Phantom jobs, existing jobs being counted as new jobs and other strange accounting were used by government agencies to derive a fictional job count tied to $787 billion in stimulus money.

What was initially nearly 2 million new jobs developed with taxpayer aid turned out to be more like 600,000 jobs — which is also suspect because there's no obvious paper trail.

The use of this Madoff Math 101 should be reason enough not to entrust public officials any further with job creation that is crucial to our economic recovery.

Beyond street-paving projects, the "Government Reinvestment Act'' seems not to have had much visible effect on our labor landscape, with its 15 million unemployed people.

Undoubtedly, $787 billion in government aid pushed economic meters high enough to lift us technically out of recession for the past two quarters, but without job creation we will sink again when the aid runs dry. Another round of government stimulus, as some in Congress are proposing, would be equally ineffective in creating jobs.

But we have options.

Reader Bill Bednarski of Danville sent me a good idea for job creation that takes the task out of government hands and offers transparency. Here's what he proposes:

"Businesses are afraid to hire employees because they are not sure of the recovery. Give employers an incentive to hire new, incremental employees. Offer employers a $10,000 tax credit (or more) for each new W2 above and beyond their employment levels of Nov. 1. Replacements of employees on the roll as of Nov. 1 do not qualify for the tax credit. The new higher employment level must be sustained for (6-12?) months to qualify for the credit.

"This effectively lowers taxes for business, which the supply siders are screaming for. Just cutting taxes across the board will not raise employment commensurately. This also enables you to count with confidence the new jobs created. The formulas used so far aren't very persuasive to many voters.

"Government spending does not create sustainable growth. The voters want to see the private sector create jobs. But the private sector needs a kick start. A tangible tax incentive gives them a kick start.''

Using Bednarski's formula, the creation of 2.4 million jobs, roughly President Barack Obama's goal with the first round of government stimulus, would cost taxpayers $24 billion, a modest sum in bailout and recovery terms. All new jobs would also have an obvious paper trail.

When we look back at how taxpayer money was used to bail our economy out of the Great Recession, the failure to create jobs may come back to haunt us.

The success of our economic recovery will rest in the hands of private enterprise. We need to shift job-creation aid in that direction if we want return and accountability on our public investment.

Offering a tax incentive to business that gives the taxpayer a traceable path to where the money is is overdue.

We are no longer in crisis mode. How, when and where we spend future economic aid should favor private enterprise, as Bednarski suggests, rather than government programs employing fuzzy math.

Drew Voros is the business editor. His column runs on Wednesdays. He can be reached at avoros@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/bizeditor.