More government jobs to weather the recession?

I’m not actually opposed to the idea of hiring more federal workers – especially if we are in the middle of a balance-sheet recession. Obviously the hiring that occurred for the Census has done a lot to help people out of work.

One nice thing about the Census is that it’s temporary and its workers aren’t in costly, entrenched public unions. If we do push a big hiring spree at the federal level or at the local level using federal dollars, then I think the only way to do it would be for similar jobs – temporary and non-unionized – rather than permanent and/or union jobs. Otherwise we run the risk of a truly unsustainable increase in the number of government employees, leading once again to the sort of budget problems we’re facing now only much worse.

If temporary jobs can spark confidence again in the private sector, causing more and more of these workers to move into sustainable jobs outside the public sector, then it will be a success.

If this leads to a vastly expanded public workforce with even more unsustainable costs, then we’re just going to cement many of the problems we’re having at the state level at the federal level.

As Felix Salmon notes, this may very well be Obama’s Katrina. It makes sense for the president, then, to bolster hiring, though it remains to be seen what sort of jobs would actually be created. The trick is there just aren’t that many temporary, shovel-ready jobs out there in the modern American economy.

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48 thoughts on “More government jobs to weather the recession?

  1. It’s hard to say how they’d make it work, but I have visited parts of the rust belt that have both high unemployment and high levels of physical decay. If they just hired people to patch up potholes and repair crumbling overpasses, they’d have enough work to last a while.

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    • @Rufus F.,
      Who wants to work patching potholes when they can draw unemployment? We need jobs that are meaningful, and the only way to create these jobs is to create a business-friendly environment. America is in a good position to attract investment from all over the world and create as many high paying jobs as we can handle, if only government would take drastic measures to get the hell out of the way, do away with capital gains taxes, and loosen irrational regulations. We’ve created an environment which is anti-business through protection of large corporations and unions at the expense of small and medium size businesses who could crank up the economy if left alone — and if they had stable rules and costs to depend on.

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      • @Mike Farmer, You might be right on that. When I lived in Buffalo, I heard constantly how the loss of the steel industry had devastated the city, which is absolutely true (here’s something amazing: the population of Buffalo has shrunk by half since Bethlehem Steel left). But people there always talked about the steel industry leaving for exotic locales where they can pay starvation wages. Problem is I now live in a Canadian city with a thriving steel industry! Of course, you also have to note that industries can save money when they don’t have to provide health insurance.

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        • @Mike Farmer., Another point here: I’m not convinced that this transition from an industrial economy to a service economy that economists have been hyping for the last decade or so has yet proven to actually work. It seems to me that, when everyone said it was working great, there was a lot of cheap credit artificially inflating everything. Does anyone know if a ‘service economy’ actually makes sense? How do I go from a good, lifelong factory job to making beds at the Marriot and not lose the quality of my life?

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          • @Mike Farmer,

            The best way to avoid regulatory capture is to not elect oilmen to the highest positions of government. No regulations would have sucked. Clearly regulations run by people who hate regulations and love industry also sucks. It takes time to clean-up a ruined department in government especially with an opposition that turns nearly every nomination into a life-or-death struggle.

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          • @Mike Farmer, mmmm yummy koolaid mike. The MMS, the appropriate regulator, was in the pocket of the oilmen. They were not doing their jobs nor was there a lot required of the oil companies. Anybody drilling anywhere should know what the F they are going to do if there is a real bad accident. but they were not required to that. The accident occurred because of screw ups by BP and lack of preparedness by them. The reason to avoid drilling closer to shore was because the oil can really F up the coast, which people reaaaalllly don’t like either.

            Perhaps we should have been trying to ween ourselves from oil…..ummmm…. a while ago.

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              • @scott,Protip: cars run on gas, we get many other products from petroleum. We actually need to use some oil. Nuke plants don’t actually make oil, they make electricity.

                And by “environazis” don’t you mean overwhelming public opinion was against building more nukes. But then the public was just afraid of the environazis invading france again.

                But we certainly could have been pushing fuel economy standards and tech research into petro alternatives. But we should be building nukes and wind power and all sorts of other things.

