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Comparative Advantage and American Jobs

Author: Matthew J. Slaughter, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Business and Globalization
January 26, 2011
Wall Street Journal

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President Obama announced last week that he has created a Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, headed by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. This is welcome news, as America has much to do to address its jobs crisis.

Almost 26 million Americans are currently unemployed or underemployed. The U.S. today has 108 million private-sector jobs, as many as it had nearly 12 years ago, in April 1999. The last time America had just 11.7 million manufacturing jobs, as we do today, was April 1941. Amid struggling schools and a crumbling infrastructure, Americans rightly worry about our future in the global economy. In a recent WSJ/NBC poll, 66% of U.S. adults stated they do not feel confident "that life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us."

To succeed in helping create good jobs, the administration's new council should recognize that excessive government backing of particular companies and industries typically squanders taxpayer resources and stifles sustainable growth (think ethanol). Three principles can guide the council away from repeating past errors:

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