Will Obama's "Jobs Created" Debacle Hurt the Next Job Stimulus?

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The Wall Street Journal op-ed page is to the Obama administration as Inigo Montoya was to the guy who killed his father -- not simply critical, but obsessively, menacingly critical, and often to hilarious effect. But hey, they have a point about the White House's debacle over jobs "created or saved" by the stimulus. There are jobs in made-up Congressional districts, jobs counted (or double-counted) that simply never existed, and -- most colorfully -- a $890 shoe order that allegedly spawned nine new jobs.

But what is the WSJ getting at exactly? Just because the first round of stimulus hasn't been an efficient job creator doesn't mean we don't need another round of job-creating stimulus.


A few weeks ago I worried that the failures of Obama's first stimulus would be revisited on his second. This WSJ column suggests that Republicans and conservatives will abide no additional government spending on jobs. It's true that there are some decent tax-cut stimulus ideas out there -- like a payroll tax holiday, a tax credit for companies who hire, or simply a targeted small business tax credit -- but the government should also spend money, not just give up revenues, to help create jobs.

I understand the country's reflexive resistance to public works projects, but I'm increasingly interesting in looking at whether a WPA program could work. The most efficient way to spend stimulus money is to give it to those most likely to spend their next marginal dollar. That's why extending unemployment benefits is a no-brainer. But why wouldn't a public works project that paid unemployed more money and, in return, put them to work on a series of infrastructure projects not be a logical extension of that idea? I understand that WPA programs can be (1) harder than expected to get off the ground and (2) complicated to wrap up without dumping the workers back on unemployment rolls, but I'd like to grapple with more arguments for and against it. (That's an open invitation, commenters!)

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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