Robert Samuelson

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From Newsweek

Competing Job Summits Full of Pomp, Little Consequence

President Obama will deliver the opening remarks this afternoon at the White House Jobs and Economic Growth Forum, a highly publicized and glitzy assembly of top administration officials and business leaders. Its purpose, according to the White House, is to create “an opportunity for the president and the economic team to hear from some of the leading CEOs, small business owners, labor leaders, nonprofit heads, and thinkers about ideas for continuing to grow the economy and put Americans back to work.”

A valid, and on its face, valiant pursuit. But as my colleague Robert Samuelson points out today on and in the pages of The Washington Post, the effectiveness of the meeting may be severely limited. Despite mounds of valuable advice from business leaders, Obama’s hands are tied when it comes to finding employment for the growing number of unemployed Americans for the sole reason that job creation is usually, and most effectively, the work of the private sector. “Companies,” Samuelson writes, “hire mainly when they see greater demand for their products and believe that extra workers will generate higher profits."

For his efforts, Obama has made some headway on job creation. In D.C. alone, federal spending measures from earlier this year have added about 13,000 jobs (according to Bureau of Labor Management statistics), many of them in homeland security or through defense contractors. Other regions are also beginning to see the effects of the $787 billion stimulus package that devoted considerable grants, or loan guarantees, to transportation and energy-efficiency projects. But the massive drop in unemployment that Obama would need to win reelection won’t come from further federal spending, nor will it come from targeted investing meant to prop up budding industries. What it comes down to is an issue of confidence and how to rebuild it strategically.

On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Republican lawmakers led by Minority Leader Boehner are focused on that point, and are holding a competing job meeting this afternoon to pinpoint Democratic policies “that are creating uncertainty for small businesses,” according to Boehner’s office. On his website, Newt Gingrich had a more colorful, if flippant, way of poking the other team: “What the Obama administration is promoting as a jobs 'summit' [Thursday] is in fact a jobs valley.” Will pointing a finger at misguided policies help bring back jobs? Probably not, but for the minority party the options are limited.

Despite the immense publicity sought for both meetings, neither is likely to produce big news, or lead to resounding waves of new confidence. Instead, the best strategy lies, as it often does, somewhere in the middle: strategic ways to bolster small businesses without overwhelming them with spurts of government assistance that would eventually leave them high and dry again.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this afternoon’s meetings on our brand-new portal of employment news, Jobbed.

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