Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2004 / 24 Elul, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

Jobs and snow jobs, Part II | Our current unemployment rate — 5.4 percent — is one of the lowest in the world and one of the lowest in our own history. Why then the hysteria about jobs? Because this is an election year and Senator Kerry is desperate for some issue that will rescue his faltering campaign.

According to the Kerry campaign, President Bush has "lost" over a million jobs since taking office. This of course assumes that jobs are Presidents' to win or lose.

Both in political rhetoric and media hype, Presidents are credited or blamed for all sorts of economic developments that they have had little or nothing to do with. Back in the 1980s, it was "the Reagan deficit" and in the 1990s it was "the Clinton surplus."

In both these administrations, as in all other administrations in the history of the United States, all spending bills originated in the House of Representatives. Both Reagan and Clinton faced a House of Representatives controlled by the opposite party.

Neither President could create a deficit or a surplus.

Even further back, President Herbert Hoover was blamed for the Great Depression of the 1930s and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was credited with getting us out of the Depression. Virtually no recognized economist believes that today.

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Some of Hoover's policies may have made matters worse and FDR carried those policies even further, making things much worse. But there is little that is positive that any President can do, except recognize how little he can do — and therefore not get in the way of the market's natural tendency to rebound.

President George W. Bush came into office inheriting an economic downturn that began at the end of the Clinton administration. Then the September 11th attacks and the reactions to them disrupted the economy.

Have we forgotten about the drastic reduction in travel after 9/11, which plunged the airline industry into huge losses and dealt a blow to hotels and vacation resorts across the country? Jobs decline when the economy declines.

President Bush's tax cuts have been blamed for our economic woes by those who believe in high taxes. But the economy's decline began before taxes were cut and we now have a strong recovery without the tax rates being raised.

Few things have been more grossly distorted than tax cuts. Liberals in politics and the media seem to think that what matters is what happens to the money. In reality, what matters is how the cut in tax rates affects people's behavior.

Time and again, lower tax rates have led to higher tax revenues. That is because lower tax rates make it profitable to take money out of tax shelters like municipal bonds and put it into something that is more productive, now that taxes are no longer taking such a big bite.

When more money is invested in more productive economic activities, more output results — and more jobs are created while generating that increased output. That is the whole point.

People who hate to see tax cuts picture an entirely different scenario. Such people see "tax cuts for the rich" being done because of some theory that the money received by the rich will eventually "trickle down" to the poor.

No economist in the entire history of economics has ever had any such "trickle-down" theory. It is a complete straw man.

If you want to argue about the effects of any given cut in tax rates, that is fine. But those who dream up a "trickle-down theory" obviously do not want to confront the real arguments for tax cuts or the actual effects of these cuts.

Evading issues instead of debating them has become the hallmark of an election campaign that has degenerated into a raucous dispute about what two young lieutenants did or didn't do more than 30 years ago.

Senator Kerry's making his Vietnam war record the central theme of his campaign was itself an evasion of the record of his decades in politics since then. Senator Zell Miller's devastating criticism of that record has likewise been evaded by talking about Senator Miller's tone or emotions, instead of the substance.

Jobs hysteria is only the latest in a series of evasions and distractions.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) To comment please click here.


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