Snow Jobs

Puzzling reflections on the definition of employment from Michael Steele, the new leader of the Republican Party:

STEELE: Well, no — you know, with all due respect to the governor, I understand where he's coming from. Having been a state official, I know what it means to get those dollars when you're in tight times.

But you've got to look at the entire package. You've got to look at what's going to create sustainable jobs.

What this administration is talking about is making work. It is creating work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's a job.

STEELE: No, it's not a job. A job is something that — that a business owner creates. It's going to be long term. What he's creating…

STEPHANOPOULOS: So a job doesn't count if it's a government job?


STEELE: Hold on. No, let me — let me — let me finish. That is a contract. It ends at a certain point, George. You know that. These road projects that we're talking about have an end point.

As a small-business owner, I'm looking to grow my business, expand my business. I want to reach further. I want to be international. I want to be national. It's a whole different perspective on how you create a job versus how you create work. And I'm — either way, the bottom line is…

On the face of it, this is just dumb.  But when one looks in more depth, it's even dumberer.  But first, to be charitable,what Steele means is that private industry (like, say, Blackwater or Raytheon) is uniquely capable of creating sustainable jobs, while the government can only make up short term work.  The only way this makes sense, I think, is to suggest that the stimulus package (anyone want to make jokes about this name?) is an end in itself, rather than a means to the end of stimulating private job sector growth.  Few other than maybe some devout communists, think the government should simply create and sustain all future job growth.  The fact that Steele thinks this shows the extent to which Rush Limbaugh owns his mind.  So even the premise of the charitable version of his remark is silly.

On the face of it, of course, it's silly to make a distinction between work and jobs, as Steele does, with the government creating "work" but not "jobs."  The government creates jobs all of the time by directly making them (e.g., mine–I'm a professor at a state institution), indirectly contracting them with private industry (Blackwater), or indirectly causing them to be created (the people who sell body armor to Blackwater)–and more, of course.  All of those people who use our system of roads, trains, etc., to get their goods to market, for instance, do so with their jobs.

14 thoughts on “Snow Jobs”

  1. “STEPHANOPOULOS: Your plan would simply be more incentives to small businesses?
    STEELE: More incentives — more incentives to small businesses, at the same time correcting those rules in the markets that have hindered and frustrated the banking process, that have lent itself to drying up the credit markets as we see them, dealing with the Fannie and Freddie crisis more respectfully and more proactively, instead of sitting back and figuring out, “Oh, well, let them take care of it.” That’s how we got into this mess from the beginning”
    The point wasn’t that it wouldn’t create jobs, but that a package aimed at stimulating smal businesses woudl create more long term jobs than one focus on government construction.

  2. Such as the long term jobs that have just disappeared.  Anyway, the point was that it wouldn’t create jobs.  It would create work.

  3. That’s more or less semantics.  The question is whether the argument that Steele was trying to make was that government work was not viable, or whether he was attempting to say that it was less viable than another alternative.  If I read the segment you quoted, I would assume the first, however, after reading the whole interview, it becomes clear that it was probably more likely the second.  In that case, this isn’t really a logical error, just some lines requiring more context.

  4. Seems to me that that might be the most charitable reading of what Steele says, but nevertheless it runs into another problem.

    Even if your reading is correct, the he seems to be arguing that incentives to small businesses and tax cuts will create more sustainable jobs than government spending, because government jobs aren’t jobs and so are less sustainable than the jobs that he might create. This at best would beg the question.

    But, it seems to me that this sort of semantic argument is doomed to fail and fail in the sort of spectacularly obvious way that it does in the transcript. At best, Steele is trying to argue that one economic policy will create “employments” (the result of a business choosing to hire someone) and the other will just create “work-contracts.”  This is silliness.

    There might be an argument that would show that tax cuts will lead to greater long term employments than government spending, but this certainly isn’t it.

  5. 1 = What’s the source of money the pays salary?
    2 = Who runs it?

    Government Work:
    1) Tax payers who have only the most indirect control over how their money is spent
    2) Government Bureaucracy

    Private Sector Work
    1) Consumers or contractors who free how to spend their money
    2) Business owners

    Maybe there is no word in the English language that signifies one type of the above paid labor and not the other.  That’s not Steele’s fault though.

  6. So, when he was Lt. Gov. of Maryland (Merlin, to us Baltomorons), did he have a job?  It only lasted a while and he was in the employ of the guvmint.  I sure hope he wasn’t thinking of collecting unemployment at the time…although I can’t pretend to be sad that he could have afterwards.

  7. Andrew, I think the point is that government employees get paid. Then they spend that money on a variety of things, which will stimulate the economy. Steele got paid as Lt. Governor. He spent his money on goods and services, or invested in stocks. The question is, does government spending (in this case on employees) contribute to our economy, or does it hurt it? Is all government spending bad for an economy? Is it ever good?

