There is a lot of talk lately about how regulation affects the job market. On Monday, the Washington Post ran a front-page opinion piece by Jia Lynn Yang. She argues that regulations have little effect on the number of jobs. Some rules even create jobs. Installing EPA-mandated scrubbers in one coal-fired power plant in Ohio created 1,000 temporary jobs to build the things, and 40 permanent jobs to keep them running.
She makes a good point. It does take a lot of man-hours to comply with Washington's various commands and controls. Regulatory agencies employ more than 260,000 people to enforce federal rules. Almost every private sector worker spends at least some time complying with regulations. For some people, that's their full-time job. It all adds up to a lot of jobs.
Not everyone thinks this is the wisest path to full employment. The Washington Examiner's Tim Carney, reacting to Yang's article, points out that power plant scrubbers are not free. The power plant's Mr. Burns-esque owner passes on the costs to his customers. And when a family pays more money for electricity, that leaves less money left over for other things — clothes, movies, the kids' college fund, you name it. That means fewer jobs in those sectors.
Maybe scrubbers are worth that cost. Maybe they're not. The environmental benefits from scrubbers are debatable; that they are economically costly is not. The point is that scrubbers aren't actually job creators on net. Money and jobs are transferred from other companies to the power plant.
The money that pays 40 scrubber monitors' salaries could have gone to something else, and created jobs there. One more waiter at a restaurant here, one more investment manager there — someone has to manage that college fund — and so on. Yang has only told half the story.
That is why I am proposing a regulation that really would create jobs. As everyone knows, winter is coming. And many of the nation's least-employed states will see a lot of snow this year. Already, giant snowplows are beginning to traverse the highways and byways of Michigan, Ohio, and other states going through hard times. With these plows, one man can do the work of a hundred.
I say we ban snowplows and hand out some shovels.
Think about it for a minute. In Michigan alone, nearly 520,000 people are looking for a job and can't find one. Tens of thousands of miles of roads zig and zag across the state. If this winter lives up to lofty Midwestern standards, it's possible that every last one of those 520,000 could work at least part time clearing the way for their fellow citizens. And all because of regulation!
My proposal would create white-collar jobs, too. The shovels would be handed out by employers. They would be required to audit the shovelers to make sure they're putting in an honest day's work. That requires auditors. More jobs!
Sometime in July, shortly after the temperature climbs above freezing, employers would be required to return the shovels to Washington. That would create jobs at FedEx, UPS, and the USPS. Reimbursing employers for shipping costs would create countless jobs for office managers; someone has to keep track of the receipts.
Some economists out there would no doubt poo-poo the fact that shovels are less efficient than plows. They say spending all that additional money on snow removal leaves less left over for other things, like college funds.
They say it matters whether those jobs are creating products and services that people value, or digging and re-filling regulatory ditches.
They say the best way to increase the number of jobs is to repeal regulations that make it difficult and expensive to start a business or bring a new product to market.
I say that's hogwash. Why do more with less when you can do the opposite? Jobs are at stake.
Of course, it is possible that my shovel regulation wouldn't create enough jobs. If that happens, I have another idea that would all but guarantee full employment.
Give them spoons.