Originally posted on NewDeal20.org
p>After the 2010 elections, progressives need a good alternative to the Republican slogan “less taxes”. Even though less taxes will lead to an even worse economy, at least it’s an idea that indicates to its intended audience that the Republicans have an answer to the question, “how can we end the Great Recession?”
There may be a trend, if not a consensus, forming around the idea of “more jobs”, emerging from the center-right all the way through to the left. In fact, at the far right of the Democratic party we have the example of David Brooks, who wrote about the Midwest: “If America can figure out how to build a decent future for the working-class people in this region, then the U.S. will remain a predominant power. If it can’t, it won’t… The Midwest has lost a manufacturing empire but hasn’t yet found a role… Voters in this region face structural problems, not cyclical ones. Intensely suspicious of government, they are nonetheless casting about for somebody, anybody, who can revive their towns and neighborhoods.” Democrats have failed this region, says Brooks, and I can’t argue with him. The obvious answer is to bring manufacturing back to the region, and if the Democrats can do that, then they will reclaim the Midwest, and with it, the Federal government.
A similar theme can be heard from the more official right-wing of the Democratic party, Evan Bayh. He writes that “We also overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession…in the near term, every policy must be viewed through a single prism: does it help the economy grow?” So he poses the issue of job creation as being central, as does Paul Begala, representing the “Clinton center”, who argues, “Job creation and reducing the influence of special interests are as mainstream as you get… President Obama and the Democrats should challenge the Republicans to support real investment in the real America: our roads and bridges and airports and mass transit.”
But the main way that these strategists seem to think we can create jobs is to lower taxes! Marketing note to Democrats: when you’re trying to differentiate yourself from Republicans, emphasize the way that you’re different. Pepsi doesn’t say “We’re sorta like Coke!” Countering “less taxes” with “less taxes, but sorta different, and we know it won’t be easy to figure out the difference, but our best wonks like it” is not effective. Better to concentrate on building stuff.
In fact, we also have Chris Matthews of MSNBC, not exactly a raving lefty, writing that Democrats lost “because the American manufacturing heart has been cut out. We used to build trains and subways and airplanes for the world… Why don’t we build ‘anything’ anymore? Would we build the subway systems of our country today? Would we build the Empire State building or the Golden Gate Bridge? Would be build this beautiful capital of Washington today? ” As I have argued, once we get going we could build lots of electric trains, wind turbines, and high-density buildings, generating tens of millions of jobs.
Once we start building stuff, which requires manufacturing, which requires giving people jobs, maybe we could talk about exporting manufactured goods instead of mostly importing them. Here’s an example: it’s from… well, hey, it’s from the President! He writes, “We need to rebuild on a new, stronger foundation for economic growth. And part of that foundation involves doing what Americans have always done best: discovering, creating and building products that are sold all over the world… We want to be known not just for what we consume, but for what we produce. And the more we export abroad, the more jobs we create in America. In fact, every $1 billion we export supports more than 5,000 jobs at home.”
Let’s say we try to eradicate the $858 billion dollar goods trade deficit that we had in 2007, just before the Great Recession. And let’s go for a modest 150 billion dollar export surplus, as ambitious as that sounds, for a cool trillion dollars more exports than we have now. Then we would be able to create 5,000,000 manufacturing jobs — not a bad policy goal to run an election on!
So we can create millions of jobs by using the government to build big infrastructure systems, and based on the ensuing revival of manufacturing, we can create even more jobs through exporting. What’s not to like?
Apparently AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka likes the idea, reports Art Levine: “‘Realistically, both Democrats and Obama and the new House majority want to see job creation,’ he contends. One arena for common ground is ‘infrastructure — we need $2.2 trillion worth of work on infrastructure and it’s making us less competitive — and we also need it for long term jobs creation.’”
Except that the Democrats aren’t putting all of these ideas together, as we saw in this election. Bob Herbert worries, “What voters want is leadership that will help them through an economic nightmare and fix a country that has been pitched into a state of sharp decline. They long for leaders with a clear and compelling vision of a better America and a road map for getting there.”
The last time the country was in this much trouble was during the start of the Great Depression. Several policies (and non-policies) were attempted before the government simply started creating jobs. Herbert Hoover mostly urged voluntary charity and waited for the market to work its magic, to no avail. When Roosevelt entered office in 1933, one of the first things he attempted was the Economy Act of 1933, which decreased government salaries and generally did many of the things that deficit hawks, such as Evan Bayh, would like to see done. Of course, it only made things worse; even the National Recovery Administration, which attempted to set minimum price and wage levels, didn’t work. Finally, the Works Progress Administration, which directly created millions of jobs, came into being two years after FDR’s inauguration.
For all the problems of the Great Depression, however, the country had one thing going for it that it doesn’t have now — the world’s best manufacturing system, with over 40% of world output. I think that people sense that the country is in decline now, although thinking on how to turn things around runs from the inchoate sputterings of the Tea Party to the hand-wringing of the center-right to center-left to the disconnected ideas of the left. But we need to understand that in addition to the problem of creating jobs, we need to recreate the self-sustaining, job-creating engine of economic growth, the manufacturing economy.
So let’s review: we need tens of millions of high-skill, high-paid, permanent jobs, which we can get by rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, which will also revive the manufacturing sector, which will lead to even more good jobs producing exports. “More jobs, better infrastructure, world-class manufacturing” — is that better than “less taxes”?