Labor Day was established as a national holiday in 1894, in the midst of a violent conflict between workers and railroad owners. Ever since, federal policymakers have been trying to strike a balance between the rights of workers versus those of corporations, free trade versus protectionism, business taxation versus spending on programs to boost employment or to support those out of work, and the regulation of industry versus market freedom. With unemployment in the United States at 9.1% this Labor Day, it's clear we haven't quite figured it out yet. So here are a few thoughts of leaders past and present on how to create jobs — and how not to.
"Today's misery is real unemployment, home foreclosures and bankruptcies. This is the Obama Misery Index, and it's at a record high. It's going to take more than rhetoric to put Americans back to work; it's going to take a new president."
— GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Feb. 11
"Look, even though private sector job growth is good, we've still got a long way to go before we put everybody back to work. We need to go ahead and act right now on some proposals that are before Congress, ready to be voted on. We should extend the payroll tax cut that we passed in December, put $1,000 in the typical family's pocket — we need to extend that into next year. Because if you've got more money in your pockets, that means businesses have more customers, they're more likely to hire."
— President Obama, Aug. 17
"Uncertainty and lack of confidence are at the center of the failure of our economy to achieve a robust recovery with job creation, job creation which would be necessary to support the continued improvement in our citizens' lives that we've come to expect as Americans. The origin of this crisis of confidence is debatable. The Great Recession and its legacy of job losses and home foreclosures is a contributing factor, and those are things we'll have to work through.... But in my opinion the seeds of this lack of confidence were first sown in well-intentioned programs of the 1930s and of the Lyndon Johnson Great Society."
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chairman, House Financial Services Committee, July 13
"I confidently predict — what every economic sign tells us tonight — the continued flourishing of the American economy. But we must remember that fear of a recession can contribute to the fact of a recession. The knowledge that our government will, and can, move swiftly will strengthen the confidence of investors and business. Congress can reinforce this confidence by ensuring that its procedures permit rapid action on income tax cuts. And special funds for job-creating public programs should be made available for immediate use if recession threatens."
President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965
"There are those who fail to read both the signs of the times and American history. They would try to refuse the worker any effective power to bargain collectively, to earn a decent livelihood and to acquire security. It is those shortsighted ones, not labor, who threaten this country with that class dissension which in other countries has led to dictatorship and the establishment of fear and hatred as the dominant emotions in human life.
"All American workers — brain workers and manual workers alike — and all the rest of us whose well-being depends on theirs, know that our needs are one in building an orderly economic democracy in which all can profit and in which all can be secure from the kind of faulty economic direction which brought us to the brink of common ruin seven years ago."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936
"And here is the prime condition of success, the great secret: Concentrate your energy, thought and capital exclusively upon the business in which you are engaged. Having begun in one line, resolve to fight it out on that line, to lead in it; adopt every improvement, have the best machinery and know the most about it."
Andrew Carnegie, 1885
"At the heart of our efforts is one idea vindicated by 25 straight months of economic growth: Freedom and incentives unleash the drive and entrepreneurial genius that are at the core of human progress. We have begun to increase the rewards for work, savings and investment; reduce the increase in the cost and size of government and its interference in people's lives....
"The time has come for a new American emancipation, a great national drive to tear down economic barriers and liberate the spirit of enterprise in the most distressed areas of our country. My friends, together we can do this, and do it we must, so help me God."
President Ronald Reagan, 1985