Political Animal


January 09, 2012 9:20 AM Don’t root for public-sector job losses

By Steve Benen

Brenda Buttner, a senior business correspondent at Fox News, reflected yesterday on the latest jobs report, and made a curious comment when asked about which areas of the economy aren’t faring well.

“Well, government is a little bit losing jobs. That’s something we see as a positive because we want government to lose jobs to get more in line with the private sector.”

This is not an uncommon sentiment on the right. Two months ago, George Will argued it’s “good” that the “public sector happily shrank by 24,000 jobs” in October.

When conservatives, during a jobs crisis, are cheering public-sector layoffs, insisting that thousands of additional unemployed workers is “a positive,” there’s a problem with the state of the debate.

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 larger economy and helping lower the deficit. For the right, as Buttner reminds us, the economic goals are philosophical — creating jobs is nice, but the real priority is shrinking government. Maybe, conservatives argue, the economy will improve when more teachers, police officers, and firefighters are unemployed and unable to spend and invest.

Reality suggests the right has it backwards, and the severe public-sector job losses are a drag on the economy, effectively serving as a counter-stimulus. David Leonhardt described this a while back 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 don’t want to.

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 Buttner put it, “we want government to lose jobs,” forcing thousands of public-sector employees into unemployment during a jobs crisis.

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.


Post a comment
  • flyonthewall on January 09, 2012 9:34 AM:

    All those gubmit workers are lazy democrats, doncha know.

  • MikeJ on January 09, 2012 9:35 AM:

    First you cut the number of government workers, then you point to long lines at the DMV as proof that government doesn't work well and more jobs should be cut.

  • jes on January 09, 2012 9:36 AM:

    must help to put"sociopath"on your resume if you are to work for fox.

  • c u n d gulag on January 09, 2012 9:40 AM:

    I wonder if this dumbass f*cking twit might feel a little bit differently if she used her ability to read, talk, and emote on cue, in the public sector?

    But the public sector usually has minimum job requirements, unlike FOX News, where, 'have short skirt, nice legs, and you can breath' makes you instantly employable.

    There is no bottom to their stupidity. No bottom at all.

  • hells littlest angel on January 09, 2012 9:53 AM:

    Yes, get rid of those parasitic government workers, especially the police and firefighters.

  • Hedda Peraz on January 09, 2012 9:58 AM:

    The easily confused Left is wrong again, but then, the sun also came up as usual this morning.
    It is not firing government workers that is our goal, it is a smaller government.

    Unemployed teachers, police officers, and firefighters are merely collateral damage, just like the dead women and children in Iraq.
    Fewer government regulations equals greater freedom for the American People. Speed limits, for example, prevent us from getting more done in less time.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 09, 2012 10:11 AM:

    Pizza IS a vegetable as long as it is not eaten by a fruit...

    Getting rid of government jobs is good as long as it is focused in necessary areas. Many eliminated government jobs are replaced by private sector jobs that are always performed better at a lower cost.

    For example: Here in Indianapolis, our wonderful republican Mayor sold our public parking meter business to a private concern last year. It has allowed for the elimination of public employees who maintained the meters and elimination of public employees who patroled expired meters. These employees were replaced by private corporation employees who get paid less and are not unionized. The side benefits for our city have been fantastic! Our mayor received a $3+ million slush fund, our community loses about a half a billion in revenues over the life of the contract, and less than six months after the takeover prices on parking meters have only doubled.

    As we move forward with further privatization in our country, we see the imperative for the elimination of public schools and all of their unionized employees. Private schools can do the job better and less costly without the unnecessary standards such as teaching degrees imposed by bureaucrats.

    As we move forward with further privatization in our country, we see the imperative for the elimination of fire departments and all of their unionized employees. Tennessee has already a proven model of their citizens paying in advance for fire protection or letting the uninsured homes burn down. Also a good model for health care! If you don't want to purchase insurance, you should be allowed the personal responsibility of dying and not being a sponge on society.

    Naturally, not all losses of government employees are good. Our republican leaders need to have good pay and plenty of committed republicans in their public employment. In spite of Obama's effort to destroy our military, every good American will tell you that we need more government employed soldiers, sailors, and drone operators.

  • chi res on January 09, 2012 10:23 AM:

    Public-sector jobs have been a clear pathway to the middle-class for millions of families from minority communities.

