The Uncertainty Principle

Business blames the lack of hiring on a lack of clarity in federal policy. That's nonsense

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Illustration by Harry Campbell for TIME

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And uncertainty isn't the reason the housing market is still a mess. Many of the jobs lost in the past two years were in construction, housing and financial firms connected to real estate. They aren't coming back until housing demand perks up. That won't be anytime soon.

The business community and its lobbyists and political allies--Republicans mostly, with a fair number of Democrats--don't want to acknowledge the real reasons for the lack of hiring because that would make them responsible for solutions. By raising the cry of uncertainty, they make it seem as if the only thing holding job growth back is bad policy emanating from Washington.

The point is not to demonize business leaders. Their reasons for not hiring make eminent sense, given the incentives of the marketplace and the imperative to remain competitive. But the uncertainty mantra is yet another example of the blame game that has become endemic in American life. It's always someone else's fault, and government makes an easy and familiar target.

Unfortunately, it's a chimera. If Washington today were to make crystal-clear all economic policy for the next five years, businesses would not suddenly start hiring. They have no incentive to unless there is a robust domestic economy that will justify more bodies. Government can help or hinder such robustness, but it cannot create it. The fault, as Shakespeare reminds us, is in ourselves, no matter how much easier it is to point the finger.

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