A conservative economist with a progressive idea? I'm guessing he won't be doing consulting work for the RNC anytime soon. Kevin Hassett is director of economic policy studies at AEI, a very conservative think tank.
But when I got him on the phone to talk about the unemployment crisis, he struck a different tone. His problem with the stimulus wasn't that government spending inherently fails to grow jobs and the economy. The problem, he said, was that Obama's stimulus was not direct enough.
With the Recovery Act, the White House eschewed direct hiring and aimed instead to raise overall economic output in the hope that more activity would lead to more demand, which would lead to more hires. "Look at the stimulus and the number of jobs we've actually created, and it comes out to a couple million bucks per job created," Hassett told me.
"My idea is simpler. Find the unemployed and hire them."
"Employers don't want to take a chance on some guy without a job for two years," he said. "The cycle is so long and deep that the cyclical becomes the structural." The easiest way for the government to end somebody's jobless spell is, very simply, to end it by straight-up hiring the worker.
"Since the economy has created this class of long-term jobless, the arguments for government hiring become stronger," he said. "If you give the person a job for a while, it helps them get a job later. You remove the stigma."
What a concept. Hopefully, the White House is paying attention. And Congress. And yes, even conservatives.