Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Jobs Summit isn't about creating jobs

What actually happens at a White House jobs summit? Do you think that all these big wigs come in and actually make policy? As if the CEOs of major companies would make major decisions sitting around a table with a whole bunch of other CEOs. Nope, it's just a glorified photo op - a more grandiose way for Obama to do what George H.W. Bush tried when he said "Message: I care."

Evan Newmark (not a relation) writes in the WSJ about his experiences at such summits and it sounds like some of the more useless education conferences I've been at.
And here’s how it will likely play out. A senior White House official — perhaps the president — will give a welcome pep talk to the 130 gathered “summiteers.” He’ll ply them with thanks and stirring patriotic words.

But then he’ll urge them to not waste the day in conference fuzzy talk. Instead, the summiteers should turn words into actions and actions into jobs. After all, it is a “jobs” summit.

And then the summiteers will shuffle off to one of six working groups — where of course they’ll end up wasting the day in conference fuzzy talk.

It’s inevitable. Prepared remarks, banal anecdotes and empty debates are the stuff of these mushy forums. I can count on one hand the number of memorable moments from the dozens of my Davos sessions on technology super-revolutions, entrepreneurial innovation and world peace.

That’s because the VIPs at these things aren’t there to say or do anything unexpected.

Do you think that FedEx CEO Fred Smith and United Steelworkers President Leo Girard will somehow reach agreement that the best way to create jobs is to kill the union-card check?

Do you think that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, will suddenly serve up innovative ideas for trade unions to assist small businesses?

It seems unlikely.
It often strikes me, while sitting bored in some meeting, that there are people who just like meetings and then there are the rest of us who don't. The people who like meetings are usually the ones who rise to positions of power to call such meetings while the rest of us just put our heads down and do our jobs. But meetings among all these disparate groups of people is not what builds jobs.
And so the jobs summit will fail for the same reason Obamanomics is failing: The White House mistakenly believes economic growth and new jobs are created by society’s stakeholders — business, labor and government — cooperatively working together.

But that’s not the way capitalism works. It doesn’t take a village to create a new job. It takes a businessman trying to make another buck.

Of course, you won’t hear too much of this “greed is good” uber-capitalism stuff at the jobs summit. Not too many of the summiteers would dare. Do you think Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, now in the middle of acquiring NBC Universal, will tell the gathering what he really thinks of government intervention in the economy?
Of course not. but it would be delightful if the summiteers actually gave all the politicians at the summit a little tutorial on how capitalism works and how a bunch of leaders sitting around and posing before the cameras with the President are not going to create any jobs.
But in Washington, it’s the form that counts more than the substance. And no doubt, this summit will have plenty of good form. Each of the summit working groups will work their whiteboards and somehow come up with a list of “deliverables” and “next steps.” There will be nice words drafted for White House press releases.

At the end of the day, the President will stand up, thank everyone and close the jobs summit by declaring it a “success”.

And then everyone will file out of the White House and go back to their regular jobs, having done little to nothing on December 3rd to create any new ones.