Bill Clinton has made a comeback lately. He's been in Chicago the last few days, introducing the Clinton Global Initiative jobs summit and rolling out a series of partnerships with businesses that would create thousands of jobs. Meanwhile, he's telling lawmakers to chill on the budget cuts until we can get back on our feet.
These CGI job initiatives are no joke, even if they won't give a job to all 14 million unemployed Americans. Visa is giving the online lending firm Kiva $1 million to work with local community leaders in Detroit to fund microloans. Onshore Technology Services, a rural outsourcing firm, is promising to create 1,000 jobs over the next five years in rural Missouri (including the tornado-ravaged Joplin). And the AFL-CIO union is investing $10 billion of their pension money into infrastructure projects, something that's never happened before on that scale.
It's nice to see people addressing job creation in a serious way, but does this mean that we've given up on government to help us curb unemployment? Is the future of job creation seriously in the hands of international philanthropists? Ten billion dollars is a huge chunk of change. Still, it's not on the scale of what government can do. Obama called for a $50 billion public works plan last year, and many people responded that it should be larger. Of course, that bill, along with other job-creating legislation, died in Congress.
"Right now, Congress is completely unwilling to put money towards jobs," says Heather Boushey, senior economist for the Center for American Progress. "It's not like Clinton is saying anything that Obama's not saying. But fortunately, Clinton doesn't have to deal with Congress."
Boushey says that Clinton's job summit could inspire other businesses to invest, too.
"The unions are going out and pooling their resources," she says. Meanwhile, "corporations are sitting on a lot of money from record profits, and they're not investing it. Every small business says they're afraid that their sales will keep going down." Boushey added that we need to make it in corporations' interest to create jobs—in other words, convince them that there's going to be consumer demand, which is what happens when people have money in their pocket.
The CGI jobs summit, particularly the AFL-CIO's plan, is also a challenge to banks and hedge funds to cough up similar amounts of cash; Clinton says banks are hoarding $2 trillion that could at least partially be loaned out. But perhaps this should also be a challenge to the government to stop obsessing about the deficit already, and match what these businesses have invested in jobs.