August 20th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

Think jobs, not debt

I was on John King USA the other night talking about my Washington Post column, Obama's job #1: Create jobs. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

John King: Fareed, you write-and I want to read, right here, right off in The Washington Post:

"Everything we do as a country should be geared toward the central task of boosting employment. Some of this will involve government spending, an infrastructure bank that uses current low interest rates, includes the private sector and chooses projects based on merit rather than patronage is one of the best ideas to come out of Washington in years."

Best idea to you. Speaker Boehner, the other House Republican leadership said, that's more stimulus spending - not happening.

Fareed Zakaria: This is part of the problem. We've gotten into an absurd political debate where everything the government does is called stimulus spending.

It's important to understand what we're talking about. We're talking about rebuilding America's infrastructure, bridges, highways, but also, for example, a power grid and broadband. All this would be done using an infrastructure bank that would largely use private sector money. That is, it would borrow from the private sector, using and taking advantage of current low interest rates.

You know, the odd thing is that America actually builds its infrastructure under current current setup in a quasi- socialist way. The government does everything. What I'm suggesting and this is President Obama's suggestion, this is Kay Bailey Hutchison's, a Republican, suggestion. What I'm suggesting we use a method used in lots of other countries that basically gets the private sector involved in all these projects.

John King: How do we crack that code, if you will, and break the paralysis? Because you make an interesting point. Yesterday the president was in rural Illinois. After his town hall meeting there, I talked to a Republican congressman, Bobby Shilling, who was right there. The president said hello to him. Afterwards they shook hands and had a brief conversation.

I asked him about infrastructure, and he said that's not Democrat or Republican, that's a red, white and blue issue. We can probably agree on that. And then it was almost as if a switch flipped in his head and he quickly turned and said this:

"What we need to look for is private sector, permanent jobs, not taxpayer funded temporary jobs, because we've already seen a failed stimulus that's cost our kids and our grandkids over a trillion bucks. We're willing to work with him. I shook his hand today and I said, you know, Mr. President, we're here to work with you, you know, but we're going to need a little bit of help from your side also."

John King: How do we break this code, if you will?

Fareed Zakaria: Well, if you talk to the CEOs, if you listen to what Jeff Immelt, Andrew Liveriest of Dow, any of the major CEOs, in the market, they all point out that we have terrible infrastructure, we're falling behind. And the ironic thing here is what is being proposed is actually a much more private-sector friendly, much more market friendly approach than we have.

What does the congressman mean by permanent jobs? There ain't no such thing as permanent jobs anymore. Small companies start up and go out of business all the time. They hire people when they need them. They let them go. The same would be true of construction projects.

And, by the way, it's very important to point out when you think about infrastructure, this is not government workers. The government would be in part paying for private sector firms, for private sector construction firms. We have a 20 percent to 25 percent unemployment rate in the construction industry.

Fareed Zakaria: Another point you make in your column that I think it's an incremental step, but I wanted you to tell me how important you think it would be. You write, "We should make it easier for visitors to get visas, and work hard to make them feel welcome. They are, in the words of Starwood Hotels CEO Frits Van Paasschen, a walking stimulus program."

So that's not going to create thousands and thousands of jobs, but you say the government could do something like that, that would help a little.

Fareed Zakaria: In our country, the United States these days, ever since 9/11, we've basically been trying to stop people from coming into this country. That has been - to the extent we have a policy towards visitors - it's basically to say, "How can we stop you from coming in because one out of every 10 million of you might possibly be a terrorist."

It's crazy. We should be leading tourist destination in the world. Right now France is. We're five times the size of France. We've got everything from the Grand Canyon to Disney World to Broadway to the Metropolitan Museum, we should be the world leader in this.

And if we were to do it, it would create tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of jobs in the hotel business, in the hospitality business, in travel. And it doesn't require much congressional action.

This is actually an area where the administration would need courage because, of course, you're going to have people claiming that we're being soft on terrorism and all this kind of nonsense. But it is something that we could mercifully do while Congress is in recess.

John King: In the course of this conversation we've mentioned several CEOs that you keep in touch with and have spoken with in your reporting. What is their sense, if we were having this conversation three or four months ago, people thought the economy would grow slowly, but not stumble back into a recession.

In recent days, when you see consumer confidence down, soft housing reports, soft manufacturing reports, the volatility on Wall Street, the European debt crisis, and more and more smart people are saying, "You know, 2012 might be another recession. "

Fareed Zakaria: What they would say, to answer your question, is it's actually not as bad as it looks. Meaning that the data is softer than what they're seeing on the ground. And they read the data as being a temporary blip downward. Nobody thinks there's going to be robust growth, but none of the ones I talked to seem to think that we were going into a second recession.

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Topics: Debt Crisis • From Fareed • Jobs • Politics • President Obama

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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Bryn

    Mr. Zakaria, If we took the Republican's idea of a one-time tax holiday for Corporations who have billions in foreign countries, and tied that directly to job creation (and I mean Real job creation), and make it all contingent on passing the Dream Act, do you think that it would help our economy, and would both parties agree to it?
    Thank you in advance, Bryn

    August 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      The problem is the Tea baggers want to topple the current government! Whatever good ideas there are around, the GOP and the Tea Party don't want to support them. I'm sure they find the construction projects a great idea. It's like killing two birds with one stone – the renewal of the country's infrastructure and job creations, They would only go ahead once they'd taken over the country.

      August 20, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Reply
      • Bryn

        I agree that the T'P'ers are a major problem, but I think that the Corporate overlords would neutralize their wishes. Money overules crazy, hopefully.

        August 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  2. Kevin

    The first sane guy I've heard in weeks.

    August 20, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Yes I agree.
      John King – "You know, 2012 might be another recession." No, I don't think so.

      August 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  3. Tony

    Gosh this guy is such a globalist piece of trash. The stimulus was mainly about infastructure and it did not do anything. We have plenty of infastructure already and all it does is bring temporary jobs.

    August 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply
    • chuckles

      the stimulus was drowned out by tax cuts just to get passed and was either 1/3 or 1/2 of the toal package. do you really think 400 billion at the most was enough to make up for the loss of millions of jobs? we should have used that money for reperations to black americans. that would have been a stimulus like no other because the poorest people would have gotten the money and would have created a huge lock for the black vote for years to come instead of doubt and dissappointment about how he ignored the black community

      August 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  4. mike grim

    Salution; six hour day, four day work week.

    August 23, 2011 at 10:09 am | Reply
  5. mike grim

    Rescission salutations;
    1.Change to a six hour work day.
    2.Change to a three day weekend.
    3.Ten weeks paid vacation for everyone mandatory.
    4.Early retirement with full salary.
    5.Zero income tax for the working class.
    6.Ban inflation.
    7.Ban medical insurance. We don't need any more medicine men shaking there rattles over our dying children.
    8.Legalize healthy foods.
    9.Require all processed foods to be labeled “toxic energy supplement”.
    8.Close the stock market.
    9.Close all concentration camp/prisons. We have much bigger criminals in Washington.
    10.Bring back all our boys. They are solders not pillagers.
    11.Turn all schools over to the students. Eliminate testing of students. Teach our children seven languages before the age of eight.
    12.Open the borders. We are all romans anyway and almost none of us are English.
    Just off the top of my head.

    August 23, 2011 at 11:13 am | Reply
  6. mike grim

    Not only do you put your neighbour out of work, but you also cause wages to go down when you work overtime, work a second job, or put your wife to work. If there are less jobs we should be working less hours not more. Less jobs should be a sign of increased quality of life. With all our labor saving devices we should only be working six hours a week like the the Roman citizens of old.

    August 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Reply

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