Karl Douglass: Job creators have noble obligation

January 12, 2013 

I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I am alone and the house is dark and quiet, I watch Downton Abbey. I try not to let my wife know, but I am sure she gets suspicious when I scribble "Free Bates" on her phone messages.

I am a Downton Abbey dude. Last Sunday, I had to see the season 3 premiere. I couldn't wait to see how the characters adjusted to life after the war.

The tried and true story devices of personal crises and impending doom were abundant.

Then, Lady Violet uttered the line that I knew would shape today's column. "It is our job to provide employment," she said. A one sentence summary of noblesse oblige.

Lady Violet did not say they should provide employment because it generated benefits from the government. She didn't suggest the house employed people because it generated huge profits. Lady Violet asserted that her family's station in life required it to provide employment for others because it could.

And so it was with the job creators of that day in England. Fast forward to the job creators of today in the United States.

There is loud debate about what are the best incentives for job creators in our country. Some say job creators will never add employees without tax incentives. Others say job creators add employees when demand requires regardless of the tax environment. Yet others say Wall Street rewards companies that reduce headcount, so job creators continually look for ways to do more with less labor and our constant tax talk gives them an easy excuse to do it.

The one thing we seldom hear anyone say in our country is what Lady Violet said in post-war England, that job creators should create jobs because they can. The premise of job creation as a noble obligation has been largely lost in our ongoing conversation.

No social program in the world is better than a good-paying job. If job creators in our country are driven, for any reason, to see employees strictly as a factor of production that should be optimized in order to produce the most profit, then there will never be enough jobs. No job creator will accept that, "[i]t is our job to provide employment," when profit maximization is the ultimate goal.

However, in a now famous email, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, wrote, "We have a responsibility as well as an opportunity not to be bystanders, but to act in ways that can ease the collective anxiety inside and outside the company. In this regard, Starbucks innovative, global growth and new distribution channels will continue to create full- and part-time jobs." Not as succinct as Lady Violet, but Schultz's also sees job creation as a noble obligation. And, he is working to make this perspective a larger part of the national conversation. I pray that he is successful in his effort. When job creators and job receivers become intimately aware that each benefits from the other and our country benefits overall, we will all win.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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