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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Obama on Government Jobs

Monday, May 16, 2011

Obama on Government Jobs

Last week, President Obama was the guest at a Town Hall meeting hosted by CBS News.  As I watched the interchange between Karin Gallo and President Obama I shook my head and wondered why any president would expose them self to this sort of event (transcript)(video).
KARIN GALLO: About three years ago, just under three years ago, I took a job with the federal government, thinking it was a secure job. Recently I've been told I'm being laid off as of June 4th. And it is not an opportune time for me, I am seven months pregnant in a high-risk pregnancy, my first pregnancy. My husband and I are in the middle of building a house. We're not sure if we're gonna be completely approved. I'm not exactly in a position to waltz right in and -- and do great on interviews, based on my timing with the birth. And -- so, I'm stressed, I'm worried. I'm scared about what I -- what my future holds. I definitely need a job. And -- I just wonder what would you do, if you were me? (LAUGH)
Where did CBS News find this woman?  She is at the end of a high risk pregnancy, and was fired from a job after her husband and she began to build a new home.  She is articulate and has a good sense of humor with a great sense of comedic timing.  What are the odds that another person would have her skill set and experience this series of unfortunate events?  She is certainly not a representative American.  President Obama starts well suggesting that she should get a job but then gives a normative opinion that does not have positive support.
…let me just first of all say that -- workers like you for the federal, state, and local governments are so important for our vital services. And in -- and it frustrates me sometimes when people talk about "government jobs" as if somehow those are worth less than private sector jobs. I -- I think there's nothin' more important than -- workin' on behalf of the American people.
Is someone collecting trash for the government really “working more on the behalf of the American people” than someone who collects trash for a private firm?  Is a government doctor or professor really more valuable to society than a private doctor or professor?  Taking his statement to its logical conclusion, should we all work for the government to maximize our benefit to the American people?

Economists agree that government can provide valuable jobs within an economy.  Milton Friedman, an economist famed for supporting a minimalist government, wrote in “Capitalism and Freedom

A government which maintained law and order, defined property rights, served as a means whereby we could modify property rights and other rules of the economic game, adjudicated disputes about the interpretation of the rules, enforced contracts, promoted competition, provided a monetary framework, engaged in activities to counter technical monopolies and to overcome neighborhood effects widely regarded as sufficiently important to justify government intervention, and which supplemented private charity and the private family in protecting the irresponsible, whether madman or child—such a government would clearly have important functions to perform.
The correct question to ask is, given the current allocation of private and government jobs, should the next job added be private or government.

1 comment:

  1. Morgan Heeke10/7/11 11:45 AM

    This is very interesting. You raise a good point about how much emphasis people put on "government jobs". It is one thing to say you work for America and their government, but at the same time, you can collect trash on behalf of America. There is no extreme benefit of working for the government over a private job. Private jobs overall are more steady, especially during all of the budget cuts. I am from Clear Lake, which is down the street from NASA. A good number of houses are up for sale because of NASA layoffs. People are in fear of losing their government jobs currently. Seeing stories of how genuinely good people who work hard lose their jobs and are unsure of what lays ahead of them startles me. With this economy, you have no idea where your next job will come. I read an article yesterday about a woman who used to make $70,000 a year and has been unemployed for over 99 weeks. I support budget cuts, but not when it puts people into such struggles.