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Trick-or-Treating for Jobs

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Halloween will soon be upon us, which means I’m already having nightmares about Republicans–and not just the wing nuts who make Ronald Reagan look like a Kennedy Democrat. Let me explain:

When I was 14, my parents made me trick-or-treat to raise funds for UNICEF. This, to my surprise, gave me a warm fuzzy feeling–that is, until I found out that Mitchy, the kid who consolidated the money, got his older brother to buy him cigarettes with it. Then he peddled them one by one to his fellow eighth graders for a handsome profit.

What’s that got to do with Republicans? A lot. Mitchy collected money under false pretenses, and that’s exactly what Republicans are doing today. They’re collecting money and votes in return for something they have little or no intention of doing: creating jobs.

Don’t believe it? Look at their so-called jobs plan with its de-regulations for corporations and its tax cuts for the rich. Implementing that plan can do little more than to make those rich even richer. And to make them even more generous to their handpicked public servants.

“Tax cuts for the fat cats with no strings attached?” I can almost hear Pete the progressive plumber say. “That sure sounds like corporate welfare to me.”

It does to me, too, Pete. And as economists have been repeating ad infinitum, these companies are already sitting on boatloads of cash and are not hiring. Why would they hire if we gave them more? Is there a critical threshold we don’t know about? Should we keep throwing money at them until they reach it?

On the other hand, some of what Republicans say seems to make sense. No companies, no jobs, right? Which means we really do need to create a climate that’s friendly to business. Tax incentives can help, as can elimination of mindless and outdated regulations. It’s true: “If we build it they will come,”–like the baseball field Kevin Costner built in “Field of Dreams” for the ghosts of the World Series-throwing 1919 Chicago White Sox.

The question is when will those companies come.  The answer is, don’t hold your breath. For even the spontaneous appearance of a venture capitalist’s heaven on earth will not induce companies to create new jobs right now when we need them. Nor will balancing the budget, even if that doesn’t spawn another depression. After all, they’ve been hiring overseas all along–damn the deficit, full speed ahead! Truth is, not until they get their customers back will companies start hiring again here in America. They will hire only when they believe they can turn a nice profit–period.

Republicans know this. When they predict that de-regulation and tax cuts for the very rich will trigger a swift round of hiring, they are lying. They are leveraging our economic troubles to extort “reforms” that will help corporations right now, even if they decide to lay off more workers.

I know. Congress can’t stop companies from trimming their payrolls when nobody’s buying. And it can’t force people to buy when they’re paying down debt or worrying about losing their jobs. But neither should it vote to stop the government from buying when nobody else will. Sure, the federal government is trying to pay down its debt, too, but the jobs it will generate by hiring firms to fix our schools, bridges, and highways will decrease the deficit, not grow it. As economists of all stripes have been saying, the time has never been better for such investments. Interest rates have never been so low.

Don’t expect too many Republicans to hop on board that wagon, though. After all, they’ll do better at the polls next year if the economy remains stagnant. But as President Obama recently told a joint session of congress:

“Maybe some of you have decided that (our) differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box. But know this:

“The next election is fourteen months away.  And the people who sent us here – the people who hired us to work for them – they don’t have the luxury of waiting fourteen months.  Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day.  They need help, and they need it now.”

Here the president was being generous  to his opponents. Not that his opponents deserve such generosity. I believe it’s criminal of them to prolong the suffering of so many fellow citizens just to have a better shot at the White House in 2012. Who knows, maybe it’s even treasonous. One thing I do know for certain, it’s already my 2011 Halloween nightmare.