Should There Be a “Sell By” Date for Presidential JOBS Responsibility?

In anticipation of this year’s election, a big debate is gathering steam — citing Obama’s alleged failures, first in creating job losses and then in not recreating new jobs, versus Romney’s so-called record of killing jobs and creating new jobs.

The real facts are simple and clear. Obama is being charged with responsibility for losing jobs that were, in fact, almost entirely lost before he took office. Since he has held office, jobs have been net increasing (so far a total of 4.25 million in the past 26 months) albeit more slowly than anyone would like, but steadily.

In fact Obama immediately – -on Jan. 21, 2009 — launched a program that quickly turned the tide, but because of the severity of the Bush recession and the shifting of the global economy, the strength and pace of the job recovery has not been, seen in historical terms, robust.

By comparison in the first 34 months after the first ‘W’ Bush recession the economy had gained only 364,000 private sector jobs.

There is no legitimate basis for concluding that Obama has failed American workers. Bush and changes in the global economy did that.

These indisputable facts point to the vital question of when a president should be held responsible for job destruction and creation.

The answer must be that something like six months after taking office, presidential responsibility really begins, and should end some six months after the end of the term of office. A lag factor should become a well-accepted practice.

It is vitally important for the voting population to get these facts straight, because if this year’s election is going to turn on jobs, which it likely will, it is crucial that all voters not base conclusions and their ballots on misinformation being aggressively peddled at the moment by ad makers of dubious integrity.

This is a set of facts far too important to be left uncorrected.

Similarly, Romney’s record in this regard should be made much clearer. His campaign refers to some 350 companies that were owned by his company Bain during his time. We know some companies in which many jobs were lost, but that partial fact should not be a sufficient basis to conclude he is overall a job destroyer.

It would be helpful to know the facts of all 350 companies. As a group, did they end up with more jobs or fewer? And, even if there are more jobs at the end of the day, what does that prove about his macro skills with respect to job creation on a national scale? It would be helpful also if Romney would explain in more detail what he proposes to do to create many more jobs, beyond lowering taxes and cleaning up excessive regulation. The problem requires a much more complex and far reaching solution than that in today’s rapidly shrinking and changing world.

How quickly memories fade! ‘W’ Bush’s eight years were responsible for virtually all the jobs Obama is now being held to account for.

Nor is Romney’s limited job development experience in the private sector a basis for concluding that he is the right policy leader for the next national steps in job development.
So let’s be certain the public has the facts straight as they assess which candidate and party has the right polices for getting the workers of America out of the ditch today.

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Well Informed Versus Ill Informed

Much needed attention is being given today to the growing disparity of income between the few and the many. There are several concerns about this problem that go beyond simple fairness issues.

Too much inequality for too long a time can lead to corrosive relationships between parts of society that are inevitably interdependent and which need to work together smoothly to make our whole system work properly.

Managers and workers, along with governmental regulators, have common problems, goals and needs but they often cannot see the other groups’ points of view because of preconceived perspectives, stemming from disparities in education, experience and income.

Income inequality can be addressed in a variety of ways through taxation, disclosure and even culture changes, fostered by recognition of the importance of better balance. Henry Ford’s genius in paying his Model T workers better so that they could afford to buy Ford cars was perhaps history’s best example to date of that kind of inspired thinking.

Parallel to the income inequality issues today is another grave problem, which, correlates to the income issues: a growing gap between people who are well- versus ill-informed about the world they live in.

This problem is partly due to serious issues with our educational system but it appears to go way beyond academics. There is an old semi-serious expression that people often use, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” Too frequently, too many people in this country have made up their minds about something based on very little knowledge and simply are not open-minded enough to even want to know more before digging in to defend or oppose any change in their world.

There are two substantive sets of issues where this problem is especially acute. Economics is perhaps the biggest problem. Politicians often use individual household economics to explain economic problems. While there is some utility in doing this, because of the vast difference between one household and a million, the truths about “not living beyond one’s means” can become distorted and mislead ill-informed people into taking terribly counterproductive positions.

At the same time, efforts to teach the masses more economics runs into several major obstacles, including people’s unwillingness to read and comprehend subjects which are sometimes of necessity counterintuitive.

Foreign Affairs is the other serious problem, although it is less acute in some ways because the president has more latitude under the Constitution to lead and take action alone without Congress being a permanent obstacle. Where Congress has to be involved, the misconceptions of large swaths of our population bogs Congress down in taking right, timely governmental actions, because elected representatives hate not to be reelected. Dick Lugar is the latest example of that.

While most Americans know where the continents and oceans are it is always surprising to learn how few Americans know enough about the rest of the world to either formulate their own thoughts about our relationships beyond our borders or even understand what our government has to do to stay at peace and keep trade and finance doors open.

