Andrew B. Wilson

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon wants to be known as the Energizer Bunny of job creation. At taxpayer expense, he goes hopping about our state — and, indeed, the world — banging his trusty drums and promising to broker deals that will secure more jobs for Missouri.

In his State of the State address on Tuesday evening (Jan. 17), Gov. Nixon mentioned jobs no fewer than 39 times.

By way of comparison, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan mentioned jobs only six times in his first State of the Union address in 1982 — when the U.S. economy was reeling from the effects of a downturn of comparable magnitude to the 2008-2009 recession.

In his 1983 State of the Union, Reagan mentioned jobs eight times, and then just five times each in his 1984 and 1985 addresses — delivered in the midst of the most robust economic recovery of the post-World War II era, a two-year span in which the United States added 7.3 million new jobs.

So perhaps the governor (and the current occupant of the White House) could take a less-is-more cue from the late president in thinking and talking about job creation.

There is much to be learned from the sparingly few remarks that Ronald Reagan made about jobs in his State of the Union speeches.

With unemployment at 9 percent and headed to a peak of 10.8 percent, Reagan spoke in his first State of the Union of the need to unleash the private sector through lower tax rates and reduced federal spending: “Raising taxes will slow economic growth, reduce production, and destroy future jobs. So, I will not ask you to try to balance the budget on the backs of the American taxpayers.”

In 1983, he noted that “We’re witnessing an upsurge in productivity and impressive evidence that American industry will once again become competitive in markets at home and abroad, ensuring more jobs and better incomes for the nation’s work force.”

In 1984, as the economy was beginning to boom, Reagan delivered one of the most quoted lines of his presidency: “The problems we’re overcoming are not the heritage of one person, party, or even one generation. It’s just the tendency of government to grow, for practices and programs to become the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

In his fourth State of the Union — delivered February 6, 1985 — Reagan reiterated the principal themes from his earlier addresses, saying, “Every dollar the federal government does not take from us, every decision it does not make for us will make our economy stronger, our lives more abundant, our future more free.”

In contrast to Reagan’s extraordinary success in boosting employment following a major downturn, employment in Missouri continues to lag about 150,000 jobs behind where it was before the onset of the 2008-09 recession.

To his credit, Gov. Nixon did talk about the need for balancing the state budget, holding the line on taxes and “making government smaller, smarter and more efficient” — worthy goals, all of them. Without giving specifics, he also spoke of the need for “comprehensive tax credit reform.” Unlike the late President Reagan, however, Gov. Nixon speaks of the private sector as if it were a willing but slow student — putting himself (and government) front and center in the role of providing much needed direction and encouragement to the dim-witted pupil.

Missouri Rep. Tim Jones (R- Dist. 89), who serves as majority floor leader, made a similar mistake in the Republican response to the governor’s address.

“A true leader fights for every job, every time,” Jones said.

If that were the case, we still would be “fighting” to preserve jobs in the buggy-whip industry.

The fact is, at both the state and national levels, jobs are continually created and destroyed and politicians and government leaders have no way of knowing from where the jobs of the future will be coming.

The real key to our future prosperity is freedom — the right of every individual to control his own labor and property. People are able to find their own way when freed from the shackles of overreaching and overbearing government.

Andrew B. Wilson is a resident fellow and senior writer at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.

About the Author

Andrew Wilson
Fellow and Senior Writer

A former foreign correspondent who spent four years in the Middle East and served as Business Week’s London bureau chief during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms as Britain’s prime minister, Andrew is a regular contributor to leading national publications, including the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal.