It’s darkly comical that the same entity responsible for killing countless private sector jobs with its taxes and regulations operates job training programs. Cato has been documenting the failures of federal job training programs for decades, but “do something” policymakers in Washington refuse to accept the reality that they’re not the solution to problems that they help create.
Many of the laws covering today’s workforce were written more than seven decades ago during the New Deal. Collective bargaining and the unemployment insurance system, for example, were both established in 1935. Since then, the U.S. labor force and industrial structure have vastly changed, which creates an opportunity to update the laws to better suit the modern economy.
When government officials come up with what they claim to be a wonderful new idea, I often think of an old Saturday Night Live skit from 1990 poking fun at commercials for blue jeans. The skit’s scene is a group of middle-aged buddies getting ready to play basketball in their new “Bad Idea Jeans.” Each guy optimistically announces a plan to do something that is actually a “bad idea.” For example, a character says “I don’t know the guy but I’ve got two kidneys and he needs one, so I figured…” and “BAD IDEA” flashes across the screen. (The skit can be watched here.)
With the nation’s unemployment rate still above 9 percent and a steady stream of worrisome labor news (the latest statistic: 429,000 new unemployment claims last week), federal policymakers are facing pressure to do something about joblessness. The giant 2009 stimulus bill was supposed to cut unemployment to less than 7 percent by now — but that clearly hasn’t worked as planned.
The National Labor Relations Board is in the news for meddling in Boeing’s decision to build some aircraft in South Carolina rather than in Washington state. To most economists, the idea that a small regulatory board in D.C. should try to centrally plan $1 billion of private business investment is crackers.
In my quest to downsize the government, I’ve been looking at the Department of Labor budget recently. My vision is to cut federal spending to create a freer and more prosperous society. James Madison’s vision was for a federal government of “few and defined” powers.
A report from the Government Accountability Office finds that the federal government administers 47 different employment and job training programs at a cost to taxpayers of about $18 billion. The GAO excluded another 51 programs that could be considered as providing job training assistance, such as student loan subsidies.
The Declaration of Independence cites as an example of King George’s tyranny: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” To prevent a similar situation in the new United States of America, the Founders assigned the federal government limited powers.
The state of California recently received $60 million in U.S. Department of Labor stimulus funds to upgrade its 23 year-old unemployment benefits system. But according to the Associated Press, California is yet to spend $66 million it received from Labor in 2002 to upgrade its system. The price tag isn’t whopping by federal standards, but it is another reminder of the need to return to fiscal federalism.