So here’s a proposal: Why not use government policy to directly create jobs — labor-intensive service jobs in fields like education, public health and safety, urban infrastructure maintenance, youth programs, elder care, conservation, arts and letters, and scientific research?…

Big new programs to create jobs need not be expensive. Suppose the cost of hiring a single employee were as high as $30,000 a year, several times typical AmeriCorps living allowances. Hiring a million people would cost $30 billion a year. That’s only 4 percent of the entire federal stimulus program, and 0.2 percent of the national debt.

Why don’t we just do it?

I think you might find the answer to that from Jon Stewart, who recently told New York that “Obama ran as a visionary and leads as a legislator.”

But how long would it take to ramp up a program to pay people to clean up parks, document the country, paint roofs white, tutor kids, plant trees, help nonprofits (including churches), or other non-capital-intensive work? I suspect the answer would be seriously depressing.

And that’s a real story.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.