Nothing but noise

When they’re shouting their mantra of jobs, jobs, and more jobs, Canada’s politicos are doing nothing but generating misleading noise, regardless of whether it’s the government trumpeting its unbeatable record or the opposition complaining of the government’s unacceptable failures.

Before he began to talk about ISIL and niqabs and what’s happening overseas, Stephen Harper was bragging about the Canadian job market under his government’s watch, peddling the point that since the recession, the Canadian economy has created more than a million net new jobs.

Looking beyond Harper’s bespangled statistic, it’s arguable that the job market is lacklustre. 

Though the unemployment rate has indeed been trending downward for the past several years, so has overall participation in the labour market, that is, the number of Canadians who either have or are looking for work. The unemployment rate only represents unemployed Canadians who are actively looking for work, and so it can overstate the job market’s health because it misses the unemployed people who’ve been so discouraged they’ve quit looking. 

The quality of what work is available too, has been in decline for the past several years, says CIBC’s employment-quality index. The big bank’s index, which accounts for the economy’s mix of full-time, part-time, and self-employed work, among other things, hit a record low this March.

Harper’s opponents have been quick to point such things out, and more. 

NDP leader Tom Mulcair recently called Harper’s economic record a “complete and utter failure” because too many jobs have been lost on Harper’s watch. And, with textbook predictability, Mulcair touted his party’s superior plan of targeted tax-cuts to help small- and medium-sized businesses because they “create 80 per cent of new jobs in Canada.”

Still, contrary to what the doom-and-gloom brigade would have you believe, the most troubling thing is not the state of the job market. It’s that everybody’s monomaniacal focus on jobs, jobs, and more jobs smacks of economic lunacy.

There’s no question that paying off businesses with tax breaks or subsidies to hire more people is not necessarily beneficial. For while economic progress necessarily results in some job creation, some job creation doesn’t necessarily result in economic progress.

I could “safeguard the jobs of today,” as the NDP has committed to do, by paying floundering manufacturing firms to up their hiring. I could even, as the Conservatives like to do, devise boutique tax cuts that do the same. In fact, if I had enough of your cash, I could eliminate unemployment entirely by paying each and every Canadian to dig holes and then fill them, from nine to five, Monday to Friday, again and again. The only problem with this unemployment-curing, job creation plan is that there’d be no food on the shelves because everybody would be too busy digging holes to increase agricultural output.

What neither I nor any politico could ever do is beget economic progress, for economic progress is about innovating to find better ways to meet people’s needs. Though a politico has the power to affect economic progress, like your boss has the power to affect the work you do, he’s never the one actually doing it.

The ones behind economic progress are the entrepreneurs, as they’re the ones competing for your loyalty by innovating. The better, luckier ones get your loyalty by beating their competition and persuading you to pay for their stuff, which you only tend to do when you’re convinced that their stuff is cheaper or better than the alternatives. When the old, undesirable products die on the shelves and the new, improved products are bought, the economy progresses. And though that progress creates new jobs, it destroys old ones, which is antithetical to the job-creation ethos pervading politics.

What might a politician of such a sentiment, wanting to “safeguard the jobs of today,” have done at the onset of the 19th century, when he learned of the new way to get around being developed called the automobile, and its potential effect on horse-and-buggy makers? 

He might have flexed some legal muscle to prevent automobile makers from developing their product any further. Or he might have bet on horse-and-buggy makers by offering them a tax credit or subsidy, effectively shifting money, time, and effort from more valuable endeavours to an industry that would essentially die. Or, if his time were just before the primal automobile’s, he might have invested public money in making faster horses like a fool.

Such change in the job market, the ups and the downs, is the price we pay for economic progress, and so it’s absurd to protect or create jobs for the mere sake of the jobs themselves. So is the price we pay for economic progress too high? Don’t bother asking any politicians, for not only are they incapable of having a frank, honest discussion about the job market, but they’re also so fixated on jobs, jobs, and more jobs that they seem to have forgotten what jobs are for.