I must say that I don’t quite “get” the present day argument on government jobs, and the wailing that accompanies the loss of them. I’m not arguing for “small government,” here, and I actually support government providing a rather high degree of service to the public, a function which necessarily requires rather high levels public employment. I’m referring to the emphasis placed on jobs, rather than on what the jobs are about. It’s a subtle distinction, and not an easy one to make.
San Diego, for instance, is in the midst of another round of school funding cutbacks, and nowhere do I see any discussion of the effect of those cutbacks on the nature of the education which will be delivered to our children. The discussion revolves entirely about the poor suffering teachers who will lose their jobs, and conducting interviews with them so that they can tell us that they don’t know how they will pay their bills if they are laid off. So the school system, apparently, exists for the purpose of providing jobs for teachers? We should be talking about the impact of those cutbacks on the purpose of the school system, which is education, and instead we are talking about its impact on the employees.
The government should not have, as one of its functions, the provision of employment purely for the sake of employment. It provides services to the taxpayers, and hires people to provide those services, but those jobs are a byproduct of the services, and it is the services that matter from a standpoint of determining public policy.
But we tend more and more, with Paul Krugman and Dean Baker leading the way, to claim that reductions in public sector employment is harming the economy because of the reduction of employment and urge that the federal government hand money to local governments so that they can increase hiring merely for the sake of improving the economy by increasing employment. That is just nonsensical.
Unemployment assistance I fully support, and we should be doing more of that than we are, and providing jobs as a short term emergency measure to fill in during economic hard times (CCC and WPA), sure, these are worthy endeavors to relieve the suffering of those damaged by the economy through no fault of their own.
If the services are necessary, then provide the services and hire as many people as needed to provide the services, but the attention and discussion should be on the services, not on the number of people employed.