20110908 republicanpresidentialdebate candidates
Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman during the Ronald Reagan Centennial GOP Presidential Primary Debate on Sept. 7, 2011 in Simi Valley, Calif. - 

Kai Ryssdal: It's oh so easy to sit on the political sidelines and throw stones at the Fed or at the president. And as you can imagine, Republican presidential candidates pretty much have that wired.

Last night at a debate in California, they test-drove their ideas to create jobs, most of which can be filed under G: for Get-the-government-out-of-the-way.

From Washington, Marketplace's Scott Tong reports.

Scott Tong: It's clear the preferred strategy for a GOP candidate is to quote Ronald Reagan. So it's a bit odd when conservative economist Richard Vedder at Ohio University talks up:

Richard Vedder: Warren G. Harding. Who absolutely did nothing. He drank a lot. Played a lot of golf. Rumors had it, he had quite a few girlfriends.

And we won't even touch that Teapot Dome stuff.

Vedder: But he let markets work.

His point is, even Harding created growth and jobs by scooting government out of the way of businesses. That's the mantra.

Here's Texas governor Rick Perry last night.

Rick Perry: We are going to lower the regulation impact on you and free them to do what they do best: create jobs.

He said government spending creates no jobs.

Which earns a split verdict from Wharton economist Justin Wolfers, now visiting at Princeton. Sure, he says, almost every economist agrees the government should balance its books.

Justin Wolfers: But the idea that in the midst of near-record unemployment that what we should do is cut back on government spending and fire more teachers and policemen is completely absurd. Never in my life have I felt a greater disjunction between the standard approach to economics and political discourse.

Another Republican job idea: fossil fuel extraction. Oil, gas, coal. Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney: We can become energy secure. And we can create jobs here in the United States by developing our energy resources.

That is, if Romney gets to handcuff environmental regulators.

MIT economist Michael Greenstone agrees clean air rules have hurt polluting companies. He counts 600,000 job losses. But:

Michael Greenstone: They were also effective at reducing air pollution, decreasing infant mortality rates and even increasing home prices.

Another question about energy is how much of a job engine it really is, with machines replacing people. So there are costs and benefits. It's case-by-case. It's that professorly nuance that may not travel well in a campaign.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott