During his inauguration speech, President Trump vowed to bring back “jobs” and “wealth,” in part by investing in a range of infrastructure projects.
“We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation,” he said to the crowd gathered on the Mall. “We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”
But even as politicians on both sides of the aisle draw up plans to create jobs through infrastructure spending, one potential Cabinet member has expressed skepticism that infrastructure spending can lead to long-term economic growth and job creation: Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder.
In a speech delivered to the Adam Smith Society at the Manhattan Institute in February 2016, the chief executive of the fast-food chain CKE Restaurants, the parent company for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., said that investments in infrastructure spending are a “temporary driver of growth.”
Puzder, who co-authored a book titled “Job Creation: How It Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It,” said that infrastructure spending is “necessary” but made the argument that job creation comes from businesses, not government.
“You don’t build roads and bridges to create jobs. That’s ‘Field of Dreams’ economics,” he said. “You create a sustainable job by building a business, not a bridge.”
In a July 2016 interview with Fox Business, he criticized the idea that investing in infrastructure can boost long-term job creation. “We need self-sustaining jobs, we don’t need jobs that are created for a temporary period of time while we do an infrastructure project,” he said.
George Thompson, a spokesman for Puzder, said the remarks from last year were a criticism of former president Barack Obama’s policies. “Mr. Puzder’s comments nearly a year ago were in reference to President Obama’s attempt at jobs creation and economic stimulus, the results of which were mixed at best, despite the significant investment of taxpayer dollars,” Thompson said in an emailed statement. “If confirmed as Secretary of Labor, Mr. Puzder looks forward to implementing his piece of the jobs creation plan laid out by President Trump.”
The strategy of creating jobs by investing federal dollars into major infrastructure projects has emerged as a rare area of common ground between liberals and conservatives. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats revealed a $1 trillion plan for refreshing airports, bridges, roads and seaports that they estimate would create 15 million jobs in 10 years.
Some economists argue that schools, airports, bridges and roads need constant upkeep and that investing in such repairs as needed can lead to regular hiring.
“It’s a constant need to do the maintenance required to keep the infrastructure we have in good shape,” said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president for the left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute. “If we were doing that all the time instead of putting it off, people would be put to work,” he said, adding that he supports Trump’s plans to invest in infrastructure.
If confirmed as Labor secretary, Puzder would be tasked with tracking trends in the labor market and enforcing worker protections.
The nominee will have a chance to speak more about his views next week during his confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for Feb. 7. However, some lawmakers may be more interested in learning about alleged wage and hour violations at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations and his opposition to labor policies promoted by the Obama administration, such as expanding eligibility for overtime pay or substantially raising the minimum wage.