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« What do filters filter? | Main | Amplification »

Aug 07, 2010


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Andrew Brod

This column about the possible results of extended labor-market dysfunction caught my eye today. I realize it's a bit off-topic, though it's in keeping with "Great Recession" being more than a glib phrase.

Account Deleted

Andrew: That is a great article. Sometimes off-topic is good.


But at least those young Japanese weren't handed the larger deficit that more government spending would have created. They dodged that bullet anyway. Whew!

Andrew Brod

I know. Lucky them.

John Tasker

Cutting "core services". That part of the story is appealing to the extent of defining what they are now as compared to, say, fifty years ago. Would a new set of street signs identifying Greensboro as a "bicycle friendly city" count? What about boxes of Frisbees to be handed out by the fire dept. In Burlington, the EMT traveling HQ has a TV camera on an extendable pole that was extended to film the area directly in front of the van (and presumably someone inside the van watching . . . what? if we're talking about gray areas, it couldn't have been more gray).

It's not that we (or government staff) cannot identify needs and wants during the good times. But are these the same needs and wants during a budget crisis? In some case, maybe a lot of cases, are some of these things really necessary government expenditures year to year as part of an expanding infrastructure?

Andrew Brod

Of course core services need to be defined, and of course they might change over time. But the service cuts described in the NYT article (street lights, police officers, etc.) are core services everywhere. Unless I missed it, there's nothing in the article about cities deciding to buy (or not to buy) new frisbees.

Account Deleted

John: Those are great points and I agree with you completely. The argument I think would be that government spending is what is carrying some significant percentage of private business at this point in the "great recession".

John Tasker

From time to time we all are probably a little amazed that when some local council or school board mandates budget cuts or hold-the-line, the staff assails the very things we know ought to be maintained or better (AKA police, class sizes, etc), true core services. I'm also in favor of the fire department having a public relations component. My point actually supports Andrew's, by my saying if we cut or reallocate some expenses, it ought to be the 'fluff' . . . and it's there to see. As far as the economy being enhanced by government spending, it's really just a body of elected people choosing how to allocate our personal money they, as our governments, have collected. This isn't to criticize, I'm all for the government trying to save us, 2/3's of my children are struggling in a way I never had to do. Allocating it appropriately to do the task means a bit of a closer look to see that it's not just maintaining a "protected" (i.e. government) job as opposed to some private sector jobs that might be created by a different use of the funds. I'm all for fire department Frisbees, but I wouldn't want to sacrifice some street lights in order to have one.

Andrew Brod

I agree that it's about finding the right mix between public and private sector.

But it's a little weird to call government jobs "protected," given that the whole point of the NYT article is to show how unprotected they are. Unlike federal employment, state- and local-government employment (which is over 6 times bigger than federal) has fallen since the recession. As in previous recessions, it didn't fall as quickly as private-sector employment, and in fact state and local governments kept hiring as we moved into the recession. But while the private sector is (slowly) creating jobs right now, state and local governments are shedding them and will continue to do so for some time. Some "protection."

But it goes deeper than semantics. The fact is that not everything is best done by the private sector. The guy who maintains the street lights is going to have to be a public employee. In other words, some government jobs are just as real as private-sector jobs.

Krugman writes about this today. Among his points is something that's been bothering me: Precisely when we need to invest in human capital, i.e. education, we're disinvesting in it.

Jim Langer

That's because the current meme running about says we need more tradespeople, plumbers, carpenters, etc.; they can just apprentice or maybe go to a training program through community colleges. That doesn't address the brain-drain in the sciences, particularly, as we are now 12th on the list of 36 most industrialized nations for percentage of college graduates.

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