On top of everything else this week, on Thursday the President will hold his “jobs summit,” a kickoff for a campaign-style tour promoting … well, something to do with jobs, I’m not sure what. But lest I think that this is some kind of rehash of the Whip Inflation Now campaign, there are at least a few encouraging sings. For one, the guest list for the summit.

Attendees also will include several liberal economists who have been critical of some administration policies, including Nobel laureates Joseph E. Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, the Times columnist, and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University. The labor leaders include representatives of unions for service industry employees, steel workers and teachers.

This is in addition the set of CEOs like Eric Schmidt of Google and Randall Stephenson of AT&T, along with small-town mayors and small business owners. Obviously having certain liberal economists in the room during a made-for-TV event with an unclear bearing on policy isn’t determinative, but it’s better than them, well, not being in the room. For instance, Krugman can rely the message he brought to the pages of the New York Times this morning:

If you’re looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

This is wrong and unacceptable.

Krugman calls for a jobs program focused entirely on employment rather than something like the stimulus, which was more focused on increasing GDP. That means no general tax cuts or indirect job-creating measures and more direct employment programs, like aid to state and local governments to save jobs, or a small-scale WPA for public service employment. Krugman even endorses a tax credit for employers who hire, which sounds easily gamed to me but is at least an idea.

One White House official told the New York Times that the President would emphasize in the jobs summit that “government has done what it can. It’s time to hear from the private sector about what it’s going to do.” That seems like the wrong approach, especially because we know what the private sector will propose – long-term tax cuts for them.

At least there will be a few people at the jobs summit not mindlessly parroting that line.

David Dayen

David Dayen