The Spectacle Blog

Obama and Gibbs on Structural/Hayekian Unemployment

By on 6.14.11 | 4:16PM

The Obama spin machine is grasping at some unusual straws in its attempt to explain why its wild promises on the economy have not come true. Following his latest admission yesterday that "shovel-ready jobs" don't exist, President Obama blamed the persistently high levels of unemployment on "structural issues."

His explanation: 

...a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. you see it when you go to a bank and you use an atm, you don't go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate. So all these things have [created] changes in the economy and this [council] is identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be, how do we make sure there's a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist, how do we make sure that capital is flowing into those places with the greatest opportunity. [W]e are on the right track. [T]he key is figuring out how do we accelerate it. 

So joblessness is caused by a mismatch between workers' skills and the jobs of ther future? That sounds downright Hayekian. Now, the government is not capable of "identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be" and making sure that "capital is flowing into those places," and it's dangerous for the president to think otherwise. But at least this is an admission that the economy is not simply a pump to be primed or an engine to be kickstarted using stimulus. The idea behind those metaphors was that public spending could simply replace the shortfall in private spending, and in doing so return the economy to full employment. Obviously that's not possible if there are no jobs to return to because they've been rendered obselete by technological advancement. 

Interestingly, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, acting as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on CNN's debate program last night, touched on similar points. He said that in order to address unemployment,  "we have to create the jobs of the future because we know that some of the jobs that disappeared, we know aren't coming back. We're going to have to create new jobs in new industries to put people back to work."

The unspoken implication to that premise is that it would be impossible to design a stimulus spending program that would "create or save" millions and millions of jobs, because the new jobs will be in new industries, and possibly don't even exist yet. Although Gibbs couldn't acknowledge that ramification of his argument, he did hint at it earlier in the program by bemoaning the lack of a "magic wand" that you could just wave and "watch [employment] just tick up immediately..."

It would have been better if this hat tip to reality had come before the stimulus, and before the two years of sky-high unemployment that followed. 

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