The Public Sector Jobs Catastrophe

Public Sector Jobs

I got the graph above from Mark Thoma, Austerity: The Public-Sector Jobs Gap. I was aware of the basic information, but I’ve never seen it displayed in such a startling way. What it shows is the total number of people employed by the government at all levels. But let me go over it in a little detail, because it is important stuff.

The first thing that comes into my mind when seeing this graph is that conservatives will think, “Great! The government shouldn’t be growing!” But the government should be growing. The extrapolated number of government workers in 2015, is roughly 14% higher than it was in 2000. It just so happens that the US total population is also 14% higher than it was in 2000. People can argue about which government programs should exist, but that is a different issue. The government is doing exactly what it was doing 15 years ago. It just doesn’t have nearly as many people to do it.

Another thing to note here is the timing. If you go back through Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, and on and on, you will see that after recessions, we increase spending. As Keynes said, “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.” And everyone learned that lesson — right up to this crisis. And as a result, we have had a very sluggish recovery. And the Republicans blame Obama, because they thought that even more austerity would have solved all our problems. To see how ridiculous that claim is, just look at Spain, which has had an unemployment rate over 20% for years because of misguided austerity policies.

Even if austerity had been called for, what we should have seen is the rate of growth of government workers decline. We shouldn’t have see growth stop and then actually go into reverse. These numbers are shocking: 1.3 million jobs that should have been created weren’t; and almost a half million jobs cut. That’s almost two million jobs lost. Using a reasonable 1.5 multiplier for the economy, that means our economy has three million jobs less than it should have. This is like someone taking a frying pan and hitting themselves over the head. Of course, in this case, the people who decided on this policy were not the same people who suffered from this policy.

Another conservative criticism would be that these jobs created by the government would have been offset by jobs in the private sector. According to this theory, the money to pay the people has to come from somewhere, so the money collected in taxes wouldn’t have been available to the private sector to create jobs. I hate this criticism because it is based on one thing that is true: when the economy is booming, government spending really does take money out of the private sector and slows the economy. But that is only true under that circumstance. And that hasn’t been true for years. This is why interest rates are so low: there is loads of private money swimming around looking for investment opportunities. Private sector money is not going to create jobs. Therefore, the government should have used that money to employ people. As it is, the government has been able to borrow money almost since the beginning of the crisis nearly for free (sometimes, people are actually paying the government to take money).

If the bad economy is hurting you, all you need to know about why can be found in that graph above. Notice that when Bush took over the presidency, the hiring actually went up at a faster rate. That’s because there was a recession. That was the right thing to do. I can’t help but think that if a Republican had become president in 2009, we would have seen the same thing. But when a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans have to do everything they can to harm the economy and the nation. Because they are “patriots.”

This graph should be the shame of Congress, and even Obama, because he was definitely pushing austerity too.

Europe Needs to Look Forward

Thomas Piketty - LionLook at the history of national debt: Great Britain, Germany, and France were all once in the situation of today’s Greece, and in fact had been far more indebted. The first lesson that we can take from the history of government debt is that we are not facing a brand new problem….

After large crises that created huge debt loads, at some point people need to look toward the future. We cannot demand that new generations must pay for decades for the mistakes of their parents. The Greeks have, without a doubt, made big mistakes. Until 2009, the government in Athens forged its books. But despite this, the younger generation of Greeks carries no more responsibility for the mistakes of its elders than the younger generation of Germans did in the 1950s and 1960s. We need to look ahead. Europe was founded on debt forgiveness and investment in the future. Not on the idea of endless penance. We need to remember this.

—Thomas Piketty
Quoted in Germany Shouldn’t Be Telling Greece To Repay Debt

Yemeni Blood on American Hands

Yemen Market BombingMonday, a Saudi-led and US backed coalition air strike hit a livestock market in a suburb of Aden in southern Yemen, killing at least 45 people. This is all part of the Yemeni Civil War. There are three parties fighting: the Revolutionary Committee (led by the Houthis) and the Hadi government — both of which claim to be the Yemeni government — and Ansar al-Sharia. The United States supports the Hadi government, which I suppose is as good a choice as any. Being against Ansar al-Sharia, is a no-brainer, because they are allied with the Islamic State. But Aden is controlled by the Revolutionary Committee. And why exactly we attacked a livestock market is unclear.

