But as Marc Thiessen points out, in Barack Obama’s America it’s public-sector jobs that are “doing just fine.” When the president complains that the public sector is shrinking, he is being both disingenuous and revealing of the real problem. Yes, state and local government workers are losing their jobs, but there has been no shrinkage at the federal level. The jobs that are disappearing are in locales where the local government has run out of money. What the president and the Democrats are actually advocating is for the federal government to bail out profligate states like California, so that they can maintain their “police, teachers and firemen” at the expense of the private economy — an economy that while growing all too slowly in absolute terms to create enough jobs to employ those who want them can’t shrink fast enough with regard to the government sector to please Van Jones and Barack Obama.
But there are two problems with this. First, it is clear that “police, teachers and firemen” (and in the not-longer-so-Golden State of California, prison guards) have become the new “Washington Monument” (that is, the popular item that politicians threaten to cut first lest they actually have to trim bloat and bureaucracy). But as laudable as firefighting, teaching, and policing may be, they are not now, and never have been constitutional federal responsibilities. The notion that they are — this creeping perversion of the Founders’ intent — started with Johnson’s Great Society in the sixties, accelerated with the creation of the Department of Education under Carter, and was unfortunately cemented with Bill Clinton’s program to put a hundred thousand police on the streets. Now, too few bat an eye when Barack Obama and the Democrats propose that Washington (i.e., the rest of us) fund things that are properly in the realm of states and local governments.
But even if it were the proper role of the federal government, despite the popularity, it’s not clear that “saving or creating” (yes, he’s really still using that numerically meaningless phrase) the jobs of teachers will lead to improved educational outcomes for children. California is certainly a striking counterexample to the notion; it is almost dead last in educating, while having some of the highest-paid teachers in the nation. And Wisconsin has shown that by implementing reforms (particularly in reining in out-of-control public-employee unions) more money can be made available for teachers and education can improve.
It is also unclear that higher wages for public employees improves services in general. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace repeatedly grilled (wildly successful) Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels about what he thought about the fact (assuming it was) that his state was 47th in state-employee wages, as though that were a useful metric, or as though the governor was supposed to be in some sort of race with other states to have the highest-paid employees. But as the governor should have pointed out more directly, what matters is not how much people are paid, but how happy the taxpayers are with how they do their jobs, and what their retention rate is, and Indiana indicates that it is quite high in both, regardless of their pay in absolute terms. To reward the profligacy of California or Illinois with federal taxpayer dollars (or more correctly, more borrowed money from the Chinese) because they refuse to get their houses in order would be a slap in the face to not only the American taxpayers, but also to those states like Wisconsin and Indiana and Texas who have actually done so.
Whether Mitt Romney’s policies will be good for the poor remain to be seen, partly because we don’t yet know what they will be, but based on both his words and deeds over the past four years (and much of his life, really) we can be sure that Barack Obama’s will continue to be bad for the private economy. And as far as he’s concerned, that’s just fine.