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Smart Bombs: Let’s clear the air on jobs

Apparently one of the big constraints on the U.S. economy is its inability to produce sufficient levels of soot and mercury. As part of a jobs initiative, House Republicans are pushing legislation called the TRAIN Act that would derail new standards aimed at curbing these emissions.

What’s really going on is an attempt to leverage an economic crisis to gut unrelated regulations. Or, as Roger Noll, co-director of the Program on Regulatory Policy at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, said: “The effect of regulation on jobs has nothing to do with the mess we’re in. The current rhetoric about regulation killing jobs is nothing more than not letting a good crisis go to waste.”

Noll was quoted in a ProPublica article that rebuffs the simplistic “job-killing regulations” mantra. Even President Barack Obama caved in to this notion when he recently asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ease up on stringent ozone protections. ProPublica, a nonprofit news-gathering operation, queried many economic experts and found that regulations can kill particular jobs, but they help create others. In other words, jobs shift, but the overall effect is negligible.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that employers attribute a mere sliver of layoffs to burdensome regulations. For instance, in the first half of this year, regulations were blamed for 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of job losses. The chief culprit is a dearth of paying customers, which is a problem that can’t be easily fixed by cutting regulations and business taxes.

So even if House Republicans were to succeed in stifling the Clean Air Act, there wouldn’t be a big jump in jobs.

However, you could expect an uptick in grief, because the EPA estimates that the new smog and soot standards will prevent 34,000 deaths annually and the new mercury standards will save 17,000 lives and prevent 120,000 asthma attacks in children.

Then again, thwarting those regulations could create some jobs in the health care and funeral sectors.

Insecure vs. Secure. To see whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, let’s compare it with the alleged scam by a Colbert woman. The Security and Exchange Commission claims that Doris “Dee” Nelson, purveyor of the Little Loan Shoppe, ran a huge Ponzi-like operation. According to the feds:

Nelson promised annual returns of 40 percent to 60 percent. Social Security supplies regular estimates on what people can expect to collect. A Brookings Institution study based on readily available Social Security data shows that most people get back just about what they put in. Some collect more. Some collect less. There are no expectations of extravagant gains.

Nelson allegedly got new investors to cover payments to old investors by lying about the health of her business. Social Security’s books are open to the public and its actuaries compile long-term projections based on worst-case to best-case scenarios. Its current health and future challenges are well-known.

Nelson started her enterprise in 1999 and it lasted less than 10 years. Social Security has been around for 75 years.

Little Loan Shoppe has sought bankruptcy protection, meaning its 1,300 creditors can expect to collect a tiny fraction of the more than $100 million they’re owed. Government projections show that Social Security could pay beneficiaries 100 percent of what’s coming to them until 2037, if nothing changes. Even if Congress failed to intervene, the program could pay beneficiaries 75 percent of what they’d expect up until 2084.

Verdict? Beware of politicians uttering “Ponzi scheme” when they’re talking about Social Security.

Greek to me. Out of gas, out of control and headed for a kamikaze plunge … but enough about global markets. How about that satellite falling to Earth?

I think I speak for all angst-ridden 401(k) holders when I say, Greece? Seriously? It’s not enough that I have to weigh the effects of myriad U.S. economic events, but now I have to track the amount of Greek debt infecting international banks?

“Stocks plunge on Greece debt concerns.” “Stocks rise as EU signals Greece bailout.” “Stocks plunge on Greece debt concerns.”

This daily rollercoaster ride is giving me a big, fat Greek headache.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. He can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.