Despite the focus on ‘jobism’, jobs are a cost of production and consumption, not a benefit, and should be minimized
by Mark J. Perry
In a 1992 WSJ op-ed (“Help the Economy: Destroy Some Jobs”) featured last August on CD, economist Richard McKenzie criticized the misguided obsession with what he referred to as “jobism” — the modern public-policy philosophy that mistakenly focuses on of the number of jobs as being the “key measure of a country’s economic success or failure.” Here’s a key excerpt of Professor McKenzie’s op-ed:
Job creation (and protection) is a favored goal of our leaders because it appeals to existing political interests and is seductively misleading and counterproductive. It is also one of the easiest goals to achieve. To create or protect jobs, all Congress has to do is to obstruct progress and kill or retard opportunities for competitiveness and entrepreneurial spirit.For example, if Congress outlawed the tractor and modern farm equipment tomorrow, it would create millions of new farming jobs. If Congress outlawed robotics and other advanced manufacturing processes tomorrow, it would create millions of new factory jobs. If Congress banned all imports tomorrow, it would create millions of US jobs in manufacturing, farming, and transportation industries. If Congress banned power tools and modern equipment for road building and construction, it would create millions of new US jobs.
The fundamental flaw of “jobism” that Professor McKenzie is pointing out that makes “jobism” a misguided public policy goal is that it treats jobs as a benefit, when in fact jobs are a cost or price of production and ultimately of consumption. It also fails to properly recognize that economic competitiveness and progress requires widespread job destruction. Further, job losses should be treated as a measure of great success, not failure, when a US industry like agriculture or manufacturing dramatically improves its productivity and is able to produce greater and greater levels of output over time with fewer and fewer workers.
Although he didn’t use the term “jobism,” here’s how Milton Friedman explained in a 1980 lecture (at about 19:25 in the video) how jobs are a price (not a benefit) and why the appropriate national economic objective is to have the fewest, not the most, jobs:
Public discourse tends to be carried out in terms of jobs, as if a great objective was to create jobs. Now that’s not our objective at all. There’s no problem about creating jobs. We can create any number of jobs in having people dig holes and fill them up again. Do we want jobs like that? No. Jobs are a price and we have to work to live. Whereas if you listen to the terminology you would think that we live to work. Now some of us do. There are workaholics just like there are alcoholics and some of us do live to work. But in the main, what we want is not jobs, but productive jobs. We want jobs that will be able to produce the goods and services that we consume at a minimum expenditure of effort. In a way, the appropriate national objective is to have the fewest possible jobs. That is to say, the least amount of work for the greatest amount of products.
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