I’m sure Saudi and US officials will say it is a mistake and war is messy and collateral damage blah, blah, blah. But The Guardian reported that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) say that “the Saudi-led coalition was failing to adhere to international law and was not taking the necessary precautions to prevent civilian casualties.” Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International released a statement that said, “The cases we have analysed point to a pattern of attacks destroying civilian homes and resulting in scores of civilian deaths and injuries.” Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW said, “These attacks appear to be serious laws-of-war violations that need to be properly investigated.”

In addition to being killed outright, there are currently 20 million Yemenis without access to clear drinking water. That maybe doesn’t sound too bad, but Yemen only has a population of 26 million. So we are talking about the vast majority of the people in the country. What’s more, over a million have had to flee their homes. According to Reuters, “The United Nations last week designated the war in Yemen as a Level 3 humanitarian crisis, its most severe category, and the United States and the European Union have endorsed calls for a humanitarian suspension of hostilities.” We would hope.

But the American involvement in this is typical shortsighted and juvenile policy. Basically, this is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So, without any thought to what is best, we just go with Saudi Arabia because they are our “ally” and they are fighting against our “enemy” Iran. Meanwhile, the instability in the region allows the Islamic State to get a very good foothold in Yemen. There is a very good case to be made for supporting the stable governments of the Middle East — especially after our spectacular move to destabilize the region with the Iraq War. But we don’t. America still can’t get over 4 November 1979.

In the mean time, civilians die. I was really struck by an eye-witness of Monday’s bombing who said there was “blood from people mixed with that of the sheep and other livestock at the market.” So the United States is calling for a humanitarian suspension of hostilities. But for three and a half months, we’ve been providing support for the bombing of civilians. According to The Wall Street Journal back in April, US Widens Role in Saudi-led Campaign Against Houthi Rebels in Yemen. Part of that widened roles was “vetting military targets.” Well, we did a great job on Monday.

We could have used the last few months to push for a peaceful settlement to this. But that isn’t the way we operate. It’s all about our supposed strategic interests. Humanity be damned.

America Is Ambivalent Toward White Supremacy

KKKDespite my tutoring, even managing to inspire my father to a full Democratic vote in the 2014 general election, he continues to watch Fox News one hour every weekday. It is Special Report with Bret Baier, and I know why he watches it: Charles Krauthammer. My father is a sucker for soft spoken, apparently thoughtful people. He is, interesting, also fond of Noam Chomsky. My father has never been that good with consistency of thought. Regardless, last night he asked me about Americans who run off to join ISIS. He wanted to know if they were crazy. I try to respond to such questions with sensitivity towards him.

You see, my problem is with the question itself. So I want to respond with something like, “Why do people engage in autocannibalism?” Because I’m pretty such that more Americans are explicitly eating parts of their bodies than are flying off to the Middle East to join ISIS. Back in February, US intelligence officials estimated that a whopping 150 people may have gone to Syria or attempted to do so. That’s less than 0.00005% of the population. There are about 16,000 homicides in the United States each year. Over half of those were committed with guns. Are these people crazy? Some percentage of them certainly are. If just 1% of them are crazy, then that’s more than all the Americans who have tried to fight for ISIS.

The problem is not just Fox News, of course. Every time I see some mainstream news, I’m horrified. Did you notice that we got through Independence Day without a terror attack? This should be big news after last week, when television news was filled with warnings about a threat focused on the holiday. Of course, those reports always came with a disclaimer at the end, “Government officials say they have no actual evidence of any plots.” In other words: there was no reason to be reporting about these concerns. I’m sure that government officials are worried every day that there will be a terrorist attack.

But there is no doubt that Fox News is the king of this kind of fear mongering. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters wrote an article for Salon over the weekend, Fox News Can’t Bear the Truth: Right-Wing Terror Groups Are America’s Gravest Threat. He noted something that relates to this directly, “Media Matters has also been shining a spotlight on the fact that not only does Fox News downplay homegrown acts of right-wing, anti-government and white supremacist violence, treating them as rogue, isolated events (if covering the events at all), they also hype beyond proportion and common sense attacks by Muslims in America.”

