In general, the left knows that when it tried to bring data into trying to support liberalism, it’s got to tap dance pretty fast and furiously to shunt aside the inconveniences from the data that demonstrate that the principles of conservatism better describe how the world really works. And we have a good example of the tactics employed with the latest production from the leftists at the Louisiana Budget Project.
This report tries to make the high per capita number of state workers in Louisiana seem a bit less obnoxious by reviewing employees by function in the state. It claims that, without including hospitals and corrections, that the state isn’t far from the middle of the pack as far as states go. Thus, as it argues, “in Louisiana, people on the state payroll are doing jobs that in other states are done by people on the state, local, private or nonprofit payrolls.” Therefore, is the implication, Louisiana really isn’t so bad on this account and people are getting too worked up about downsizing government.
However, note three tactics that readers must accept to draw this conclusion.
First, they have to ignore the fact that the choice to have so much spent on hospital and prison employees is a policy choice. Why does Louisiana have to have the nation’s only charity hospital system? Why are so relatively few state prisoners dealt with by the private sector? The reformist argument all along has been all that there are too many state government employees because Louisiana state government does more than it should.
The fact that a couple of areas of policy are disproportional in pumping up state employment levels makes no difference; it is policy that has given Louisiana an outsized government, and only policy changes designed to reduce state government involvement in certain areas can put it on a diet. In essence, the report argues Louisiana is doing just fine in government size given what it does, but that’s not the issue. The issue is it does too much.
And here a measure of hypocrisy appears in the LBP’s avoidance of that real issue. The obvious solutions to decrease state employment in these disproportionately-high areas would be for the state to exit the charity hospital business and to privatize more prisons. Yet the LBP has shown itself to be a consistent advocate of more government involvement in health care. Nor has it shown any courage on the prisons privatization issue, not articulating any support for increasing it nor even for sentencing changes and technology improvements that could reduce state prison populations.
A second tactic, related to the first, is that it appears in the analysis of other states their disproportionate functional areas of expenditure also were not similarly removed. As noted above, even to do this dodges the real issue, but, setting that aside, by way of example some states control the distribution and sale of hard alcohol. Were those kinds of functions not done by Louisiana state government excluded from the other states that do them before calculation of state rankings that showed Louisiana near the middle? Chances are if they were, Louisiana would have crept higher in the per capita state worker category.
Which points out the final tactic, the substituting of investigating symptom rather than disease. The report focuses on the number of state employees, but that does not adequately get at the underlying concept that it tries to impute, reflective of overall government size and efficiency. By contrast, while reformers use per capita state employees as one proxy for the larger concept of government size, they prefer to utilize the best indicator of this, which affects strongly the number of state employees, overall state expenditures. That is, advocates of right-sizing Louisiana state government say because it does unnecessary things and inefficiently therefore it spends too much, which then gets reflected in the number of employees. To focus only on the employment statistic is interesting trivia, but one dependent on overall spending, making state spending per capita the most relevant statistics to understand how bloated and efficient Louisiana government is.
And even taking out hospitals and corrections spending, Louisiana still ranks poorly in this regard. Using 2007 statistics (latest available), for all states minus those two categories, Louisiana ranked tenth at $6.02 per resident, less than only Delaware, Hawai’i, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming – liberal, big-spending states back East and/or states with the condition of much smaller populations, that inherently leads to less efficiency in spending per resident, than Louisiana.
The evidence is clear – compared to other states, Louisiana has made policy choices that promote big government, and operates that big government inefficiently. Juggling numbers and subtly trying to shift the argument does not obscure that.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:10