If bigger, more elaborate plumes and cockier strutting help male peacocks get the girl, why haven’t they evolved 5-, 6-, 8-foot tail feathers and Fred Astaire quality tap dancing?

Turns out that after a certain level of size and fancy movement, female peacocks cease to perceive any difference. The males that mutate beyond that perceptual limit simply flop over in exhaustion (and perhaps confused disappointment), don’t reproduce, and evolution of longer, more colorful tail feathers reaches a natural limit.

After enduring an unnecessarily lengthy debt-ceiling fandango, the self-serving posturing of the S&P downgrade of U.S. Treasury bonds and the addition of treason to the alleged missteps of the Federal Reserve, thoughtful citizens (female and male) can only hope that we are reaching a similar limit in the evolution of political-economic attention seeking.

If we can just avert our gaze from the most colorful of the feather flappers, they’ll fall by the wayside, and we can focus on more productive, if less fanciful, relationship choices.

The first place to start is with the current rush to jobs as the topic du jour.

Temporary tax credits for repatriated profits, payroll tax holidays, even direct hiring subsidies may put some people back to work.

But “short-term,” “temporary” and “targeted” smack of “shovel ready,” “cash-for-clunkers” and “one-time housing credits.”

They’re bribes designed to offset the cost of obstacles rather than policies designed to remove them. When the bribes disappear but the obstacles don’t, the new jobs will prove as temporary as the programs that “created” them.

The economic slowdown of the first quarter and renewed fears of a double-dip recession remind us that economic ups and downs are composed of two parts — a cyclical part and a structural part.

For a variety of reasons, we poured too much money into housing, prices rose way beyond what our incomes could support and, eventually, prices collapsed.

Slowly, region by region, housing prices will come down, people with incomes sufficient to cover the reduced costs will buy, and an upswing in construction will occur.

The jobs of carpenters and related tradespeople haven’t been outsourced or become obsolete; they’re just not necessary in a period of excess housing supply.

Much the same could be said of autoworkers — their jobs have returned and will continue to return as clunkers wear out and demand returns as auto makers progress through the excess inventory cycle.

Attempts to jump-start the cycle, like housing tax credits and cash for clunkers, can and did have temporary effects but they cannot replace or change the underlying reality of excess inventory and inadequate demand.

Markets will clear when millions of consumer decisions clear them, and not before.

The other part of economic ups and downs — the structural part — is the more important part. It is the part more deserving of public policy attention and the part that contains the far more difficult problems.

Some jobs are obsolete — at least in the United States. Some jobs will not come back when cyclical markets clear.

For this part of the problem, we’re talking not about restoring jobs but replacing jobs; we’re talking about adjusting to new structures in the economy.

And solving this problem involves more than just hand wringing about “job creation” and another political fan dance about competing “jobs bills.”

The primary obstacles to addressing the structural jobs problem are the entrenched ways we evolved for filling the old jobs — isolated and bureaucratic education systems focused on internal “performance” standards and woefully unconnected to the broader economy; adversarial labor-management systems focused on wages, benefits and costs rather than enterprise growth; and an unemployment/labor market system focused on maintaining consumption rather than on identifying needed skills and attitudes and creating timely, affordable and accessible retraining and job placement.

The problem is not that we don’t know what to do or how to do it. The problem is that doing it requires structural change, i.e., abandoning old systems and behaviors that worked well in the past but are ill-suited to today’s reality.

Job creation requires not more bribes, but an evolutionary mutation in the way we learn how to make a living in a new world.

Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at:

[email protected]