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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Celebrating Unemployment

It’s hardly news that state and local governments around the country are laying off workers and reducing services in the current economic and fiscal climate. But putting aside services for a moment, the sheer impact of public-sector job layoffs is becoming pretty alarming:

Cash-strapped cities and counties have been cutting jobs to cope with massive budget shortfalls — and that tally could edge up to nearly 500,000 if Congress doesn’t step up to help.
Local governments are looking to eliminate 8.6% of their total full-time equivalent positions by 2012, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and United States Conference of Mayors.
“Local governments across the country are now facing the combined impact of decreased tax revenues, a falloff in state and federal aid and increased demand for social services,” the report said. “In this current climate of fiscal distress, local governments are forced to eliminate both jobs and services.”

That’s just local governments, mind you, not the states who are themselves facing major layoffs.
Now many conservatives would celebrate this news on grounds that eliminating some of the parasites who work for government will somehow, someway, free up resources for the private sector. I’ve never understood exactly how that’s supposed to work, but as Matt Yglesias points out, it’s a really bad time to experiment with efforts to counter-act a recession by increasing unemployment:

Conservatives have largely convinced themselves that public servants are such vile and overpaid monsters that anything that forces layoffs is a good thing and the moderates in Congress seem scared of their own shadows so nothing will be done. But economically speaking, the time for local governments to try to trim the fat is when unemployment is low and your laid-off librarian, ambulance driver, or guy who keeps the park clean can get a new job where his or her skills will plausibly be more optimally allocated. But guess what produces less social welfare than driving a bus? Sitting at home being unemployed. And so it goes down the line. Dumping people into a depressed labor market all-but-guarantees an increase in idleness along with a drop in revenue for local retailers that will lead to more idleness and waste.

Higher unemployment is simply bad. Deliberately promoting it is worse.

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