An AP story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
President can’t always control unemployment rate
[...] Presidents don’t have much control over either the number of new jobs or the number of people looking for work. The labor force has more than doubled since 1953.
Likewise, the number of new jobs created in a year is determined by expansions and contractions in the business cycle — cycles that begin years, even decades, before a president takes office.
A year ago, of course, the articles in the paper seemed to assume that the president was somehow able to control the unemployment rate, that for some reason Bush et al. preferred that things go south. Though, it must be said, that we were also hearing about the ‘disastrous Bush economy’ even while the economy was booming.
Further down in the article:
Is there anything presidents can do to create jobs?
One thing: Build infrastructure.
“We built a lot of infrastructure in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson era,” [Colgate U economic historian Michael] Haines said. “I’m sure the interstate highway system created an incredible amount of employment. We can do it again.”
This ignores the distinction between productive jobs and just jobs. You could always hire two guys, one to dig a hole and the other to fill it in again: two jobs created! Few ‘job-creation’ schemes are quite that useless, but most of them have a significant amount of futility built in; almost always, if the work being done under the scheme were work that people particularly wanted done, someone would be making money off it.
Do we need another Interstate Highway System? What else could we build that would require that kind of initial outlay without being money down the tubes? I can’t think of anything. I hear a lot about ‘crumbling infrastructure’, but I just don’t see it. I hear a lot about the need to ‘invest in schools’, but I can’t help but notice that most public school systems already spend more than all but the most elite private schools. I hear about making sure that everyone has the ‘opportunity for a college education’, but I note that graduation rates are already falling off because we’re already sending people who aren’t suited to it off to college.