Mean Street: The Sham of a Mockery of an Obama Jobs Summit
By Evan Newmark
Wall Street Journal
December 2, 2009
What is it about Thursday’s White House “jobs summit” that rubs me the wrong way?
All presidents engage in these sorts of elaborate PR stunts. Why not just dismiss it as another meaningless piece of Washington political theater?
I should. But I can’t. And that’s because this jobs summit seems an unusually pointless and cynical waste of time.
Obamanomics — the White House’s jumble of industrial policy, massive deficit spending and tax hikes — isn’t working.
There are now 15.7 million Americans without jobs. And a big White House conference on jobs is nothing more than a soft distraction from those hard facts.
Now, I’ve never been to a White House summit, so I can’t say exactly what will happen on Thursday. But as a past Davos World Economic Forum participant, I’m pretty familiar with these kinds of VIP schmooze and snoozefests.
And here’s how it will likely play out. A senior White House official — perhaps the president — will give a welcome pep talk to the 130 gathered “summiteers.” He’ll ply them with thanks and stirring patriotic words.
But then he’ll urge them to not waste the day in conference fuzzy talk. Instead, the summiteers should turn words into actions and actions into jobs. After all, it is a “jobs” summit.
And then the summiteers will shuffle off to one of six working groups — where of course they’ll end up wasting the day in conference fuzzy talk.
It’s inevitable. Prepared remarks, banal anecdotes and empty debates are the stuff of these mushy forums. I can count on one hand the number of memorable moments from the dozens of my Davos sessions on technology super-revolutions, entrepreneurial innovation and world peace.
That’s because the VIPs at these things aren’t there to say or do anything unexpected.
Do you think that FedEx CEO Fred Smith and United Steelworkers President Leo Girard will somehow reach agreement that the best way to create jobs is to kill the union-card check?
Do you think that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, will suddenly serve up innovative ideas for trade unions to assist small businesses?
It seems unlikely.
And so the jobs summit will fail for the same reason Obamanomics is failing: The White House mistakenly believes economic growth and new jobs are created by society’s stakeholders — business, labor and government — cooperatively working together.
But that’s not the way capitalism works. It doesn’t take a village to create a new job. It takes a businessman trying to make another buck.
Of course, you won’t hear too much of this “greed is good” uber-capitalism stuff at the jobs summit. Not too many of the summiteers would dare. Do you think Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, now in the middle of acquiring NBC Universal, will tell the gathering what he really thinks of government intervention in the economy?
But the White House knows this. And it knows that it really doesn’t matter. This jobs summit isn’t meant to be a “real” jobs summit.
A “real” jobs summit would focus on how American businesses can win globally. A “real” jobs summit would consider why Texas can compete for jobs and California can’t. A “real” jobs summit would look at permanent corporate and payroll tax cuts. And a “real” jobs summit would actually embrace debate, not stifle it.
But in Washington, it’s the form that counts more than the substance. And no doubt, this summit will have plenty of good form. Each of the summit working groups will work their whiteboards and somehow come up with a list of “deliverables” and “next steps.” There will be nice words drafted for White House press releases.
At the end of the day, the President will stand up, thank everyone and close the job summit by declaring it a “success”.
And then everyone will file out of the White House and go back to their regular jobs, having done little to nothing on December 3rd to create any new ones.