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          • @Mike Farmer, “Yes, look where regulation got us Greg, ”

            Mike, just STFU. We have seen the effects of GOP deregulation, and will probably spend an entire Democratic administation cleaning them up – partially, and at great expense.

            Of course, you’ll keep going on about how marxism free market doubleplussgoodness hasn’t failed, merely has been failed, or hasn’t been really tried.

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            • @Barry, Barry, could you try and mind the “STFU’s” and the like please? Disagreements are perfectly acceptable (indeed I lean more to your side of this particular topic) but we should try and maintain a certain level of decorum lest we find ourselves descending into an internet drama vortex of doom.

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          • @Mike Schilling, unless they prefer the free time to the extra money.

            That’s one of the thing that bothers me about our unemployment structure. People that are unemployed fit into one of two categories. Either they are people that can get by on 60% (or whatever percent) of their ordinary paycheck or they are people that cannot get by on that.

            A lot of people in the former group are not going to be particularly motivated to get a job. A lot of people in the latter category (those without liquid savings) are not going to be getting enough and are going to have to take the next available job whether it’s a good match or not.

            I don’t know what the answer to this is. I wonder if instead of getting a flat fee we should have a sliding one. You start out getting 90% of your paycheck but each paycheck goes down by some amount until it goes down to 0%. That way the one that can’t get by on 60% of their salary has at least a little bit of time to look for work while the one that can get by on that can’t just wait unemployment out.

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              • @Trumwill, Just cuz you’re out of work does NOT mean there is unemployment for you to collect. Tons of people are out of work for plenty of reasons that lead to not having access to unemployment payments. Food stamps, those are probably more universally available, but how many people would turn down a job because they can get food stamps? Some, yes. But I’d say way more people simply don’t have the skill or ability to pave roads than would actually turn down the job because they’d rather collect nutritional assistance vouchers.

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              • @Trumwill, When I was unemployed for the first time, I knew for a fact that there was an employer out there that would hire me. They were terrible people at a terrible place and I did not want to work for them. Within a month of my unemployment running out, I was working for them.

                It’s not that up until UEI ran out I did not want to work. It’s just that unemployment factored into my decision-making.when it came to a job that was a lot less desirable than I would have preferred. In this case it was a terrible company (no joke, in a national poll they were ranked the third worst employer in the entire nation). Some it might be that they want a job doing A but the job offer is doing B. And so on.

                Do note, though, that I am not saying that save for UEI (or food stamps) that everybody unemployed would have a job. I’m not saying that at all. I’m not even saying UEI is a bad thing. I don’t believe that at all. At most I would like to see it tweaked. I’m just saying that things like UEI really can backfire and that’s not entirely a conservative/libertarian myth.

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              • @Trumwill, Millions of people are covered by unemployment insurance. Pretty much any story you want to tell will be true of some of them. The Republican notion that its main effect is to enable people who can find work to sit on their butts is something I find repugnant.

                I’m curious, though, (and honestly, not accusing you of anything) why you couldn’t find a job with some less terrible company.

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              • Mike,

                For a whole lot of people, unemployment checks are not enough to sit on one’s butt. Not without eating through one’s savings. For some it is, though. I worry about each case, though for different reasons. Agree that allowing people capable of working to sit on their butts is nowhere near the “main effect” of UEI.

                To answer your question, I was in the wrong sector in the wrong city at the wrong time. Terrible Company was only hiring because they have such constant turnover. Even when their employees are in the wrong sector in the wrong city at at the wrong time, they’d quit anyway. I lasted about three months and less than third of the department-team I started with was still with the company when I left.

                Which actually brings up another point about UEI. It can prevent people from taking jobs that they’re just going to quit anyway. UEI is not an unmitigated positive where more is always better, but it definitely serves a function.

                You just have to find the right balance between giving people the room they need and not making it too comfortable.

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        • @scott, people who find satisfaction from work. People who feel ashamed of being on unemployment benefits. people who like to do things and feel like they are vital and part of the workforce. People whose ego is tied to working.

          A lot of people actually.

