Counting the number of stimulus jobs is the wrong approach

The Associated Press reports on the difficulty in counting the number of "jobs created" by President Obama's stimulus package. The $787 billion plan aims to create and/or save 3.5 million jobs.

Various economists debate the methods associated with counting jobs created -- and the impossibility of counting how many jobs were "saved" by the stimulus package. But the problem is that looking at the number of jobs "saved" or the number of jobs "created" is the wrong question. As Jacob Sullum wrote in Reason back in December, job creation is simply not an end in itself:

"Obama also wants to spend $60 billion to "provide financing to transportation infrastructure projects across the nation." He says "these projects will create up to two million new direct and indirect jobs and stimulate approximately $35 billion per year in new economic activity. Fixing a bridge, widening a highway or building a light rail system may or may not make economic sense. But the fact that it involves paying people to operate jackhammers and pour concrete does not make it any more worthwhile. If creating jobs can justify transportation projects, why not fill the country with bridges to nowhere."

The economic reality that so many have forgotten -- and that President Obama has abandoned in his quest to sell the public on "job creation" -- is that the federal government cannot create wealth. It can only redistribute it. Playing into the game of counting jobs created is a recipe for hugely wasteful spending. The efficacy of government spending should be measured in things that are actually created: Are investments in education leading to increased productivity? Are transportation projects improving the quality of life?

"Job creation" is too short term of a metric to measure progress by. If we bankrupt our future with debt to build things that don't create long-term value, there won't be any jobs left after the stimulus money is spent.

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