GE, We Bring Bad Ideas To Light

In  a prior post, I mentioned that Obama’s favorite courtier CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, was part of a Jobs & Competitiveness Council, ostensibly tasked with finding ways to put Americans to work.  It’s the kind of thing that government always says it’s doing, anyway.  After all, we have a Commerce Department, a Labor Department, an Education Department, and dozens, if not hundreds, of bureaus, agencies, subalterns, and fiefdoms devoted exclusively to this problem.

From the bureaucracy’s point of view, they’ve spent decades of time, billions of taxpayer dollars, and millions in campaign contributions to get where they are, and they’re not going to let a hand-picked set of toadies show them up.  The beauty of it is that either their success or their failure shows that our actual redundant population lives and works within 10 miles of the Capitol.

If by now anyone at all has any faith left in this kind of commission, it should be put to rest by its initial recommendations.

The council’s recommendations are necessarily bad in themselves, but like most initiatives of this kind, the steps can be classified into the Worthwhile, the Overdue, the Unnecessary, the Undoing of Our Mistakes, and the Too Little To Be Taken Seriously, and the Payoff.

Streamline permitting. Cut red tape so job-creating  construction and infrastructure projects can move forward. The  administration can take a few simple steps to streamline the process of  obtaining permits, without undercutting the protections that our  regulatory system provides.

Been there, done that.  It’s of a piece with “remove unnecessary regulation.”  If this one moves as fast as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, those projects should be shovel-ready just about the time the workers being born today are ready to retire.  Which, given the state of our pensions and Social Security, is likely to be, never.

Boost jobs in travel and tourism. This industry is one of America’s largest employers, but the U.S. has  lost significant market share. By making it easier to visit the U.S.  through improved visa processes, we can win back market share in travel  and tourism and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Can we, really?  And if we can, do we really want to?  I’ve no doubt that the State Department gets many more visa applications than it fills.  A friend of mine who used to work in the Administrative Cone told me that in language training, the first phrase they learned was, “I’m very sorry, but I cannot give you a visa.”  (Lo ciento much, pero no puedo darle una visa.  Oh, the irony.)

I’m all for tourists, as long as the ones that read those little squiggles from right to left actually go home when their visas expire.  I grew up in DC, and the place was pretty cosmopolitan by the time I left, and packed with tourists, domestic and foreign, from June through September.   So, zip it, “Progressives,” this isn’t about xenophobia.

But tourism jobs aren’t always well-paying, they tend to go away when some other place becomes the hot destination, and they usually require infrastructure improvements and tour guide training to stay competitive.  It’s not as simple as opening up the visa process.  People have already made travel plans, and the idea that suddenly this summer, millions of foreign nationals are going to buy plane tickets to the US in time to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, is absurd.

Facilitate small-business loans.  Help small-business  owners obtain the information and support they need to access Small  Business Administration funding. At Jobs Council town halls in Dayton  and Minneapolis, small-business owners expressed frustration about the  challenges in obtaining financing and assistance. We must move quickly  to allow easier access to SBA funding. SBA Administrator Karen Mills is  already tackling this challenge, and the administration should  accelerate and prioritize these efforts.

Again, why?  Look, I get that small businesses are having a hard time borrowing.  But isn’t this the sort of Social-Policy-Over-Credit-Risk engineering that had the entire Sun Belt in a housing crisis two years ago?  We all know why businesses aren’t hiring: they don’t know the costs of new employees, and those costs they do know are too high.  Banks are afraid to lend because of credit risk, inflation risk, economic risk, and higher reserve requirements.  Companies – large companies – are sitting on cash because they don’t see growth opportunities, so it’s not as though Scrooge McDuck is the only one making this judgment.  Subsidizing and backstopping more bad loans not only won’t solve this problem, it’ll set us up for the next one.

Put construction workers back to work. More than two  million construction workers don’t have work. Every city in America has  commercial buildings that can be made more energy efficient. Both the  private and public sectors can step up to create good jobs and save  energy.

Uh, what happened to all those shovels?  Fresh from not building or repairing bridges, roads, and other critical infrastructure, American workers will have the opportunity to not make building more efficient.

This one’s even more sinister than it appears, since it’s naked crony capitalism.  It’s the payoff to Jeff Immelt for being Obama’s favorite CEO.  GE has investing billions in lobbying to swing government “investment” in its own green technologies.

Train workers for today’s open jobs.  There are more than  two million open jobs in the U.S., in part because employers can’t find  workers with the advanced manufacturing skills they need. The private  sector must quickly form partnerships with community colleges,  vocational schools and others to match career training with real-world  hiring needs.

This one looks like the Worthwhile, but it reality, it’s probably the Unnecessary.  It’s one case where the Council has identified a couple of real problems – the agency problem and asymmetrical information – but there’s no chance that this is a jump-start for jobs.

Students are willing to learn the skills it takes to get a job.  They are willing to go into massive, unshakable debt to get four-year degrees that may never earn them a dime.  Denver has, oh probably about a dozen, trade and vocational schools whose sole purpose is to train people for exciting careers as a medical technician, for instance.

The job of the schools is to get students paying tuition, and the student probably has a terrible time knowing if the school is going to actually impart the skills he needs to earn enough to pay back his loans.  In an economy where nobody’s hiring, recent employment and salary records may not be much help.

Obviously, this is appealing to both the government and to Mr. Immelt because of the immense opportunities for graft.  But, as they like to say on the campaign trail, there is a better way.

Why not have an accreditation program, run by the hiring industries, that serves the same purpose as UL does for roof deck panels?  It’s completely in the companies’ interest to do this, since they’re the ones looking for trained labor.  They’re the ones who know what skills they need.  Sure, there will be compromises, but we all know it’s a lifetime of on-the-job training out there, anyway.

The other part, the part that this administration, even Arne Duncan, will never embrace, is for the high schools to join in the fund, and allow some of the kids’ appropriations money to follow them to these schools in their junior and senior years.

As with all the other fast-track initiatives on the list, this won’t produce any actual trained workers for at least six months, more likely a year.  And all the trained workers of the world won’t help business if the government has made it too expensive to hire any of them.

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