Last night's contentious senatorial debate between Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina found precious little agreement on anything, including the issue of job creation. It's a no-brainer to say that a healthy economy depends upon steady job growth. After all, people who work have money to spend, and we know full well that consumers account for 70 percent of the economy. Case made. But it still leaves the larger question: what's the best way to generate jobs? That's where the two candidates head in opposite directions.
For incumbent Boxer, the president's $787 billion stimulus package enacted last year by Congress represents a good start. Her claim is supported by a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the stimulus package created between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs. Translation: without the stimulus package, we'd be a lot worse off and we're moving in the right direction. Still, official unemployment remains near 10 percent, with real unemployment--including the millions no longer collecting unemployment insurance or working part time--is closer to 16 percent. All of this is fodder for Fiorina, who concludes that the stimulus package hasn't worked.
Well, what would work? Fiorina responds that the best way to create jobs and stimulate the economy is through lower taxes and less regulation. Lower taxes would give people more money to spend and less regulation would allow companies to be more nimble and efficient.
Sounds good, but what about the huge deficit? History shows that after the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations slashed taxes, huge deficits emerged in their wakes. And as for fewer regulations, should we reduce oversight of off-shore oil exploration? Food quality? The behavior of financial institutions? Such concerns are fodder for Boxer, who warns that less revenue and less regulation could mean more headaches down the road.
All this has to cause a major headache for the voter. In the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, should incumbent Boxer be dumped in favor of a challenger with new ideas? Or are Fiorina's "new" ideas recycled failures from the past? Thus, far, the voters seem on the fence, if the polls mean anything. But at some point over the next 60 days, the voters will have to move in one direction or another. What they decide will tell us as much about trust, confidence and hope in a candidate as it does about theories of job creation.