Political Animal


November 07, 2011 8:40 AM There’s nothing ‘good’ about losing jobs

By Steve Benen

On ABC’s “This Week,” George Will said there were “two bits of good news” in the monthly jobs report released Friday. “The 80,000 [jobs gained] is a net number,” the conservative columnist noted. “The private sector created 104,000 jobs. The public sector happily shrank by 24,000 jobs. Both of that’s good.”

No, actually it’s not.

For the left, the economic goals are inherently pragmatic — creating jobs is the top priority. When more Americans are working, they’re not only helping themselves and their family, but they’re boosting the economy and helping lower the deficit. For the right, as Will reminds us, the economic goals are philosophical — creating jobs is nice, but the real priority is shrinking government. Maybe, they argue, the economy will improve when more teachers, police officers, and firefighters are unemployed and unable to spend and invest.

Reality suggests Will and conservatives have it backwards, and the severe public-sector job losses are a major drag on the economy, effectively serving as a counter-stimulus. David Leonhardt recently described this as “an unforced economic error” — the federal government can prevent these layoffs, keep these workers on the job, and help the larger economy, but Republicans refuse. With all of the problems we can’t control, this is one problem we know exactly how to prevent, but choose not to, because, as Will put it, it’s “good” when thousands of public-sector employees are forced into unemployment during a jobs crisis.

Media Matters Action Network posted this chart the other day, which helped drive the point home. (In case it’s hard to read, the blue line shows private-sector growth, while the red line shows public-sector deterioration.)

The challenge for the right is explaining why the economy is better off with that red line continuing its downward trajectory. So far, conservatives can’t explain it in anything but ideological terms, and unfortunately for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans, Republican philosophy won’t pay any bills.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on November 07, 2011 8:48 AM:

    One of these days, George Wills limo will break down in a "bad" neighborhood, and burst into flames.

    My sincerest hope is that there are no public employees like police or firefighters employed nearby to save his rapidly roasting ass, and that his last painful thought before he turns into a shrieking cinder is, "Maybe I was wrong about those public sector jobs after all?"

  • DAY on November 07, 2011 8:58 AM:

    Similar thoughts, gulag, as I read-
    I hope George Will is robbed while his house is on fire and nobody answers his 911 call for an EMT. . .

  • Stetson Kennedy on November 07, 2011 9:01 AM:

    "Both of that’s good.”

    Did he really say that? And he's considered the intelligencia of the Republican Party.

  • SW on November 07, 2011 9:14 AM:

    In all modern successful economies since 1929 there is a mix of public and private sectors. The trick is to get them to work in harmony in their appropriate spheres. When you have one of the major political parties that is dedicated to a remorseless campaign of extermination against one pillar of the economy it is like have an auto immune disease. Where your own body is at war with itself. Until we figure out that both sectors are vital and need to work together, that one is not better than the other that they just have different functions we are doomed to continue this descent into second rate nation status as the rest of the world, led by the emerging nations of China and India leave us in the dust.

  • walt on November 07, 2011 9:28 AM:

    I'm all with George Will schadenfreude, but it's unlikely the millionaire pundit will ever have to worry about public assistance of any kind. That's why they want to privatize everything.

    On the other hand, are there really enough police and military to keep the McMansions of the righteous and selfish safe? If I were George Will, I might worry a bit more about that. A strong middle class is his best assurance that he gets to keep his loot. Pauperize the middle class, and you'll have to pay a lot in taxes just to keep the oligarchy's repression effective.

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  • RepublicanPointOfView on November 07, 2011 9:36 AM:

    You misread the intent of George Will!

    We republicans are not opposed to all public sector employees. We need our elected republican public officials. We need to have our public employees in the DOD and military branches. We need to have police. There are additional areas of public employment that are of value.

    The public employment that we are opposed to is that of little value (or worse detrimental to our economy). Everyone knows that public education is a waste of money and any teachers should be employed in the for-profit sector of education. Everyone knows that we would be better off if firefighting was privatized. Everyone knows that 100% of the public employees of EPA, OSHA and similar groups that harm American competitiveness should be shown the door.

  • Danp on November 07, 2011 9:49 AM:

    Everyone knows that we would be better off if firefighting was privatized. - RPOV

    And I suspect that by "privatized", you mean volunteer.

  • Holly W on November 07, 2011 9:58 AM:

    Is that Sugardaddy/Golddigger website spam comment operating on marketing assumption George Will googles himself and will see the ad?

    John Boehner said same thing, "So be it." Use it against them, Conservatives for Unemployment.

  • SW on November 07, 2011 10:04 AM:

    "Everyone knows that public education is a waste of money" Liberty University and Kaplan is the new model. Of course their money comes from government backed student loans that will never be repaid but who is keeping score anyway? And of course nothing keeps your economy competitive like spending more than all the rest of the entire world combined on the means of killing people and borrowing the money to do it. Indeed the best form of security I could think of would be to let large multinational corporation come into our country, trash the natural resources and ship the profits overseas. Oh, wait, we already do that. Royal Dutch Shell ring a bell. We could help them out by getting rid of the EPA I guess. These reactionary arguments alway seem to be persuasive during times of economic stress. Like when a down on its luck family has to hoc the silverware to make the mortgage payment. But in retrospect, and close analysis the emotional appeal lacks any coherence.

