It’s time for the jobs debate to join the 21st century.
By Hazel Henderson
In the U.S., conceptual and political confusion over the issue of jobs was evidenced by wide disparities in claims over job creation, for example in the XL Pipeline case. Many politicians still claim that "the government can't create jobs; only the private sector creates jobs."
The Government's Role in Job Creation
Such blatant misinformation stems from conventional economic textbook theories – belied by the facts that millions of jobs are created by governments in vital public sectors: education, law enforcement, criminal justice, infrastructure, national security, diplomacy, oversight of securities markets, technical standard-setting, social services, consumer and environmental protection and monitoring the safety of imports, food, toxic substances, etc.
Then there are the research jobs in our national laboratories which work alongside universities in incubating new industries such as those at the National Renewable Energy Laboratories, Lawrence-Livermore and others developing clean, renewable energy innovations.
Governments' role in public-private partnerships in construction of bridges, roads, airports, harbors, urban development, rural electrification, broadband, electrical grids, communications networks, the internet, satellite communications and space exploration is also well known.
So is governments' role in the military-industrial sector, agriculture, energy, transportation and through tax policies and subsidies. Contracting and procurement of equipment, vehicles, educational supplies, computer systems and research services add millions more jobs.
Ideology Trumps Reality
So why are we still trapped in this 18th century economics based on simpler times?
Adam Smith would be amazed at the evolution of markets he described in his Wealth of Nations in 1776. Smith fully acknowledged the role of governments in human societies.
All societies have mixed economies, between public and private sectors. Markets require rules, indeed markets and regulations are two sides of the same coin. Jobs and their creation and destruction are consequences of the interplay between politicians and private sector interest groups.
But today's complex societies are still brainwashed by defunct economists. We see ideological battles in the U.S. and Europe between "deficit hawks," "bond vigilantes" and those calling for stimulus, not austerity – all claiming to target job creation. All have different views on how jobs are lost and created.
What Kills Jobs...
U.S. official statistics show some eight million jobs lost since the financial crises of 2007-2008, of which some two million were government jobs in states and localities. To replace these jobs, we must develop new opportunities that take advantage of the transformation of work.
...and How To Revive Them
TV host Dylan Ratigan, author of Greedy Bastards (2012) toured the country in his search for the 30 million new jobs needed to bring back full employment. He rightly points to trade treaties sending jobs overseas, designed on obsolete, misguided economic theories, a tax code distorted by money in politics and resulting private power dictating over governments. He sees financial bailouts and subsidies to prop up 20th century industries in our military, energy, transportation, communications and banking sectors, extracting national wealth.
Hardest to recognize is the role of automation as a job-destroyer – denied by generations of economists. Self-service machines replaced people in banks, gas stations, supermarkets, law firms, trading floors, following the earlier automation of factories.
If a machine takes your job, you need to own a piece of that machine, advises the National Center for Employee Ownership. Economists assumed that those unemployed would find new jobs as economies grew. Now those austerity cuts are causing economies to contract – throwing millions more out of work. GDP-measured growth masking these issues is challenged by new indicators.
So let's illuminate the jobs debate with these hard realities of globalization and technology, as money-driven politics bails out the past rather than investing in our future. This real debate can accelerate the transition now underway to create cleaner, greener, more equitable societies that work for everyone – and create the new jobs we need to run them.