Hey, CEO! You Hate Fiscal Stimulus. So Tell Me: What Would You Do Instead?

How to Make Government Work
Aug. 21 2012 5:42 PM

Hey, CEO! You Hate Fiscal Stimulus. So Tell Me: What Would You Do Instead?

A protestor holds a sign during a demonstration against unemployment benefit cuts.
How do we persuade corporations to use the cash they are sitting on to hire workers?

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Some things really do confuse me. The Dow has been on a tear, today hitting its highest point since the financial crisis before falling back slightly at the close. Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at an all time high. CEO compensation is the highest it's been since the AP started tracking it in 2006. Corporations are sitting on almost $2 trillion in retained earnings. And not a single major prosecution of a corporation or a CEO has occurred for the enormous defalcations that led to the crisis of 2008.

Yet this corporate leadership expresses nothing but venom for President Obama and nothing but admiration for the policies of former president George W. Bush that led us to the crisis of 2008. Some mysteries probably cannot be solved, so I will no longer try to understand minds that would react this way.

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So let's ask a different question, one that follows from the following data:

The number of Americans living in poverty is expected to reach an all-time high of 66 million this year. Wages for most have been stagnant since the mid-1970s. The unemployment rate is stuck at 8.3 percent. And our GDP is about $1 trillion higher than it was before the crash even though about 5 million fewer Americans are working.

So the question is: How do we persuade corporations to use the cash they are sitting on to hire workers?

I want to confront this issue not as a matter of ideology, but as practical question. I am genuinely curious to hear from CEOs—with specificity—about what would get them to hire. So here is my offer: Any CEO or owner of a company with revenues of more than half a million dollars and more than five employees, please send me the specific shift in policy that would automatically get you to hire somebody. Send it to viewpoint@current.com, and I will discuss it on air. No "maybe's or hopefully's": I want to hear about a direct cause and effect. For instance: If your payroll taxes were cut to zero, you would hire five more people.

I will admit that I have yet to hear answers that are specific enough to amount to a policy. The most common answer I hear—“resolving uncertainty”—sounds good but is not a policy. Lowering marginal tax rates was George W. Bush's answer. It didn't work. Accelerating depreciation of capital expenses has been tried, and had only very modest results.

I want to hear from anybody who will pledge that their policy idea will lead to an immediate hire. Let's find out what the specific alternatives are to the demand stimulus that Paul Krugman and others, including me, believe is needed. Let's begin a nonpartisan, low-decibel conversation and see if there are any ideas that can work. We all want more jobs. And the money is clearly there. So what's the solution?

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