The Senate’s Underpants Gnome Problem

If you think about legislation in a second-order sense, then I think it’s clear that a “bill to increase the number of people who have jobs” would be a very good bill to pass, both substantively and politically. And Brian Beutler reports that this is exactly what Democratic leaders think as well:

So what’s next for the Senate? Leaders and rank and file members say: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

“The country is speaking to us, and we will show we hear them in the agenda we pursue over the next year,” reads a statement from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to TPMDC. “Our focus must be on jobs, the economy and delivering for the middle class.”

But when you think about operationalizing this in a first-order way, you wind up with the same problem as South Park’s famous Underpants Gnomes — how do you actually do it:


Now I’m not one who thinks it’s impossible for the US Congress to impact the short-term employment situation. But the measures I can think of for doing so are all the kind of thing I have trouble imagining members of congress really wanting to do. We could use a big package of federal fiscal assistance to state and local governments, for example. The reality is that the politics of “jobs” are coming to look a lot like the politics of “the deficit” in which politicians want to position themselves as “focused” on the problem but don’t, in practice, want to take the steps that would address the issue. This is especially true because the main steps congress could take to increase employment would also make the short-term budget deficit larger.