from its inhabitants, they will pass an energy equivalence tariff on goods from such recalcitrant nations.  Great! A trade war on top of the rest.  That’ll be good for jobs!
Net, net, if this legislation generates more jobs through its government subsidy of green careers than it loses through higher energy costs, reduced employment in oil, gas, and coal, and the possibility of a trade war, then pigs indeed can fly.
Second, as Exhibit B we have the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf as a consequence of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Never mind the fact that the expert oil engineers who vetted the Interior Department’s report justifying the moratorium specifically disavowed that conclusion as not supported by the facts (again, remember that this administration promised not to let ideology trump science – imagine the hue and cry if the Bush administration issued such a report!)  Nevertheless, the moratorium is pushing ahead, and despite being overruled by a Federal judge, the administration is using every resource to make sure that drilling is halted.  So what will be the consequence?  Drillers have already started sending their rigs overseas to places like Nigeria and even Brazil, hiring local crews instead of US drillers.  But don’t worry! BP is paying $100 million to offset the job losses!  That, actually, will pay for about a month of salaries that will be lost forever.  This administration chose to look past the recommendations of the experts and pursue the precautionary principle – that if something can go wrong, expect that it will and take no chances.  Jobs lost along the way are simply the price we must pay.  Conveniently, this stance also pleases Obama’s base on the environmental left, who are a bit steamed that he hasn’t already outlawed the internal combustion engine.  So, once again jobs come in second to the environment (so-called).
Exhibit C – the lifting of the $75 million cap on damages from oil spills.  Why, one asks, did Congress set that so low in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill, when it was so evident that a serious spill can cost much more than that?  The main reason was that that spill created such potential liability that no small- to medium-sized oil company could possibly get insurance and therefore would be forced to shut down.  Rather than decimate a vigorous and vital – and large – segment of our oil industry, Congress set this cap, with further liability to be borne by the US taxpayer up to $1 billion in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.  Now, this sounds like a decent use of taxpayer money to me.  Since a major spill like that occurs so infrequently – once every twenty years or so – it is not a productive use of money for all oil producers to insure against that possibility every year.  It is one of those extremely rare but high-impact events that are very hard and therefore very expensive to insure.  And since every single American benefits from the ready availability of our domestic oil production, it makes sense that we collectively bear the risk that something goes horribly wrong out there.
Furthermore, the cap does not apply if the spill is the result of practices that violate Federal regulation, and it does not apply to claims in state courts.  Moreover, the cap has not had one iota of influence on either claims on BP or on their immediate avowals to make good on every legitimate claim regardless of the sum.  So, for no good reason apart from the public relations issue of having a low cap juxtaposed against a multi-billion dollar disaster, Congress with the administration’s blessing is planning to raise it exponentially or perhaps even lift it altogether.
But wait – what about those small- to medium-sized oil producers currently drilling in the Gulf?  Well, Carol Browner for one is OK if they go out of business.   Maybe this is a sector where you really need large companies, says Obama’s EPA director.  Jobs?  Oh, well, maybe they can all retrain to be solar panel installers.  And the company owners?  The ones who have sunk their life savings into their rigs and now face ruin?  I hear the government is hiring…
Finally, and most egregiously, we have the case of Bucyrus Erie and the Export Import Bank.  Bucyrus had won a big contract to supply equipment for a new coal mining facility in India run by Reliance Power – six hundred million dollars, which would support 1,000 high paying US export-oriented jobs.  All it needed was a loan guarantee by the ExIm Bank, exactly the kind of thing this institution was set up to do.  But Bucyrus had the misfortune of being in an industry that is out of favor – coal mining equipment.  And the ExIm board, by a vote of 2 (Democrats) to 1 (Republican) turned it down.  They didn’t like that this guarantee would go to a project with such a large carbon footprint.  So the minions of the White House take their cue from the man at the top, and say “no” to a thousand jobs rather than contribute to the despoliation of the earth.
But wait!  This project will go ahead anyway – it’s not like Reliance has no alternative providers for the equipment.  So the large carbon footprint will occur (and generate lots of inexpensive power, by the way, for the people of India to use to better their lives), and the jobs will be created – just not in Wisconsin, or anywhere else in the USA.  So, once again, for a misguided attempt to avoid that nasty carbon-based energy, we let a thousand workers someplace else get the high paying jobs.
Fortunately, in this case, vigorous advocacy by local Representatives (thank you, Paul Ryan!) succeeded in bringing a shaft of sunlight into a benighted decision, and ExIm has agreed to reconsider.  Interestingly, on the day of that decision, Obama himself was in Wisconsin making a speech about jobs.  Did he once mention that the India project was going ahead?  Seemed not to have made it to his teleprompter.  Perhaps he didn’t want to call attention to such a non-green decision.
But the fact that the decision first went to the negative is very telling.  Whether by direction or by inspiration, this administration – whether it’s the EPA, the ExIm Bank, or the White House itself – is making policy favoring the President’s ideology regarding the environment.  If jobs get chewed up and spit out along the way, it’s part of the price of the march toward a better world.
Obama said on the campaign trail that it wouldn’t be easy, this renewal of America, this Change We Can All Believe In.  What he didn’t say is that the burden would be borne so heavily by people who just want to have a good job.
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