E.J. Dionne: Three Cheers for Big Government!



Like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on some sugary-drinks containers, President Barack Obama's press-conference assertion last week that the problem with national employment is that government isn't doing enough of it has been very useful in smoking out the (literally!) big-government faith lurking within his coalition. For instance, here's Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne:

Why don't Democrats just say it? They really believe in active government and think it does good and valuable things. One of those valuable things is that government creates jobs — yes, really […]

[I]f progressives do not speak out plainly on behalf of government, they will be disadvantaged throughout the election-year debate. […]

Decades of anti-government rhetoric have made liberals wary of claiming their legacy as supporters of the state's positive role. That's why they have had so much trouble making the case for President Obama's stimulus program passed by Congress in 2009. It ought to be perfectly obvious: When the private sector is no longer investing, the economy will spin downward unless the government takes on the task of investing. And such investments — in transportation and clean energy, refurbished schools and the education of the next generation — can prime future growth.

Yet the drumbeat of propaganda against government has made it impossible for the plain truth about the stimulus to break through. […]

[W]hen conservatives say, as they regularly do, that "government doesn't create jobs," the riposte should be quick and emphatic: "Yes it has, and yes, it does!" […]

Let's turn Ronald Reagan's declaration on its head: Opposition to government isn't the solution. Opposition to government was and remains the problem. It is past time that we affirm government's ability to heal the economy, and its responsibility for doing so.

Here's one cheer for E.J. Dionne: At least he's coming right out and saying it. Yet even while hi-fiving big government, Dionne, like almost every progressive commentator, fails to be explicit about the math. The federal leviathan went from $1.8 trillion in Fiscal Year 2000 to $3.6 trillion in fiscal 2010, a decade during which the population grew about 10 percent. Unemployment in 2000 ranged between 3.8 and 4.1 percent; in 2010 it was beteen 9.4 and 9.9 percent. If there's anything "emphatic" about those numbers, it's the stunning lack of correlation between federal spending–excuse me, priming future growth–and job creation. You would think those who favor employment through government hiring would grapple forthrightly with that track record.

As The Daily Caller's Mickey Kaus puts it,

We don't want the number government jobs to keep growing, in part because we pay for them without the assurances, offered in a competitive private economy, that we're getting our moneys worth or that the jobs are necessary at all.  It's one thing to boost government jobs as a temporary stimulus measure. It's another thing to never let federal, state and local governments shrink to a more sustainable size.

To which I'd add, the cost of increased public employment (with its comparatively lavish benefits) comes directly out of the pocketbook of private citizens and companies. The more you take from Peter to pay Paul, the less Peter has to spend, save, and invest. Reductions in those latter activities, I would assume, tend to apply downward pressure on private-sector employment, since people tend to spend their own money on non-governmental goods and services.

As for Dionne's contention that Democrats just need to speak out more plainly, I've got four bad numbers for him: 72, 71, 70, and 67. Those are the percentages, in order, that Wisconities favored
"increasing the amount that government employees contribute to their own pensions from less than 1 percent to 6 percent of their annual salaries," that Wisconsites favored "increasing the amount that government employees contribute to their own health care from 6 percent to 12 percent of the cost of their health care," that San Joseans voted to increase public-sector employees' contributions to their benefit packages, and that San Diegans voted to put new public-sector hires into 401(k)-style self-contributing plas.

Put plainly, full-throated big-government advocacy is a losing argument, because Americans know that the price-hike doesn't lead to a commensurate increase in quality of services rendered, and comes at a direct cost to themselves and the broader economy. It is interesting and important that so many Democrats, including the president, do not seem to get this at all.

Meanwhile, like the Boy Who Cried Jobs, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is claiming that the latest iteration of the fedeeral transportation bill "creates and saves more than two-million jobs." Party of science and all that.