NEW YORK -- Following is commentary by Anthony Shorris. Shorris is a fellow at The Century Foundation and former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
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One of the problems that has made getting agreement on a major economic initiative so difficult is the multiplicity of goals the various players have laid out for it. Groaning under the weight of impossible expectations, the various congressional bills and administration proposals have become difficult to defend to a skeptical public and turned into fodder for conservatives and partisans looking for any excuse to fight the new administration. Maybe it's time to be as clear as we can about what we are trying to do.
Stimulus: It's about jobs. There is an old economist's saw questioning whether paying people to dig holes and then paying them fill them up adds to the gross national product. One thing is certainly true: paying people to perform useless activities still gives them jobs. If the stimulus package is simply about creating jobs, then the Federal government could use the $800 billion under discussion to hire eight million people for the next two years at $50,000 each, essentially returning the nation to virtually full employment by hiring more than three-quarters of all the people considered unemployed in the country. They could be set to digging those holes, or they could be asked to do things that are somewhat more worthwhile - perhaps fixing up the National Mall, or providing family …