Obama 4 Million Jobs Created or Saved

Greg Mankiw is amused by President Obama’s statement that his stimulus plan should be judged on the basis of “creating or saving 4 million jobs.”

The expression “create or save,” which has been used regularly by the President and his economic team, is an act of political genius. You can measure how many jobs are created between two points in time. But there is no way to measure how many jobs are saved. Even if things get much, much worse, the President can say that there would have been 4 million fewer jobs without the stimulus.

An actual answer to the question “What metric?” could have taken the form: “If the unemployment rate on [insert date] is below [insert threshold], I will judge the plan to be a success.” Given the uncertainties inherent in the economy, however, no sensible politician would hold himself to such a measurable standard. But the President also wanted to avoid sounding like he was avoiding accountability. So he gave us a non-measurable metric. A clear and specific benchmark, without any way of ever knowing whether it has been reached.

Glenn Reynolds snarks, “Unfalsifiable promises! A new kind of politics!”

Anyone who’s surprised by this raise your hand.  Nobody?  Good.

Oh, and as a public service to our readers, if you’re going to do a Google Images search for job, you should probably turn on “safe search.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Stan says:

    You forgot to mention another of Mankiw’s posts, the one in which he reported polls of economists on governmental policies. The question was whether fiscal policy, tax cuts or governmental expenditure, has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. 90% of those polls said yes. Apparently you would have been among the 10% saying no. Why? This brings to mind a Bruce Bartlett post in a thread on Matt Yglesias’s blog. Bartlett challenged critics of FDR’s management of the economy to say if they felt FDR should have aimed at a balanced budget or a budget surplus during the 30’s.
    If they said yes, he asked them to justify their reasoning. I’d like to post the same question to you and to your readers.

  2. odograph says:

    Well, as I sort of said yesterday, it is more a commentary about the slowness of the commenting community. Obama started saying “create or save” during the election cycle, IIRC even before winning the nomination. It’s been there in plain sight the whole time.