GOP jobs plan: Old ideas, fancy new clip art

May 26, 2011

Academic books pack about 600 words to a page. Normal books clock in around 400. Large-print books — you know, the ones for kids or the visually impaired — fit about 250. The House GOP’s jobs plan, however, gets about 200 words to a page. The typeface is fit for giants, and the document’s 10 pages are mostly taken up by pictures. It looks like the staffer in charge forgot the assignment was due on Thursday rather than Friday and cranked up the font to 24 points and began dumping clip art to pad out the plan.

Which is odd, because there’s nothing in this plan that hasn’t been in a thousand other plans. When I asked David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist on labor markets, to take a look at the substance, he pronounced it a classic case of “what Larry Summers would call ‘now-more-than-everism.’ ”

“Here’s how it works,” Autor wrote in an e-mail. “1. You have a set of policies that you favor at all times and under all circumstances, e.g., cut taxes, remove regulations, drill-baby-drill, etc. 2. You see a problem that needs fixing (e.g., the economy stinks). 3. You say, ‘We need to enact my favored policies now more than ever.’ I believe that every item in the GOP list that you sent derives from this three-step procedure.

“That’s not to say that there are no reasonable ideas on this list. But there is certainly no original thinking here directed at addressing the employment problem. Or, to put it differently, is there any set of economic circumstances under which the GOP would not actually want to enact every item on this agenda? If the answer is no, then this is clearly now-more-than-everism.”

If you read Autor’s answer and then guessed at what’s included in the plan, you’d probably get it about right. The GOP wants a separate congressional vote on every significant regulation. It wants to cut taxes for corporations and small businesses led by individuals. It wants a tax break on profit that corporations earn overseas. It wants to pass pending trade agreements, increase domestic production of oil and enact spending cuts. The only two proposals you couldn’t have guessed sight unseen are patent reform and visas for the highly skilled.

But even if you think every item on that agenda is a grand idea, this isn’t exactly fast-acting medicine. “At best, an agenda like this is meant to improve long-term growth by a couple of tenths of a percentage point,” says Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. “It takes a really long time to move the dial. It’s not a response to a cyclical downturn.”

That’s okay, because the document doesn’t believe in cyclical downturns. It only believes in deviations from the Republican agenda. The first page sets out the GOP’s narrative of the unemployment crisis. See if you recognize what’s missing here: “For the past four years, Democrats in Washington have enacted policies that undermine these basic concepts which have historically placed America at the forefront of the global marketplace. As a result, most Americans know someone who has recently lost a job, and small businesses and entrepreneurs lack the confidence needed to invest in our economy. Not since the Great Depression has our nation’s unemployment rate been this high this long.”

Four years ago, of course, George W. Bush was president. And he was, as you might remember, a Republican, not a Democrat. As for Wall Street, well, Wall Street who?

But it’s not just that you could read this jobs plan without knowing the financial crisis ever happened. You could read it without knowing the past decade ever happened. As Mishel says, “If lower taxes and less regulation was such good policy, then George W. Bush’s economy would have been a lot better. But under Bush, Republicans cut taxes on business and on investors and high-income people, and they didn’t add many regulations, and that business cycle was the first one in the postwar period where the income for a typical working-class family was lower at the end than at the beginning.”

That, however, is the agenda the House GOP thinks we need. And now more than ever.

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