Romney and the 6 Percent Solution

By Carl M. Cannon - May 29, 2012

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In other words, the same people dismissively saying that Romney’s 6 percent goal is nothing special -- and will be reached with or without him -- have been wrong in the past. The truth is that they are hoping these predictions are accurate, but they simply don’t know.

Is It All Campaign Hot Air?

Liberals find it easier to claim that a Democratic president has “created jobs” than conservatives do when making similar claims about Republican presidents. For modern Republicans, government doesn’t create jobs -- that’s the private sector’s function -- and, in the main, getting the public sector out of the way is the GOP’s idea of how to produce the environment in which employment grows.

Yet the campaign trail is not the place for nuanced arguments, and some of the claims emanating from Romneyworld are dubious at best. Last week, for example, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom asserted Romney should be given credit for creating over 100,000 jobs while at Bain Capital, and tens of thousands more in his single term as governor of Massachusetts.

“In that four years as governor, he created between 30,000 and 40,000 jobs,” Fehrnstrom told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “. . . And at Bain Capital, of course, the mission was to create value. That’s how the free enterprise system works, but when you create value, when you add value as they did in trying to improve companies, you also add employment, and a rough back-of-the-envelope estimate of how many jobs they created is well in excess of 100,000.”

Even if one accepts these generous guestimates, Fehrnstrom’s math if off-kilter. Factoring in population growth and other changes in the work force, the U.S. economy must create as many as 125,000 new jobs every month just to keep even.

And even then, those numbers are not always enough -- as the Obama administration was reminded in February when the economy gained 227,000 new non-farm jobs, while the unemployment rate remained static at 8.3 percent. The reason provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for this anomaly is that it meant that unemployed Americans who were previously so discouraged they hadn’t even been looking for a job were motivated to join the workforce.

That sobering explanation suggests that the federal government’s methods for counting the unemployed have been seriously understating the nature of the problem. It also means that if a Romney administration merely were to keep pace with the current unemployment rate, between 6 million and 7 million new jobs would have to be created. Lowering the rate to 6 percent? That will take about 10 million new jobs.

The U.S. economy has shown this kind of capacity before: In Ronald Reagan’s two terms, some 16 million jobs were created, most of them in his second term. In Bill Clinton’s eight years in the Oval Office, this number surpassed 22 million.

Did Reagan’s and Clinton’s policies deserve most of the credit? That’s a hard case to make, but economic performance of the country is a big part of how U.S. chief executives are judged, as the one-term presidencies of Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest. Which is why Romney’s focus on this issue makes sense. It also explains why Obama has gone after Romney so early and often.

“You [don’t] need polling to understand why people have a visceral reaction to Mitt Romney’s time as head of Bain Capital,” former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “This is a criticism . . . of Mitt Romney’s only thesis for being president of the United States -- that he’s some kind of economic savior. He’s very good at making money for his partners. He’s not so good at creating jobs.”

Romney and his allies beg to differ, but the rhetorical jousting only prompts the question, which is this: How does Mitt Romney propose turning the good ship USS Economy in the right direction?

The Man With the Plan

As long ago as the New Hampshire Republican primary, Romney was describing his economic prescription as a kind of magic bullet. “What I can promise you is this: When you get out of college, if I’m president, you’ll have a job,” he told a young audience at the outset of the primary season. “If President Obama is re-elected, you will not be able to get a job.”

Campaigning in Londonderry, N.H., on Dec. 27, 2011, he forecast an “immediate buoyancy to the economy” upon his election. And last week, he told Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, “I can tell you that over a period of four years by virtue of the policies that we put in place, we’ll get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent or perhaps a little lower, depending in part upon the rate of growth of the globe as well as what we’re seeing here in the United States.”

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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