Robert Samuelson on government jobs: They exist, but people who recognize them are like flat-earthers

It’s hard to improve upon Dean Baker’s response to Robert Samuelson’s deeply confused column about government jobs, but I’ll just add briefly here.

It’s entirely clear that the whole discussion over “government creating jobs” sparked by President Obama’s closing statement in the second presidential debate is really about the role of public-sector hiring or cutbacks as something that either cushions or exacerbates the current problem of chronically high unemployment rates.

This debate just can’t be about anything else, because it would just be too silly. And it surely can’t really be about what Samuelson spends most of his column doing: wondering whether or not government jobs are really jobs.

Government jobs are jobs, period. Nothing about the fact that they require “money to support [them]” or that public hiring can lead to “substituting public-sector workers for private-sector workers” changes this. As Baker notes, private-sector jobs “require money” to support them, and, there are plenty of times when rising private employment in one sector drives declining private employment in another. This all just seems too obvious to need pointing out.

No, the issue is whether or not cutbacks to public-sector employment when the economy has lots of productive slack lead to net economy-wide job loss, and just how much. The answers to this are “they do,” and, “a lot.” Around 2.3 million is our estimate, cited by the New York Times.

Samuelson notes that government spending during times of economic slumps can boost net job creation, but then notes that the idea of fiscal stimulus is “fiercely debated” and says he doesn’t “intend to settle this debate either.”

That’s too bad, and I wonder why not? After all, that particular debate (i.e., is contractionary fiscal policy really contractionary?) really isn’t particularly hard.

But then again, I didn’t think that it was so hard to recognize what a “job” is, either.