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  2. I don’t think a service economy is the answer — not enough high-pying jobs — we have to produce. If we can create good, high-paying jobs, and educate people to fill them, we can compete globally, through efficiency, quality and productivity, with the slave-wage countries. Plus, we can come up with free market solutions to healthcare if we have a vibrant economy and full employment. I don’t know where the idea came from that we should become a nation of dependents with government as the main employer — it’s disgraceful, because we can do so much more — plus, a wealthy, fully-employed America is a charitable America — so it’s good for everyone, even those unfortunates and disabled who can’t help themselves. We’ve got everything absolutely backwards.

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    • @Mike Farmer, Okay, so would you support it if the government, instead of hiring everybody for short term roadwork or bailing out car companies, took that stimulus money and invested heavily in up and coming industries? Because I’ve often heard that the industrial boom in the US during WWII provided a great deal of prosperity in the decades after, but that was also a huge public investment in industry, right? Admittedly, getting people to buy war bonds must have helped there.
      I do think industry is the key here. I’ve lived for the last five years in an industrial town. A typical response to the question “What do you do?” around here is “I work day shift and my wife works night shift”. And I definitely think there is a great deal of social stability provided by people being able to get up and make things every day. I don’t know what the trick is to getting these companies thriving in the states though.

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      • @Rufus F.,
        Rufus,

        If they simply have to spend money, that would be better, but historically, and this can be argued both ways, up and coming industries should have plenty of private investment. Our problem is that too much intervention has caused investors and entrpreneurs to park their money because they don’t yet know the cost of labor. Until we have clear rules of the game, investment will be meager. But if an industry really is up and coming, and there is a demand, and if the government is not changing the rules every month, or threatening to, then there’s private investment money available — if the “up and coming” industries are theoretical and there’s not yet any demand, then government investment is a misdirection of capital. I’ve read revided historical accounts of the New Deal which contradict what we learned in school — this revised account seems more correct, and it explains why the Depression was so long and deep. Investment is about timing and risk management, and when the time is ready, investment will come. I don’t think government has done a good job of understanding supply and demand and investment– ethanol is a good example — I had a chance to invest with my brother in ethanol a few years back — than goodness I didn’t. Wind and solar will have their day, but it’s not now — we still need oil or natural gas.

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  3. Mr. Farmer, I would like an example of an irrational regulation. I live in Louisian and, for now at least, I am in favor of more regulations. I am in favor of univeral regulations. That means that foreign countries can’t throw the cadmium in river just because it is cheaper and they can’t kill a way of life to make BP richer.

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      • @Mike Farmer, Louisiana has had problems with oil companies’ treatment of the local environment for quite some time. I know people out there that are otherwise major conservatives and/or Republicans who want to see the oil companies taken to account. Haven’t even talked to them since this BP fiasco and they talk more about the refineries than the drilling.

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      • @Mike Farmer, And who, in the absence of a government, is supposed to be able to hold a company, BP for instance, for the externalities of these spills Mike? Sure the small farmers and fisherman and land owners could sue but would they succeed. In a regulation free world BP could probably save plenty if they just outlawyered them. Not to mention all the natural commons that are getting flattened. Who gets to sue BP over ocean fisheries stocks or the general environment? It’s the bleeding tragedy of the commons all over again and you’re not even handing out libertarian answers on these; you’re handing out Sarah Palin answers for god’s sake.

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        • @North,
          Any changes need to be made within reform of the entire system. A reformed court system would clear the way for law suits regarding such matters, and the punishments would likely be horrific to violating companies. If you stop regulation, then you have to have a strong court system to punish violators. Regardless of how incompetent the courts might be right now, this doesn’t mean they can’t be reformed to respond to fraud, incompetence and rights violations — that’s what they’re for. You have clear, rational laws which prohibit certain violations – you present the case and a determination is made — oil companies should be made to fear courts like they would fear the plague. But courts are the extreme end solution. As oil companies compete for business, and as competition is strengthened due to lack of government protection of large companies, it will be important for oil companies to show that their processes are safe — private, independent certification companies would be created to give companies the highest seal of approval as a way for the oil companies to market their competence and safety measures. If oil companies know that spills like this one in the gulf will cause bankruptcy, they’ll have safety measures which are practically fail-proof. What we don’t need are politically motivated regulations and crooked regulators making stupid rules, or overlooking warning signs, whch cause the kind of disaster as happened in the gulf. What recourse do the shrimpers and such have to crooked regulators and politically motvated regulations? As least private players can be brought before the judge and jury. Our efforts should not be to create more regulations, but to create a court system which is easy to access and functions rationally to quickly settle such cases.