Several times in the last century our leaders have sadly misled us, for which we have paid dearly. Not being prepared for World War II and barging into Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan ill prepared and for wrongheaded reasons are cases in which pressure from the American people has helped to get us back on a sound track.

The problem is that the American people were not equipped to participate usefully in advance of the above examples, simply because their lack of awareness and knowledge failed to equip them with the skill to speak up and out and influence events.

What can we do about the problem of an ill-informed public? As long as we lived protected by two giant oceans, we were somewhat insulated from the problem’s effect on both economic and foreign issues.

Now we are virtually completely unprotected. Money moves across the globe in milliseconds and lasers and missiles only take a little longer. We must find a way to inform and educate our adult population about these kinds of subjects so we can more often be smarter as a whole nation.

One of the things we can control to some extent is access to our airwaves/the cloud. There can be no doubt that we have the smarts everywhere to conjure the messages. The problem is, airtime is expensive. If we could find a way to mandate that as little as ten percent of prime time by all forms of broadcasters had to be directed to public education on these types of topics, perhaps over a decade we could make inroads on these problems.

The Politics of a Grand Bargain in 2012

It is gradually dawning on many Americans that an extraordinary collection of economic and fiscal events will converge at the beginning of next year, the collective impact of which will/would be greater than any other single such moment in our history. These events include: the lapse of the Bush II tax cuts (worth about $4 to 5 trillion over 10 years); the 2011 sequestrations of both defense and social programs ($2 to 3 trillion also over 10 years); the payroll tax cuts, and the debt ceiling, just for starters.

Each of these events has already been ‘kicked down the road’ (at least once) because the Congress simply could not deal with them on their essential merits in a practical, substantive way because of the political ‘freeze’ of the past three-and-a half years.

About 18 months ago, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson produced the Simpson-Bowles Commission Report, a 65-page outline of a plan to deal with the overall budget and deficits crisis. Their plan combined revenue gains with budget cuts and structural reforms, offering the promise of a sound footing for the nation’s finances for decades to come. The plan went nowhere, falling victim to the determination of Congressional Republicans to allow no progress where the political benefit might accrue to the President. President Obama apparently realized Simpson-Bowles was dead on arrival, because he left it untouched (for which he has been roundly criticized from all sides), presumably to keep it open as a future option.

Bowles said very recently that we are now facing the biggest economic crisis in our history. But he also said it is the most avoidable crisis in our history, if we address it in time and substance.

Bowles also disclosed that he and Simpson are still hard at work on the same plan with dozens of members of both the Senate and the House. The original plan is now about 700 pages of legislation covering virtually all the elements that need to be addressed, including the tax code, budgets, health care, deficits and virtually all the ingredients in all those areas. Bowles believes and hopes that the urgency of the deadline and the enormity of the problems, if not properly and timely addressed, will create a crisis in which a Grand Bargain can and must be struck.

One hopes he is right! Yet, far too many thinking Americans have grown so cynical that they simply put their heads in their hands and moan and say, “Impossible — things will only be delayed again.”

They may be wrong because there is a political window about to open in early November through which a Simpson-Bowles Bill, a Grand Bargain, could quickly become law.

Recently, there was a report in Vanity Fair that the night after Election Day 2008 a group of leading Republicans dined together and agreed on their basic strategy for the next four years: Republicans would stay firmly together for four years and oppose virtually everything, ensuring that Obama would serve only one term. That strategy, of course, was and is the underpinning of the political freeze we have been suffering through.

In the summer of 2011, Speaker Boehner made a major effort to reach a Grand Bargain with President Obama, but they failed. Despite serious support from a group of moderate Republicans, the far right invoked the freeze agreement and threatened Boehner with a revolt.

While the revolt drew all the attention, the incident was more interesting for its evidence of what was thought to be an extinct species: moderate Republicans who are more concerned with the national welfare than party warfare.

While no one can confidently predict the future, we can be 100 percent certain that the freeze strategy will have its goals realized or dashed on Election Day, the first Tuesday of November 2012. It is in that moment when the Grand Bargain can, finally, offer something for everyone and the roadblocks must be cast aside.

If Obama is reelected, moderate Republicans are likely to say to their colleagues, “You misled all of us. Now our duty is to the country.” Obama will also be able to claim that his reelection was a mandate to lead the country his way. While some Democrats may want things differently, they also need and want to save the country.

If Mitt Romney is elected he will face the same crisis, but as president-in-waiting, he will have to act through surrogates. Since the firebrand Republicans indirectly controlling the House at the moment are both suspicious of Romney and rigid in their ideology, his most direct route to relevance in the post-election period — and his only hope for not inheriting a disaster on or after January 1, 2013 — lies in quickly engaging with Obama and moderate Republicans to rally around something very close to Simpson-Bowles.

The end of the freeze strategy may be the kernel of change that evaporates the glue among Republicans and opens the window of opportunity for a Grand Bargain to clear the decks and get on with the 21st Century.