  • @the_dan on November 07, 2011 10:05 AM:

    George Will doesn't care about anyone outside his little bubble of privilege. There's just no way anyone but an amoral ideologue would celebrate tens of thousands of people losing their jobs. It's just an entirely soulless point of view.

    If he had the courage of his convictions he'd go to an unemployment line full of laid-off public employees who are straining to keep food on their families' tables, and tell them that it's a good thing that they were laid off. He's a coward. An insular, amoral, stupid fucking coward.

  • Grumpy on November 07, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Even if shrinking government payrolls suits him ideologically, Will should at least recognize that dumping that many workers into an already crowded job market is not "good" at this time. Drown the baby after the economy is back on its feet, at least.

  • DAY on November 07, 2011 10:17 AM:

    Indeed, volunteer fire departments serve in many small towns, all across America. Community supported- bingo, donations, potluck suppers.
    Sure, they get government "funding"- training, new equipment loans, for example- but they are not a part of the vast government sector that Republicans so love to loathe.

  • PTate in MN on November 07, 2011 11:37 AM:

    The conservative mind is a strange, strange thing, so incapable of nuance and so driven by ideology and magical thinking. For them, the free market is the best and only solution to all problems. The free market will bless with riches all those with initiative, who take the right kind of risks, who are willing to work hard. Amen.

    And, of course, all government is bad since government is not the free market. Government not only "crowds out" and stifles free market magic but also coddles the weak and the losers by levying taxes--handicapping--the strong and the successful. Government workers are the agents through which government stifles the free market and coddles the weak.

    This is the magical thinking that leads George Will to assert that eliminating public sector jobs is a good thing. Unfortunately, I suspect that most conservatives will look at the chart above and see their ideology vindicated. Look at how the private sector is flourishing as "crowding out" by the government is stopped! Sure, the conservative will reason, there is some pain out there as the economy adjusts but that suffering is just the inevitable consequence of getting rid of the governmental rot that has weakened our economy. They look forward to a better day when everyone in America (at least, every hard-working, healthy, personally responsible American) will be rich because the free market will be totally free to do its magic and make everyone--at least those who deserve to be--rich and strong. Amen.

    Notice that I have not once used the word "democracy" in my attempt to comprehend the conservative mind. What this exercise makes clear is that the institutions of self-government--the idea of government of, by and for the people--is not part of current conservative ideology. Since ALL government is bad, the form of government known as democracy is also Bad.

  • mr. irony on November 07, 2011 11:40 AM:

    the #1 killer of jobs in america today is...

    GOP governors along with republican state, city and county officials...

  • Will is an IDIOT on November 07, 2011 12:26 PM:

    Yep, Georgie boy, I'll bet those public sector workers who are now unemployed are very "happy" about it. As are the people who benefited from the work of those public sector workers. As are the shopkeepers, etc. where those workers spent their hard-earned income. And the kids of those public sector workers are very "happy" that mom or dad is now unemployed so good-bye to Christmas gifts or needed new items or even a meal out.

    All around, a "happy" and "good" thing.

  • zandru on November 07, 2011 3:13 PM:

    Danp suggests, in response to RepublicanPOV's "Everyone knows that we would be better off if firefighting was privatized."

    "And I suspect that by 'privatized', you mean volunteer."

    Probably not. By "privatized", RPOV means fire protection for pay. The way they did it back in the good old (gilded) days. You bought your fire insurance policy from one of the local fire companies. If your house started on fire, you got in touch with them and they'd arrive to put it out.

    Too bad for you if you had neglected to get insurance, or were not up to date on the premiums. They'd gleefully watch your home or business burn to the ground. People with buildings in your vicinity would need to call their own "agents" to get protection from your conflagration. Whole neighborhoods of the under-insured could go up in smoke.

    Sometimes enterprising fire companies would rush to the burning building, and compete to get the for-pay extinguishing job. Afterwards, you would most definitely pay.

    According to the reactionary right, this was much fairer and more efficient than "stealing" tax money from residents to provide fire protection FOR EVERYONE. Only those with the money and foresight to buy coverage are deserving of aid.

  • toowearyforoutrage on November 08, 2011 9:12 AM:

    If not for all the dang government regulation, the blue line would be going up much faster than it is now and more than make up for the jobs being lost in the private sector.

    That's how you'll spin jobs growth under a socialist president like Obama, Red team. You're welcome.

    Seriously, though. If we're casting aspirsions on those that hold philosophy above jobs growth. Would Democrats support a stimulus package for supplementary police forces under private contract? They already do this in California for firefighting.

    It's a bad idea, but it WOULD create jobs. Could we sell our souls for the short term for a higher purpose? If the answer isn't "maybe" instead of "no", you've just seen the bad guys in the mirror and our holier than thou standing on our ability to compromise.

    What about a voucher plan sufficient to bring class sizes down to specified levels, the surplus student body sent to private schools will federal funding. Terrible idea? You bet! Would it make jobs? Very likely. Is our philosophy so much easier to set aside in times of need?

    I'm not saying they're right. I'm just trying to get across the gut feelings that must be overcome to do the right thing when they truly believe they have the best ideas. Remember, they don't have facts to work with. Gut feelings is all they have. How much harder to abandon them then?

  • toowearyforoutrage on November 08, 2011 9:17 AM:

    Apologies for the atrocious grammar (vis-a-vis singular-plural agreement, fragments, tense, word substitution) Oy vey. I need coffee.