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      • @Mike Farmer,

        This reminds me of the founding study in the field of social psychology, where a psychologist studied a UFO cult (in the 1950’s, IIRC). They were convinced that the world would be destroyed by aliens, except for cult members, who’d be whisked to safety just before. When the appointed day and time had been passed, members became even more convinced of this idea, justifying it by saying that their actions had caused the aliens to spare Earth.

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    • @dexter45, just as I know conservative Louisianans in favor of further regulation of the oil industry (see below), I also know a lot of people that deal in finance that are otherwise liberal and pro-regulation that think that Serbanes-Oxley is a joke. Bad regulation is certainly out there.

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  4. I very much agree. I’m not opposed to the government putting people to work, but I worry a great deal about the long term effects if there is anything in the way of job protection. The Census (which I work for, in full disclosure) came at exactly the right time. But what next? I like Rufus’s idea of repairing roads and infrastructure. However, I don’t know that Mike Farmer is all that far off when he says that these jobs would be less attractive for a lot of people than the alternative. And even if we made people take jobs, a lot of people simply aren’t made for that kind of work. So I dunno.

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    • @Trumwill, You’re probably right here. I’m really just thinking of Buffalo, where there are a lot of unemployed men, or men who work part time labor in the “grey market”, and you’d definitely get work there. It might be a lot harder in places where recession is fairly recent. Buffalo’s had a depressed economy for decades.

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  5. I agree that dishonest regulators helped cause the spill, but stupid regulations had nothing to do with BP trying to save a few dollars and hurrying up. Some countries demand another blowout preventer, BP said it cost to much so the corps got their way. You can yell all you want, but I can see. For over forty years there has been less and less regulation and for forty years the environment got worse and the rich got richer, so telling me that I am poisoned because I favor some semblance of sanity to this right wing nightmare that I reside in doesn’t go far in my world.

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  6. Damn E.D., are you hittin’ on the toke?
    None of this is hard, the dude’s a punk-assed, southside Chicago Muslim thug who embraces a f*ucked up Keynesian-Kenyan Colonial Commie political structure in the hopes of placing the USA in reduced economic circumstances.
    The dude’s trying to put you on the bread line and you guys think he’s some sort of the Second Coming…hell he’s laughing at you SWP.
    This clown makes Jimmy Carter look good.

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  7. micheal drew, do you mean funky like the band parlament or funky like old gym socks? Mike Farmer, Exactly how does one switch from regulations to no regulations and a viable court system? Please believe me when I say that I am not trying to tick you off. I think we both want the corps to have less power and I am interested in learning other ideas. I think the system we have sucks. I think the corps rule and the best investment in America today is a campaign contribution. I am looking for viable ideas.

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    • @dexter45,
      Dexter45, there have times throughout history when mature, strong men and women have gotten together to reform systems which have either become corrupt or unworkable. Reform can happen, but it’s not as simple as removing regulations — there has to be vision in the private sector of a new way of doing things, free people cooperatively responding in unburdened by government incompetence. It will take innovative thought and the will for change, but whatever free market that’s created has to have a means of addressing violation of rights. Creatively, a large community like the collection of gulf states could work out a system of resolution with oil companies based on the decision of a board of independent experts to assess damages and compensation in case of leaks, or, over time, the court system could be reformed to the point it quickly responds to oil spill damages by removing red tape favoring those making claims. I’m not sure of the best way, but all those concerned can come up with something better than relying on regulations, which are basically ignorant of changing technologies and the particulars of the relationships in specific cases, and regulators who has a cushy position and are susceptible to capture by crooked companies. In a competitive market place companies would make sure that they have plans and safety measures in place to avoid catastrophe. The infantilization of the private sector by statist controllers has weakened our ability to smartly work together toward solutions, but who’s better equipped to come up with solutions, those who have an interest in the operations or bureacrats in Washington, D.C.?

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