23 March 2012

Jobs: The fundamental metric of political worth

As election cycle heats up, my email inbox fills up with solicitations and denunciations from rival campaigns. Interestingly, it appears that candidates from both parties have converged on a solution to one of mankind's longest-standing philosophical problems: how to measure the intrinsic worth of political action.

This puzzle, which bedeviled Aristotle, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hegel, and Rawls, has a beguilingly simple answer--at least if contemporary American political advertisements are to be believed. It turns out that all policies, initiatives, actions, and elections can be judged according to one criterion:


A good policy is one that creates jobs. A bad policy is one that destroys jobs.

So simple! Were you worried about a policy's coarsening effect on the moral sensibilities of the country? Immaterial, as long as it creates jobs. The moral justification for launching a war of choice? Irrelevant, since the war creates jobs! The demise of public-spiritedness as our economy becomes a series of tournament-style rewards? It's only bad if it destroys jobs!

So, World War II: Very good. It created a lot of jobs. The American Revolution was probably bad, since it destroyed many jobs. The Civil War was good on a technicality: It created jobs, although in doing so it ruined many Southerners' asset portfolios, which otherwise would have been a bad thing. The Civil Rights movement? Neither good nor bad, since it had a net zero impact on jobs.

Some people have suggested that we might divide jobs into "good" or "bad" jobs, but this distinction--once prevalent--has long since disappeared. So we can no longer worry about whether good jobs are destroyed in favor of bad jobs. Because the only thing that matters is jobs.

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