There are roughly three million Muslims in the United States. So if we assume that only Muslims are going over to Syria to fight for the Islamic State, that represents 0.005% of all Muslims. If anything ought to be dismissed as isolated events, it should be young Muslim men heading off to the Middle East to fight for… Actually, I don’t know what they go over to fight. It is a war between different Muslim groups, so it isn’t even a “Muslim versus the world” thing.

I don’t especially care that Dylann Roof is a bigot. Even without a well organized white supremacy subculture, angry young men like him will find a casus belli. But what’s important is that no one really questions that running off to join the global jihad is something that appeals to certain young Muslim men. It is not in any important way different from young socialists and fascists in the 1930s, running off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. The problem with Fox News — and to a lesser extent the whole of mainstream news — is that it doesn’t want to admit Dylann Roof is also part of a long standing narrative in the United States. Roof didn’t have a race war he could run away and join. So he tried to start his own here at home.

So are men who run off to fight wars crazy? From my perspective, they look like it. But in a country like the United States that is so warlike and that so fetishizes the military, the impulse itself can’t be considered crazy. It must be considered rational, given the assumptions of the young man. Those assumptions can noble or vile. But the act itself is not outside what we think of as acceptable behavior, as long as we agree with the cause. As a nation, we do not agree with the jihad cause. But we are more ambivalent about the white supremacy cause. And that’s what should really concern us.

Morning Music: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang BangMy sister texted me earlier and asked a question for a friend she was visiting: who wrote the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I hate situations like that. I knew that it was somewhere in my brain. I knew it was someone who I knew. But I just couldn’t bring it out. I did note that I don’t like it and so I knew that it wasn’t Roald Dahl or E B White. Anyway, after telling her that I couldn’t remember, I looked it up and then I remembered: Ian Fleming. And that explained it because he was not a very good writer.

This led to a secondhand argument about the the quality of Ian Fleming. Look, I’m willing to admit that Fleming came up with something new. It wasn’t interesting or good, but it was new. Most people are capable of coming up with new bad things, but credit where it is due. Just the same, he is nothing compared to John le Carré and Robert Ludlum. Anyway, I also don’t like the movie. But this whole episode got that damned song going through my head. So I figured I’d pass it on to you:

Anniversary Post: Sliced Bread

Sliced BreadOn this day in 1928, the best thing since sliced bread was sliced bread. That’s because it was on this day that sliced bread was first brought to market by the Chillicothe Baking Company. Apparently, the bread slicing machine had been around for 16 years before that. But no one thought to start selling sliced bread. And do you wanna know why that is? Because it is really kind of silly. Who needs pre-sliced breads?!

Look, I grew up with sliced bread. At one time, it boggled my mind that pre-sliced bread had to be invented. After all, doesn’t everyone want their bread sliced eventually? Why not have it done before you buy it? Well, I have to admit that when I was a kid, I thought it was a great idea that the televisions that they made in the Soviet Union didn’t have a volume control — it just had a single volume. (I have no idea whether that was just Cold War propaganda or not.) I thought, “Great! Perfect volume!” But of course, it wasn’t the perfect volume. It was just the volume. Well, it’s the same thing about bread, and I think most bread is sliced too thin.

Regardless, it just isn’t hard to slice your own bread. There are many great time saving conveniences to come out of the 20th century. The washing machine comes to mind. But pre-sliced bread does not. I’m not against it. But it just doesn’t much matter. The only reason that anyone thinks it matters is because they are used to it. Sliced bread is typical of American consumerism: it fills a manufactured need. The true creativity is convincing people that they need it.

Given this, I think we should change the phrase, “The best thing since sliced bread!” We should say it ironically. Supposed that The History Channel put out another Swamp People reality show. We could say, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread!” It would be perfect. For one thing, it would be a new show that no one is asking for. No one would actually want it. Yet after it was available, people would wonder how they ever got along without it. We could even combine the phrase with another of my favorites phrases, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread, because people are dumb as a bag of rocks.”

But happy birthday sliced bread!