As I was saying to a friend last night, one of the most frustrating things about the Obama administration is the tendency of its leaders and communicators to project a message that’s absolutely demoralizing to progressive political activists. This business with the president and the treasury secretary going around showing how serious and centrist they are by saying “government can’t create jobs” is a great example. Adam Bink and Duncan Black both did good posts on this, but honestly leaving questions of political strategy aside it’s just straight-up demoralizing. It’s a mean thing for the White House to do to the president’s supporters to make them feel like they and the ideas they believe in are constantly getting dissed.
What’s more, in this case it’s also a ridiculous thing to say. David Petraeus has a job. So does the guy who drove the truck that transported David Petraeus’ uniform to wherever he picked it up. So does the guy who sold that guy his truck’s tires. And so does the guy who served that guy some beer on Friday. And not only do police officers have jobs, but police officers who do their jobs well and make the streets safe create the conditions for economic growth. So do the people who build bridges and the people who man tollbooths. Medicaid pays for poor people’s medicine so they can recover from illness and go back to work rather than staying sick and dying. If the Obama administration feels the government is doing specific things that are not prosperity-enhancing it should draft legislation to curtail those activities, but you hear enough dumb stuff like this on Fox News without needing to hear it from the administration.
Needless to say, sustainable economic recovery requires robust job-creation by the private sector and the role of public policy should be to make that happen. But public policy supports the creation of private sector jobs, and public employees are real people who do real jobs directly—indeed, as Annie Lowrey observes the government is by far the largest employer in America and has been since long before Obama’s inauguration—as are the private sector employees of firms who contract with the government. Bus drivers have jobs, and their jobs involve driving other people to their jobs.