    There are a fair amount of countries that have high tax rates, relatively high government spending, and a relatively large government workforce that have strong economies. Look at Scandinavia. Or perhaps Canada (France, The Netherlands, Austria, etc.). The standard of living in these places surpasses our own (according to the HDI, link:, and their yearly economic growth rates equal or surpass our own. We make more money than them on average, and yet we get less in return. We spend more than any other nation on health care per capita, and yet we don’t have universal coverage, unlike every other developed nation.

    What do all of the countries in the world that have a higher standard of living than us have in common? The government provides for all of the basic needs of the people, including health care and education (especially college education). That means that the government employs a lot of people to provide these services. As a result, these countires have healthier and more educated populations than we do, and their economies are just as strong as ours, if not stronger.

    It is most likely false to say that the best way to stimulate an economy (which by my lights means to make the economy not only grow, but improve the overall standard of living in a society) is to only focus on entrpreneurship and the slashing of taxes. We have numerous examples of governments around the world that are successful because they have government industries that employ lots of people and serve the greater good of the society.

    But, <gasp> that’s socialism!

  8. Andrew, you demur to jcasey’s response by saying, “That’s more or less semantics.”  But the supposed distinct meaning of these terms, ‘job’ and ‘work,’ is the entirety of Steele’s case.  Don’t downplay the question of term meaning and then say there is a better analysis of the meanings in play.   (You do realize that claiming that it’s just semantics downplays the question of meanings, not emphasizes it, don’t you?)

    Regardless, even if the difference was one of an absolute judgment or a comparative judgment, your comparative judgment of  the ‘viability’ of these (to use a neutral phrase) sources of employment is still tendentious.  That is, if your point is that Steele’s claim is a comparative judgment, don’t Colin’s and SteveG’s counter-examples refute that?

    Moreover: Don’t policemen have jobs? Do the armed forces provide jobs, or is what they do merely work, too?  Or is it the fault of the English language that you don’t have a term for how that’s not a job, but something else? Perhaps if there’s not a word that tracks that difference, you should ask yourself if it’s a difference that makes a difference.

  9. Wow.  There is a lot to respond to.  Please forgive me if this post is all over the place because of that.

    To SteveG’s point about the position of LT. Governor and aikin’s point about the armed forces and such (as I believe these are the same), will you grant me that there is a difference between a government position that has been created and exists to fulfill a role that the government requires and a posiition created not out of a motivation to complete the work that it does, but instead out of the motivation to create the position?  I do not ask that you at this point concede that this distinction makes the former justifiable and the latter not so.  I simply ask that you concede that there we can make a distinction between the two because if I do and you do not, then this point will seem damnable of my position to you and resemble a scarecrow argument to me.

    To the case of my using the phrase, “That’s more or less semantics.”  I did not say “That’s just semantics.”  I was not attempting to belittle the argument.  I was simply trying to identify the point of contention.

    Jem, you appear to have made to distinct points.  The first being that government spending via job creation will stimulate the economy.  The second being a defense of larger government spending and higher tax rates in general, or rather a defense of socialism (grounded in using northern Euorpean nations as examples).  I will not touch the second in this post, not because it is not worth debating, but because it would broaden the scope of this topic to an unmanagable level.  As to your first point, I refer you to the “broken window fallacy” or “The Parable of the Broken Window.”

  10. This distinction you’re desperately trying to salvage Andrew underscores the damage assertions like Steele’s do.  On analogy with creationism: rather than have a meaningful and informed discussion about the merits of various points of evolutionary theory, we have to spend all of our time and energy debating whether creationism is any better.  That sucks air out of the debate that we should be having.

  11. Are you implying that opposing this bill is akin to being a creationist?  Worse yet, are you implying that I don’t understand evolution because if I did, I’d agree with you?  What kind of condescending bullshit is that?

  12. Holy Crap–this is not about you Andrew.   If you bothered to read carefully, you’d notice that I haven’t advanced any positions in favor of this particular bill, I’ve merely pointed out that a couple of arguments against it–Steele’s and Gerson’s–really stink.  As you point out in the other comment, the opposition to this bill would be served by more serious representation.  Whatever you may think–the only agenda we advance here is that one ought to have arguments–good ones–for one’s position.  The failure of someone to have arguments, as we have pointed out numerous times (and in the section called “Our Bias” does not entail the success of its ideological counterpart.

  13. I guess it’s really important for someone to read the topic Economic Creationism in order to see why I might take some personal offense.  No jcasey, this site is not bias.  It in fact only pointing out the logical flaws in arguments made in popular media and politics.  However, perhaps you should read over the topics that are posted here.  You put up a lot of topics defending one side of the political spectrum and plenty attacking the other.  I don’t believe you are consciously bias, or that you have an agenda, but if you look at the opinions of the people who post here, you’ll find they are all strikingly similar.  You say you don’t understand economics, but here’s the thing, I want you to understand economics.  I want everyone to and to think about it, especially when it comes to politics because the questions, “Where’s the money coming from?” and, “Where’s the money going?” are important questions.  I shall finish this response in the other thread.

  14. Oh, and to clarify, I’ve read the “Our Bias” section and it’s nothing more than a total cop-out when you use refer to Barrack Obama as, “our great and infallible leader,” in an entirely non-sarcastic manor.

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