From the tone of a recent piece about the slow but steady sloughing off of jobs from Louisiana state government, one might get the impression that an important policy objective of government ought to be ensuring that taxpayer money gets used as inefficiently as possible.
In an opinion piece, Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte notes the reduction discussion addresses little the fact that when the state eliminates jobs, whether through outright ending or scaling back of the service or through privatization, people become, at least temporarily, unemployed. In it, she writes, this “has forced thousands of people from their jobs, a consequence the [Gov. Bobby] Jindal administration tends to gloss over as it touts the lowest number of state workers in decades.”
And: “the administration seems to dislike acknowledging the side effect of privatization in a down economy: hundreds upon hundreds of workers given pink slips.” And, “Jindal doesn’t want to offer the detail that by getting to the lowest number of state employees in more than 20 years, he’s also added people to state unemployment rolls in the already poverty-ridden state.
(Side note: the author ought to get out and see some of the world. Using 2009 data, only 17.3 percent of Louisianans are classified as living in a household in poverty – the income level at which, when measured internationally by gross domestic product per capita that overstates actual per capita income, would make those living at this level in America better off than the typical resident in 144 countries, some of whom typically exist on levels one-tenth of the U.S. poverty limit. That’s genuine being “poverty-ridden.”)
Finished in belaboring this? Not yet: “In Jindal administration budget discussions and legislative hearings, participants often spend little time describing how the data translate to real people and how their budget-cutting decisions add to the unemployment rolls. Then, finally: “That effect deserves acknowledgment, even if state officials believe the decisions are right for the budget.”
Which seems to be the point of the column, and which leads to the obvious question: why is this an issue? Government’s purpose is to achieve through involuntary means important, shared objectives that cannot be done through voluntary associations alone, whether that be through conscription of the labor or the resources of the people. Since when has government as direct job provider, as opposed to indirect job creator, been considered as one of these objectives?
And why must it be an important, shared objective to have a job performed less efficiently only because it is performed by government, as opposed to privatization where it is done, likely better, at less cost to the taxpayer? Deslatte bemoans that, as a result of privatization, “those eventually tapped by private companies often are hired at far lower salaries and with fewer benefits than paid by the state, worsening their economic situation.” Has it not occurred to her that the more efficient deployment of resources in then end will create more and more valuable jobs that contribute more to the economy? Why should the taxpayer overpay people beyond the value they actually provide to society?
In other words, to argue that the “effect” of reductions in terms of “real people” and “unemployment rolls” needs “acknowledgement” maintains that there should be a debate over whether government ought to be using the people’s resources to perform tasks of lesser importance and/or in less efficient ways than they could be used outside government. Only if you believe that government should spend less efficiently and/or on nonessential tasks that have returns on investment below their objective importance to society as a whole is debate even relevant.
If that’s the purpose of the column, Deslatte needs to prepare herself for being on the losing side. If not, it seems little more than a simple-minded jab at Jindal, trying to imply that his administration is being bad and reluctant to admit it. As such, it lacks any seriousness and makes no contribution to actual questions at hand: whether the particular budget actions concern activities important enough to be worth their costs, and if not, whether private sector performance of them can lower their costs to the point of making them worth performing.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:45