This piece from Fortune (reg. required) doesn't ask which presidential candidate is better for jobs, but which one is more stupid when it comes to jobs? They both tend to lean towards protectionist tactics. (And yes I understand that some countries don't play fair in the free trade game, but overall it is fine)
The problem for workers—though obviously good news for the economy in general—is that every year many of the jobs just aren't needed any longer. It's been happening for decades and will keep happening for decades more. We all know it, but with presidential candidates talking earnest nonsense, most of which gets reported uncritically in the general-interest media, it's easy to forget how overwhelming the trend is.
For example, in 1990, America had 169,000 steelworkers. Just 11 years later, in 2001, we were down to 88,000, a vertiginous 48% drop. Yet even though 81,000 jobs disappeared, the remaining workers produced 17% more steel.
It's the same story in industry after industry: We keep producing more with less. In U.S. manufacturing overall, total sales rocketed from $2.8 trillion in 1990 to $4.3 trillion in 2001. The population grew, and the labor force grew. Yet total manufacturing employment fell 7%. U.S. manufacturing employment overall peaked in June 1979 and has been headed downhill ever since. It won't be going back up.
Why would any presidential candidate even pretend he could reverse this long-term megatrend? The answer is no mystery. Both Bush and Kerry have identified Ohio as this year's Florida, a big state that could go either way and could easily determine the winner. Ohio has lost 237,000 jobs in the past three years, mostly in manufacturing. Two other critical states, Michigan and Missouri, have also lost hundreds of thousands of factory jobs. Add those workers' families and the merchants in their towns, and that's millions of voters who desperately want to believe someone can save their way of life, even if no one really can. In fact, trying to save it could do more harm than good.
A lesson in basic economics and humor all roled in to one. I love it.