Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The "Family" of John McCain

If you've been watching the Olympics, you've undoubtedly seen the McCain ad, "Family," in which an announcer says:
Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family? The real Obama promises higher taxes, more government spending, so fewer jobs. Renewable energy to transform our economy, create jobs and energy independence, that's John McCain.
There are at least three interesting themes here. The first is the continuation of the Paris Hilton/Britney Spears idea that Obama is nothing more than a celebrity, an empty suit. That it is more than likely that McCain's amazing comeback in the Republican race was based on his own celebrity, his personal narrative of heroism and bravery, is an inconvenient fact, one that the McCain campaign feels we'll forget.

The second is this persistent idea that Obama is, horrifyingly enough, a person "in the world." I'm getting a real feeling that McCain simply can't get rid of the idea that American strength comes only in opposition to other world forces, whether it be Islamic terrorism or, well, anything else. The problem with this approach is that it can easily lead to a kind of grinding paranoia. Being blind to the self-interest of others is naive; assuming that you can never have a common interest with others is crazy and dangerous.

The third is the economic part of the message. I've already written a lot about the questionable logic behind the inevitability of new energy creating new jobs, most recently here. So, today, I'll discuss the first part, that higher taxes and more government spending create fewer jobs.

I have written before that I am a lapsed Republican, that the party itself has betrayed its traditional message and has left me (and many others) behind in its rush to suspect economics theory and rigid social orthodoxy. Nevertheless, I am not a big supporter of government intervention in things that it cannot possibly make better, but it can be a useful adjuct to capitalism in situations where the market fails to provide proper incentives (it's clear, at least to me, that health care is an area in which we've given the market ample opportunity to succeed, but the goal of universal coverage simply isn't one that the market will ever attain - not without outside shaping).

Having said that, I can't go along with the "logic" that government spending necessarily creates fewer jobs. The question is, what is the money that is generated by economic activity used for? What we have seen is that the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of corporations and their executives has not improved the overall economy. Those jobs that are being created are appearing in other countries, not this one. The market for foreign luxury goods is strong, but it's difficult to see how that helps the American middle and lower classes.

If government spending is directed toward things like rebuilding our problematic infrastructure (as Robert Reich and others recommend), that would create actual American jobs. They may not exactly be the kind of jobs that politicians like to promise, and they will not keep us "competitive" in future technology; we can argue endlessly about how much of it we should do, where we should direct our resources.

But it's absolutely true that the logic, government spending leads to fewer jobs, is unsupportable. It is one of those "answers" that leads to more questions, and is just the kind of thing that we need less of in our political campaigns. I'm not hopeful that either campaign will see it my way.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics