Andrew B. Wilson

Gov. Jay Nixon says that he’s fed up with “right-wing extremists.” Does that include everyone who thinks that the governor should exit the “job creation” business? If so, Nixon must be the first to identify public radio as a hotbed of right-wing extremism.

Several weeks ago, Ira Glass opened his nationwide hourlong “This American Life” program with a satiric interview about one of the defining elements of Nixon’s leadership: his whirlwind trips around Missouri to celebrate state-funded job creation schemes.

Glass described his visit to a plant that made fishing reels, “to announce not hundreds of jobs, or dozens of jobs, but eight jobs,” Glass marveled. “Eight! He did a press event for eight jobs!”

At this point, Nixon chimed in, saying, “That’s not the smallest we’ve been to, either. We actually did one in north Missouri where we created one job.”

“And you showed up?” Glass asked, laughing in disbelief.

Nixon affirmed that he had. A program that he initiated had given a low-interest loan to a woman in Bethany. This enabled her to move her T-shirt printing business from her basement to a storefront, and to hire a single employee.

“This is what it’s come to, America,” Glass hooted. “You can hire your very first employee, and the governor shows up with TV cameras.”

At the Show-Me Institute, we have pointed out the flawed thinking behind a wide variety of schemes intended to promote job creation and economic development — ranging from big-budget Hollywood movies to plans for building an “Aerotropolis” in and around Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

A total of $4.5 million in tax credits were issued to the makers of the George Clooney film Up in the Air, as an enticement for filming a large part of the movie in the Saint Louis area. How much good did that do for job creation and the local economy? Almost none, it seems. According to the casting call, extras were compensated only $7.05 per hour before taxes, and they worked all of one day.

In the Missouri legislature, there is support from both parties for an enormous tax credit bill that would subsidize the construction of $300 million worth of new warehousing space in and around the Saint Louis airport, while doling out another $60 million in tax breaks for freight forwarders. Nixon backs the proposed legislation, which may be raised at a special session of the legislature later this year.

Proponents say the extra warehousing space is needed for processing cargo going to and from China. However, as we pointed out, there are acres and acres of unused warehousing space in and around the airport. So, why are our lawmakers in a hurry to build more warehouses? Especially when there is no commitment from China to support the project?

Politicians will often argue that even one job created through tax credits or subsidies is better than none. To think in this way, however, is to engage in single-entry bookkeeping — counting jobs gained but ignoring jobs lost because of higher taxes or the burden of increased public indebtedness. Add to that the misallocation of resources that always occurs when power-hungry or publicity-seeking politicians, rather than paying customers, decide what is to be produced and who should produce it.

Our state government is already straining to meet its current commitments. Every dollar that is given away in tax credits is a dollar that our state government must replace by increasing taxes or making cuts in current programs.

“Being governor of the state is not a theoretical job,” Nixon said at a recent press conference. “It is a very practical job.” Here, then, is some practical advice for our governor: Get out of the job-creation business. It’s doing more harm than good.

Andrew B. Wilson is a fellow with the Show-Me Institute, an independent think tank promoting free-market solutions for Missouri public policy.

About the Author

Andrew Wilson
Fellow and Senior Writer

A former foreign correspondent who spent four years in the Middle East and served as Business Week’s London bureau chief during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms as Britain’s prime minister, Andrew is a regular contributor to leading national publications, including the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal.