Government: Still Flunking the Unemployment Test

Imagine that you are beginning your first year of college. Things start off well, but then one day you come to class and are dismayed to find your professor asking you to turn in an assignment that wasn’t on the syllabus. After this, the professor adds new assignments and readings with no warning even after the drop date of the class has passed, so you must check the online syllabus obsessively. He puts material on quizzes and tests arbitrarily, giving you no indication of what to expect, so you re-read everything several times in an attempt to remember every detail. All of your time is now eaten up by this one class.

Could you survive a whole semester of this? If you could, would you ever take a class with that professor again? Would the value of the class be worth the headache?

This kind of behavior in a professor would rightly be considered insane. Yet, when our government behaves in precisely this fashion toward businesses of all sizes, we somehow accept it as a natural and necessary function of government—and then in the same breath we wonder why we still have a 9% national unemployment rate.

Businesses in America are struggling under the equivalent of that crazy professor: they are not growing, not hiring, and sometimes not even starting at all because they don’t know what is coming next. They are already burdened under more than a trillion dollars per year in regulations, and have no clue about how these regulations might change. Large companies can take these financial blows and afford to hire enough lawyers to help them muddle through the labyrinth of rules, but those costs and lawyers take away resources that companies otherwise might have spent expanding. Smaller businesses, which form the bulk of employers in America, cannot function at all under this uncertainty and increasing financial burden.

The “American Jobs Act” that the President pushed in his speech to Congress will not do anything to increase employment in America. The real culprit keeping employers from hiring is the burden of government regulation, and the President made no concrete proposals to do anything to relieve that burden.

Anti-trust regulation and accounting regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley add billions of dollars in operating costs to US businesses each year, with the heaviest part of its burden falling squarely on small- and medium-sized businesses. It is clear that removing this burden at least from smaller business would be a great help (and would not create any increase in government spending), but the President did not propose to do so as part of his jobs act.

Environmental regulations pouring out of the EPA are shutting down existing energy companies, while in many states there are still bans on the development of new resources, from Alaska to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Research indicates that opening up domestic energy resources to development would have a large, positive impact on the economy, but this alternative is also ignored by the President as a path to job creation.

Consider the state of North Dakota, where the freedom to drill has enabled a boom in the shale oil industry, which is an important factor in the state’s 3.5% unemployment rate, currently the lowest in the nation. But the President has not proposed that more states emulate North Dakota.

As a last major example, the health care bill signed into law by President Obama last March has been identified as a a major obstacle to business expansion, as manifested by the economy’s slow or nonexistent growth. Repealing that health care act, with its burdens on businesses and massive increase of government spending and bureaucracy, would also be a good step in the right direction. The President has not listened to any of these analyses, and has not suggested repealing the health care act in spite of its damaging nature.

The harmful nature of these policies and regulations is not arbitrary or accidental: it is a direct result of their authors’ intentions. The President proclaimed that we can’t “just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own — that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.” He is wrong about that: that is the story of America. America’s greatness came about in an era when, more than any other time in history, the government simply left people alone to make the best of their lives, and they did. The economy that became the “engine and envy of the world,” as the President put it, was not fueled by government hand-outs, and it did not develop under a thick fog of governmental regulations. If we want to restore that greatness, then we need to restore its root causes: the freedom of individuals to live and work and do business without the government’s stepping in at every turn.

None of us would want to take a class under that insane professor who demanded impossible and unreasonable standards. Similarly, why should any of us want to graduate with years of hard work behind us, only to be subject to the whims of government politicians and regulators? Just as the professor’s policy robs us of productive time and saps our motivation, these regulations either stop companies from hiring us, or stop us from starting and succeeding with our own companies.

Furthermore, unlike the example of the crazy professor, American employers face a situation that is neither short-term nor voluntary. Businesses don’t “sign up” to be in the economy the way we sign up for classes: they are part of the economy (and whatever the government does to regulate it) by default. While a student might be able to put up with a professor’s insane and arbitrary demands for one semester, businesses have to deal with government regulations indefinitely, year after year after year.

As college students, we are all rightly concerned with the issue of finding a job after we graduate. As part of this, it is time to take a long and hard look at the claims that politicians make regarding the role of government in job creation. “Doing nothing is not an option,” President Obama said while concluding his jobs speech to Congress—but that is what politicians always say. The fact that our politicians want to be in control of something doesn’t imply that that is the best thing for each of us as individual American citizens who are trying to live our own lives.

“Doing nothing” is precisely the best thing that our government can do for us right now. Let’s tell them so.

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