Off to the Ribbon-Cutting Races
By Ashley Landess
S.C. politicians have created a whole new level of political opportunism: the “job announcement.” It’s getting downright creepy to see the swarm of politicians and reporters descend to tout an economic windfall every time a grocery store opens (I’m pretty sure that actually happened!). In the last few years the government PR machine for “economic development” has spun out of control. It seems every time a company expands – or maybe just hires summer help – some politician cuts a ribbon with giant scissors while headlines screaming “jobs!”
But is all that “growth” real? The state spends hundreds of millions of public dollars just on the government machine officials claim is necessary to create private sector jobs (something that used to happen all by itself, but which politicians now claim they have to do). That spending doesn’t include millions of dollars in incentive packages given to certain corporations. What has all that money gotten us? It’s not clear. No government agency has released any concrete numbers for how many jobs South Carolinians currently hold as a result of all the spending on job creation. Officials have admitted they don’t really have solid records to answer that question.
Politicians brag about how many jobs they’ve “announced” (what exactly they do to create them is still unclear), but they never quite remember to update us when a company closes its doors or cuts jobs.
South Carolina repeatedly ranks among the nation’s poorest states, and the economy as a whole is far from booming. And yet press releases fly out touting the creation of “10 jobs,” “15 jobs” and “40” jobs.
Companies that grow and expand their operations certainly have reason to be pleased. I’m just not sure politicians deserve to stand next to the CEO and take credit. After all, companies are supposed to want to grow. They don’t exist to create jobs. They exist to make a product or provide a service, and ultimately improve the quality of life because of it. The job is what goes along with doing that, and most of us want those jobs, not simply to pay bills but also to have the chance to achieve something great.
Americans used to dream of more than simply having a job, and our politicians used to talk about all the great things our nation could do because we wanted to and believed we could. That is the pursuit of excellence so many South Carolinians tell me they miss in our country.
It’s great for a company to expand and for new jobs to be available as a result. But true economic prosperity comes with less interference from politicians, not more. And when politicians take credit every time a store opens, it feels like the forced fun overly zealous parents create when they micromanage a child’s birthday party. In both cases, the real magic is stifled and everyone feels cheated.
The economy will grow when politicians stop cutting deals and ribbons, and start cutting regulations and government spending. That’s the free market way, and when our elected officials get back to it, they’ll get much more credit than they do from a press conference.