    What better way to stifle the ambition of those "uppity" blacks and browns than to turn that pathway into a "bridge to nowhere"?

  • Peter C on January 09, 2012 11:01 AM:

    High unemployment is good for the 1%; it keeps down the wages the market makes them pay their laborers. Their goal is to grow private sector jobs while eliminating public sector jobs and keeping unemployment high. Of course, they will be contracted to provide the services formerly provided by the public sector, since the garbage still must be collected, it's just that they will get to profit from the collection now.

    For the Republicans, the crash of 2007-2008 was an OPPORTUNITY. The bail-outs made them whole (despite the reckless risks they took which caused the crisis). They have no interest fixing anything else (like unemployment); that is a boon.

  • Tony Greco on January 09, 2012 11:10 AM:

    All public sector spending cuts negatively impact the level of employment because they reduce aggregate demand. Public spending cuts that require layoffs of public employees kill jobs very directly. Republicans complain about "job-killing" regulations, taxes, etc., but I've never heard President Obama (or other Democrats, for that matter) talk about "job-killing spending cuts." Why not? Spending cuts have a much clearer and more direct negative impact on employment than the government activity the Republicans complain about. I think the answer is that Obama has chosen not to challenge the false Republican narrative that excessive government spending is the most immediate cause of our economic problems. Instead, he has repeatedly validated that narrative in his public statements, by saying, for example, that government must learn to live within its means, just like any family, etc.

  • chi res on January 09, 2012 11:47 AM:

    You may want to include a bit more of Obama's address where you lifted the "government must learn to live within its means" quote, Tony. The most specific area where he proposed "spending" cuts was in ending tax breaks to the one percenters:

    "[I]f we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, or for hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners, or for oil and gas companies pulling in huge profits without our help – then we’ll have to make even deeper cuts somewhere else. We’ve got to say to a student, ‘You don’t get a college scholarship.’ We have to say to a medical researcher, ‘You can’t do that cancer research.’ We might have to tell seniors, ‘You have to pay more for Medicare.’

    "That isn’t right, and it isn’t smart. We’ve got to cut the deficit, but we can do that while making investments in education, research, and technology that actually create jobs. We can live within our means while still investing in our future."

  • chi res on January 09, 2012 11:53 AM:

    Oh, and I'm unaware of any public statements where Obama has "validated" (much less "repeatedly") "that excessive government spending is the most immediate cause of our economic problems". [emphasis added]

  • SW on January 09, 2012 12:12 PM:

    It goes much deeper than that. Republicans actually like unemployment. This is because they are advocates of capital over labor. Unemployment gives capital leverage when bargaining with labor over wages. It is that simple. That elementary. And never talked about by the media who are themselves representatives of capital. The surprising hostility of the entire Republican party to the very concept of unemployment compensation is not surprising when viewed in this light. They like unemployment because it forces people to accept lower wage jobs. It reduces their bargaining position regarding wages. Any help that unemployed people are given increases their leverage by reducing their desperation making it harder for them to be exploited by those who would profit by their cheap labor. Sustained periods of high unemployment are a tool used by capital to 'school the workforce' into a level of acceptance for a reduced standard of living. Any effort to curtail this period interrupts the experiment and runs the risk of failing to accomplish the twin goals of reducing the average wage and benefits package and chipping away at the social safety net.

  • beejeez on January 09, 2012 12:13 PM:

    Because the first thing socialists like Obama do is cut the number of government jobs.

  • Werewolf on January 09, 2012 12:34 PM:


    We don't need soldiers, sailors or drone operators-"Private Contractors" can do that so much better than the socialized military.
    Vive le mort, vive le guerre, vive le sacre mercenaire!

  • g on January 09, 2012 12:47 PM:

    sold our public parking meter business to a private concern last year. It has allowed for the elimination of public employees who maintained the meters and elimination of public employees who patroled expired meters.

    You know, there's another aspect to this that I think few people understand. When something like the collection of parking revenue goes from public to private hands, you lose public oversight over these revenue funds. My small city has privatized a parking operation recently, and although the agreement specifies how the revenue is distributed, now it is impossible for the public employees who are Financial Analysts to get access to the basic data. There's no way to know whether someone's skimming, or to know whether the reported revenue is accurate.