During the Vice-Presidential debate, the candidates each touted their administration’s record of job-creation. You probably hear the term “job creators” a lot, especially from conservative politicians. In the rhetoric, job creators are venerated. They are seen as worthy of tax breaks and protection. This rhetoric was particularly noticeable in the passage of 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which stated things like, “our colleagues…recognize the record-setting rate at which the United States taxes job-creating businesses is” and “in that worldwide race for job-creating investment, America is not economically competitive.” Here, the authors equate job-creators with private businesses and the private sector, implying that they are being treated unfairly by the government’s meddling and in a manner incommensurate with America’s desire to be viewed as business-friendly and free-market oriented. Small businesses while undoubtedly important features of the American economy, account for only about 20% of jobs and ought not be considered the economy’s primary “job creators.”
An economically-literate student would be able to recognize the authors’ use of loaded words like “burden” when it is used to describe how taxes allegedly affect workers “either significantly or entirely, a burden borne by the workers they employ.” These kinds of rhetorical appeals loaded words were crucial in “selling” the TCJA, propping up certain entities while denigrating or ignoring others. Statements like this absolve the federal government of responsibility to provide jobs to its people and do not recognize the efforts of unions, for example, who, though job creators, protectors and sustainers, have only been denigrated by the government, not defended by it.
Economically literate students would not only question a politician’s record for jobs, but also their use of the term job-creator/creation. In The Rhetoric of the Right, David George (2013) studied newspapers’ use of certain words relating to the economy. George found that the term job creation/creator is fairly new. Before the Great Depression, a “job creator” would be a corrupt figure who padded a payroll. “Job creator” saw an uptick in usage since the 2000s and the Bush administration. Job creator is a conservative notion that “emphasizes and celebrates capital rather than labor” (Krugman, 2014).
What other terms could be used instead? Why not employers? Job providers?
The current terminology puts an emphasis on creating something new rather than sustaining what is there, privileging upstart, capitalist ventures rather than unions. “Providers” implies benevolence and entitlement. There is also no talk of “job losers” or “job decreasers.” Why are “workers” invoked and not laborers or employees or people? As David George points out, to create a job means to create a task that needs to be done, not a salary for another person. This is why I think we need to be careful about counting “job losses” during the pandemic. Salaries were lost, livelihoods were lost, but women, in particular, carried on working. Someone had to care for the children sent home from school and manage households.
The job-creator could also be the “worker” if they are self-employed. The “worker” or doer of the task is not necessarily human. This is a matter of wordcraft. In job creator rhetoric, “the wealthy are workers too.” It is meant to justify the riches of the rich and to make them seem like worthy producers rather than unworthy “users” (Peck, 2014) which employee could also denote. In a study of Fox News, Peck found that the channel has successfully aligned the worker and the employer, or “job creator” by framing them as “the productive people of the private sector” (p. 531). This is what is called “producerism.” Job creator is also a seemingly neutral term. Through substitution, Fox News has successfully disguised rich within “job creator” and presented a moral case that entitles the rich to their riches.
Job creator and creation is positioned as something that is done for the greater good. Job creators are spoken about as if they are doing the public a favor. Yet, “each business is run for the benefit of its owners, its shareholders, its customers and its employees. It’s not run for the benefit of the country. That’s not why people run businesses” (Frezza, 2011). As Allan Johnson put it to Business Insider;
people invest in businesses for many reasons-to make money, to produce a product, to satisfy customers-but NOT to create jobs. A business creates jobs only because it needs workers as a means to an end, and whenever it finds a way to become more ‘efficient’ by getting rid of workers, then that is what it will do.
Employer and employee, on the other hand, signifies a reciprocal relationship between people. As George puts it “employment is only possible if there is both an employer and an employee. A job opening might exist without there being any potential employee in sight” (p. 113). Moreover, market logic would indicate that supply exists with the expectation of demand. A hair stylist offers a product with heads of hair in mind. Car makers manufacture automobiles with car-buyers in mind. George’s point is that employees and employers co-exist and co-create “this being so, who should be said to have created the job” (p. 113). In short, demanders can be job-creators. The federal government and state governments create jobs. Some economists, such as Stephanie Kelton, suggest that it is the federal government’s duty to create jobs. That is the Modern Monetary Theory viewpoint. After all, if the federal government controls currency, then it is its responsibility to “make sure there is always a way to earn the currency” (Kelton, 2020, p. 65). So although the federal government can, and does, create jobs it is not a “job creator” in conservative economic rhetoric. This makes me think that the issue isn’t, and never has been, about jobs.
See Pavlina R. Tcherneva’s The Case for a Job Guarantee https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2020/06/29/book-review-the-case-for-a-job-guarantee-by-pavlina-r-tcherneva/
“Job creator” as equated with the private sector thus absolves the government of responsibility. Like many things, employment, and the public’s right to it, has been privatized.
I also think that “creator” is part of a larger discourse in American society and education that privileges the maker at the expense of the thinker. I’m reminded of Jerome Bruner’s example, “we have been a country in which doing has been taken as the mark of effectiveness in thinking…Thomas Edison was our conception of the American scientist as engineer. The writer, the poet, the theorist and the savant have not been folk figures in America, have not stimulated legends” (p. 74). In my experience in elementary education, Edison and inventors are popular lesson topics with the preservice teachers I work. I’ve had to ban lessons about Benjamin Franklin as an inventor because of the popularity of this standard, even though the state standard is about Franklin as inventor, author and statesman. Perhaps this is why STEM plays such an outsized role in education.
In short, we should not accept simple invocations of “job creators” without asking what kind of jobs are being created, if they are for people, and if they are good jobs whose wages enable a good life for those who do them. Greg LeRoy (2007) warns against the “the great American jobs scam: an intentionally constructed system that enables corporations to exact huge taxpayer subsidies by promising quality jobs, even when they fail to deliver. The other benefit often promised, higher tax revenues, often proves false as well” (p. 9). We are seeing this today as businesses accept covid relief money and institute layoffs anyway.
Finally, we’ve seen the difficulty politicians have when there is any hint of job losses. For example, the jobs rhetoric shows up in conversations about fracking. Why is it that fracking, a hazardous and earth-destroying practice, cannot be intelligently discussed because banning it hints at job losses (nevermind the loss of life or health or earth). While of course jobs are important and provide not only salaries but a sense of purpose and a community for those who do them, they can also be incredibly destructive to the body and the earth.
In sum, it is vitally important to develop a critical orientation to economic rhetoric and for Americans to be able to discuss jobs.
Bruner, J. S. (1977). The process of education. Harvard University Press. http://audreymagrath.weebly.com/uploads/2/0/6/0/20609440/the_process_of_education__bruner_.pdf
George, D. (2013). The rhetoric of the right: Language change and the spread of the market. Routledge
Frezza, B. (2011). Venture capitalist cautions against job creation myths. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2011/10/04/141033128/venture-capitalist-cautions-against-job-creation-myths
LeRoy, G. (2007). The great corporate job scam: Money for nothing. Race, Poverty and the Environment. http://www.reimaginerpe.org/node/831
Kelton, S. (2020). The deficit myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the birth of the people’s economy. PublicAffairs.
Krugman, P. (2014). Why we’re in a new Gilded Age. New York Review of Books. http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/capital21c/en/media/NYRB08052014(Krugman).pdf
Peck, R. (2014). ‘You say rich, I say job creator’: how Fox News framed the Great Recession through the moral discourse of producerism. Media, Culture & Society, 36(4), 526-535.