Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ethanol Pioneers and Job Creators?

Here in Nebraska, the political engines have long been running leading up to the primary votes that occurred this past week. Hotly contested races in the Republican camps, including the race for the U.S. Senate, filled the airwaves with political ads. In contrast, Senator Nelson, the incumbent, could watch from the sidelines.

Now that the dust has settled and the candidates are looking towards November, we see some new ads coming out from Senator Nelson. The current ad sponsored by the Democratic Party strikes a chord with me that I will mention here. As you might guess, this was not beautiful music.

The ad is built around an ethanol theme, describing the senator as an “ethanol pioneer” during his term as Nebraska governor who created 3,500 jobs. He further describes a vision for the future in which Nebraska cornfields will replace foreign oil. (A nice idea, but not a feasible one.)

Let me first say I am not a Nebraska voter, and I have respect for Senator Nelson. I'm not writing this to campaign for anyone, or against anyone, in the senate race. But I do want to make a comment or two about the ad which relates directly to the themes of this blog.

As for production values, I guess showing the senator in a Carhart jacket and flannel shirt in the fields at harvest time makes for a good political image. I confess I don’t know how an “ethanol pioneer” is supposed to dress – I would suggest that a lab coat might have been more appropriate. On the other hand, since ethanol is grain alcohol (which has quite ancient origins), I would guess that an Egyptian outfit might also be fitting for an ethanol pioneer. (Too much identification with being an “ethanol pioneer” can also get you in trouble, especially if you drive.)

But apart from that, the point that really troubles me is the claims by politicians – and Senator Nelson is surely not the only one – that they create jobs. Perhaps their longstanding terms in office have given them a form of myopia that prevents them from seeing the real entrepreneurs who invest their capital in risky ventures to create jobs. In spending our money, they mistakenly think that they created jobs. And when they all talk this way, perhaps they start to believe it.

If we hired a corporate treasurer to write our company’s checks, and that treasurer said he or she created jobs, we would shake our heads in disbelief. We should do the same for politicians when they make these claims. At most, they can create a positive business climate where they don’t stop people from taking risks and expanding the economy. Maybe "create jobs" is a shorthand way of saying that in the compressed framework of a tv ad, but I still don't like it.

Let me end on a positive note for Senator Nelson. He did support the Republican majority in the Senate in voting for the most recent tax bill, which included provisions reducing capital gain and dividend taxes for two more years, as well as extension for AMT relief. That was a good decision, in my view.

Sadly, some Republicans did not support that bill, including Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R(INO) – RI). I have mentioned his primary election contest from Mayor Steve Laffey in prior blogs. Laffey's campaign site can be found here: http://www.electlaffey.com/site/index.php


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