by Charles Koch, from USA Today
For years, Washington politicians have said that our economy is turning the corner. They said it in 2011, in 2013 and again last week — every time they report a quarter with 4% economic growth. But each time, the economy has turned sluggish again.
Like most Americans, I am deeply concerned about our weak economic recovery and its effects on millions of families. Opportunity, especially for the young and disadvantaged, is declining. High underemployment has become our new norm.
The effects of underemployment are not just economic, they are also social and psychological. Real work is an important part of how we define ourselves. Meaningful work benefits both us and others. Those who lack real jobs often end up depressed, addicted or aggressive.
Today, opportunities for such work are not what they should be. We need a different approach, focused less on politics and more on basic principles.
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First, we need to encourage principled entrepreneurship. Companies should earn profits by creating value for customers and acting with integrity, the opposite of today’s rampant cronyism.
Too many businesses focus on getting subsidies and mandates from government rather than creating value for customers. According to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, such favors cost us more than $11,000 per person in lost GDP every year, a $3.6 trillion economic hit.
Compounding the problem are destructive regulations affecting whether and how business invests and employees work. Federal rules cost America an estimated $1.86 trillion per year, calculated the Competitive Enterprise Institute. At Koch Industries, we’ve seen how punitive permitting for large projects creates years of delay, increasing uncertainty and cost. Sometimes projects are canceled and jobs with them. Meanwhile, 30% of U.S. employees need government licenses to work. We need a system that rewards those who create real value, not impedes them.
Skills AND values
Third, we need to guide many more people into developing skills and values that will enable them to reach their potential. Everyone knows education increases a person’sability to create value. But the willingness to work, an essential for success, often has to be taught, too.
When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs. Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream. We are in for more trouble if young people don’t find that all-important first job, which is critical to beginning their climb up the ladder.
Finally, we need greater incentives to work. Costly programs, such as paying able-bodied people not to work, are addictive disincentives. By undermining people’s will to work, our government has created a culture of dependency and hopelessness. This is most unfair to vulnerable citizens who suffer even as we say they are receiving “benefits.”
I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King. There are no dead-end jobs. Every job deserves our best. “If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” King said, “he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”
Our government’s decades-long, top-down approach to job creation has failed. Its policies have made our problems worse, leaving tens of millions chronically un- or underemployed, millions of whom have given up ever finding meaningful work. In doing so, our government has not only thwarted real job creation, it also has reduced the supply and quality of goods and services that make people’s lives better and undermined the culture required to sustain a free society.
When it comes to creating opportunities for all, we can do much better. It’s time to let people seek opportunities that best suit their talents, for businesses to forsake cronyism and for government to get out of the way.
Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, is a donor to libertarian causes.