Jobs

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Politics Isn’t Always The Answer

RALEIGH — Since the beginning of this year, there has been no net new jobs created in North Carolina.

In fact, using the latest data from the monthly survey of employers, there were about 2,200 fewer filled jobs in North Carolina in May than there were in December. In an era of intense politicization, it’s surprising that this trend has yet to get a great deal of attention.

If job creation had slowed to a crawl or stopped nationwide since Jan. 1, you can be sure Democrats would be blaming Donald Trump and the Republican Congress. If job creation had slowed to a crawl or stopped last year, you can be sure Republicans would have done the same to Barack Obama — and linked Hillary Clinton to his failures.

And here in North Carolina, let’s be honest, if during the first five months of the administration of former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, there had been no net job creation in the state, we would have heard a lot about that from partisan Democrats, left-wing activists, and the media outlets predisposed to magnify their message.

Make no mistake: I don’t think critics of Gov. Roy Cooper are falling down on the job. They shouldn’t be blaming him for the last several months of lackluster employment reports. Liberals shouldn’t be blaming the Republican-led General Assembly, either. Turning every piece of good or bad news into a political bludgeon generates only headaches and bruises, not constructive dialogue.

What governors and legislators decide to do can affect a state’s economy, to be sure. But these effects take time to manifest themselves, and aren’t typically large enough by themselves to explain fully a monthto- month change in an economy’s trajectory.

What ought to worry North Carolina leaders, regardless of party or ideology, is that the labor market and other indicators are suggesting a recent weakening of the state’s economic momentum. Rather than attempting to explain these events in political terms, policymakers should interpret them as an argument for caution as they enact a new state budget. By all accounts, lawmakers have done so. The House-Senate budget deal will include substantial deposits into North Carolina’s reserves as a hedge against the possibility of a nearterm recession.

Cooper previously criticized the legislature’s plan to “squirrel away” this year’s surplus rather than spending it. He missed the mark on that, but was on firmer ground when he argued that the Senate’s original tax-cut package would have created too much fiscal risk in the out years.

Perhaps the past few months of soft job numbers in North Carolina will be followed by a surge in hiring later in the year. That’s happened before. Perhaps other economic indicators will trend upward. Still, better safe than sorry.

Political differences are large, persistent and consequential. I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with robust debate about how best to promote capital formation, business starts, job creation, and income growth in North Carolina. But not every economic question has a political answer. Believe it or not, sometimes politicians deserve neither credit nor blame for what happens.

John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC Spin.” You can follow him @ JohnHoodNC.

JOHN HOOD

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