Killing with Kindness

"Gridlock has reared its ugly head" again, Democrats are complaining. They're talking, of course, about President Clinton's jobs bill, dead in the water because of a Republican filibuster. The president's impulse to help the unemployed is commendable. But the bill raises an important question: Is government the best institution to create jobs? If we look at the numbers we have to say no. Studies show that when the private sector creates a job, it costs about $40,000. But when the government creates a job, it costs $80,000—twice as much. What's worse, up to two-thirds of the workers who get those jobs were not previously unemployed. In other words, government job creation does not generally result in a larger total number of jobs. It merely shifts employed people from one job to another. Why? Because government can't simply make new jobs appear by rubbing some magic Aladdin's lamp. Job creation takes money. And the money the government needs it takes from the private sector—either through borrowing or taxes. And that means less money left in the private sector for its job production. For every job the government creates, the private sector loses a job. This is madness. As Murray Weidenbaum of Washington University says, "It's a lot of fun for Congress to do good with other people's money," but it can impose high costs. We would never have found ourselves in such a predicament if we had begun with a Christian view of the role of government. Christians believe the state should be limited: that it is ordained by God to fulfill certain responsibilities, and no others. In respect to the economy, the government's role is to ensure that the law applies impartially to all parties: laws against stealing, laws against false advertising, laws regarding contracts, laws against harming others, and so on. The government's role is to act as an umpire, making sure everyone plays by the same rules and no one becomes a bully. What the government should not do is to actually take on the functions of the economy, becoming one more player in the game. When it does that, it shoulders out the legitimate players. That explains why job creation by government means job loss for business. In trying to solve a problem itself, the government shoves aside the very groups that ought to be solving it. The idea of prescribed roles for various groups in society ought to be familiar. We all know it's wrong for private individuals who are robbed or attacked to carry out their own vengeance. We're to leave that to the courts and justice system. By the same token, there are things the government should not do. When individuals take the law into their own hands the ultimate result is anarchy. When the government intrudes where it should not, the ultimate result is tyranny. So the next time the jobs bill is debated, don't evaluate it only in political terms. Evaluate it in biblical terms. When it comes to jobs, the government should not be a tax-funded employment agency. Helping the economy is a good thing, but like most things in life there's a right way and a wrong way to do it.


Chuck Colson


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