Green Room

What Oklahoma knows, but Obama doesn’t: Protect public-sector jobs, imperil the employment rate

posted at 12:26 pm on September 7, 2012 by

To most Americans, a job is a job is a job — but, in the quest to generate employment for the more than 12 million Americans currently out of work, statists betray a prejudice in favor of public-sector jobs, while free-marketeers betray a prejudice in favor of private-sector jobs. That is, a private-sector job seems barely a job to the statist, while a public-sector job seems barely a job to the free-marketeer.

To big-government advocates, growth in the public sector is essential to lowering the unemployment rate — and it apparently need not come at the expense of the private sector. The government can somehow provide stimulus funds for local and state governments without having to take anything whatsoever from the private sector.

Unfortunately, the idea that the government can “create” jobs is no less a myth than the equally potent idea that the government can “create” wealth. In fact, the government can do neither. The best the government can do is expropriate wealth from the private sector and redistribute it — sometimes in the form of jobs, sometimes in the form of services. Private taxpayers — or other of America’s creditors — inevitably must finance the salaries of public workers.

It’s too neat a formula to say, “Expanding the public sector by a job shrinks the private sector by a job,” but it’s not too neat to say, “Expanding the public sector by a job removes resources from the private sector, which likely would employ those resources more effectively than the public sector.”

Government bureaucracies are famously inefficient, not just in terms of the number of people they employ to do work that could be done by fewer, but also in terms of the pay they provide workers and the security they often unwarrantedly offer employees.

None of this is to suggest public-sector employees are somehow lazier than private-sector employees. In reality, government employees are highly rational economic creatures who make decisions based on the incentives. Vaunted as “public servants,” they’re as self-interested as any of us. Why not opt for a notably high-paying job or an exceptionally secure one or a tranquilly cushy one or a job that’s some combination of the three?

It is to suggest that the public sector makes poorer use of capital than the private sector. Denied by statists but nevertheless true, job destruction is just as vital to the overall growth of the economy as job creation. It’s not just that government is incapable of creating jobs; it’s also notoriously bad at eliminating obsolete jobs within the public sector. When the automobile came into vogue, the job prospects for horse-shoers and saddle-makers dwindled. Hardly anyone today would argue that that was to the detriment of the economy as a whole. If the government ran the transportation industry, though, horse-shoers and saddle-makers might not have lost their jobs. Neither, though, would the economy have gained as many jobs as it did through the automobile industry.

As counterintuitive as it might seem, cutting jobs can actually be good for the overall employment outlook of a place — particularly when those jobs come from the public sector and the resources needed to sustain them can be returned to the private sector. For proof of this, we need look no further than the example of the state of Oklahoma.

In an editorial this week, the board of The Oklahoman writes:

Oklahoma state government has slashed the number of its full-time workers by more than 2,000 and reduced monthly payroll by $4.2 million. Yet Oklahoma’s July unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, among the lowest in the nation. …

Those statistics must bewilder Obama. Much of his focus in office has been on boosting the number of government employees and protecting their jobs rather than unleashing the private economy. A huge share of stimulus money sent to the states was to prevent state worker layoffs, yet the national unemployment rate remains above 8 percent. On the other hand, Obama’s tax and regulatory policies hinder private business growth and job creation.

Oklahoma policymakers responded to the recession by right-sizing government and reducing the burden on the private sector. The results suggest that economic approach is superior to Obama’s theories.

At the same time, while Obama could certainly learn from Oklahoma, the state still has too many government employees. Additional, thoughtful, intentional “right-sizing” still needs to occur.

As The Heritage Foundation’s Bill Beach explains, the feeble recovery that has followed the Great Recession on the national scale has been a “case of the missing job generator.”

Entrepreneurs, not government bureaucrats, have been the authors of past economic recoveries. Lawmakers typically have reduced tax and regulatory burdens to facilitate the entrepreneurial process. The sharp recovery from the awful recession of the early 1980s is a key example of these doctors at work.

While millions of Americans intuitively understand the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship to our economic well-being, this understanding does not run very deep in Washington. Nowhere else in this country will you find as many people who believe that government creates jobs and that innovation automatically occurs once government cuts a subsidy check.

When the latest recession struck, Washington decided not to enlist the army of innovators and entrepreneurs to lead us back to prosperity by making their economic lives easier. Instead, policymakers embraced a more than $1 trillion government-directed economic stimulus program.

If Oklahoma wants to continue to enjoy a low unemployment rate — and if the national administration seriously wants to energize the economy, lawmakers at every level of government would be wise to continue to develop policies with primarily private-sector job creation — i.e. entrepreneurship — in mind.

Tina Korbe is policy impact director at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Previously, she was associate editor at and a staff writer at The Heritage Foundation. This post was originally published at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs blog, InterAlia.

Recently in the Green Room:



Trackback URL


This is why I supported Gov. Mary Fallin as the VP nominee. I guess she has some personal skeletons though. The story of what she has done in Oklahoma is fantastic and needs to be told more.

rockmom on September 7, 2012 at 12:36 PM

In the immortal words of a fictional character, “Get out of the way!”

Government subsidies are almost as toxic to long-term private sector growth as regulation.

Mohonri on September 7, 2012 at 12:51 PM

This is great news OK! Too bad other states hasn’t done the same to help their employment.

letget on September 7, 2012 at 12:52 PM

If Oklahoma wants to continue to enjoy a low unemployment rate — and if the national administration seriously wants to energize the economy, lawmakers at every level of government would be wise to continue to develop policies with primarily private-sector job creation — i.e. entrepreneurship — in mind.

Good luck trying to explain this to Jerry Brown, Tina.

Rovin on September 7, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Good luck trying to explain this to Jerry Brown, Tina.

Rovin on September 7, 2012 at 1:01 PM

There’s no explaining anything to Jerry Brown. His mind’s made up, don’t confuse him with facts – about high-speed rail or otherwise.

Marcola on September 7, 2012 at 2:31 PM

No Horses, But Detroit Water Department Employs ‘Horseshoer’

Union head says it’s ‘not possible’ to eliminate positions from bloated city entity

By Jarrett Skorup | Aug. 20, 2012 | Follow Jarrett Skorup on Twitter

Despite having no horses, the water and sewerage department for the city of Detroit employs a horseshoer.

Yet even with a department so bloated that it has a horseshoer and no horses, the local union president said it is “not possible” to eliminate positions.

Union rules have turned the department into a government jobs program, some critics say.

The horseshoer’s job description is “to shoe horses and to do general blacksmith work … and to perform related work as required.” The description was last updated in 1967.

DarrelsJoy on September 7, 2012 at 3:35 PM

As long as the government employees pay more than 100% in taxes, you can increase the size of government AND pay down debt!

malclave on September 7, 2012 at 5:55 PM

DarrelsJoy on September 7, 2012 at 3:35 PM

I knew there was bound to still be one somewhere!

GWB on September 7, 2012 at 6:24 PM

This post has been promoted to

Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Jazz Shaw on September 8, 2012 at 12:59 PM

HotAir — Politics, Culture, Media, 2017, Breaking News from a conservative viewpoint
Top Pick

More flash than bang, but a very bad sign

Top Pick


“Felix was out on bond after threatening another public servant and has a history of making threats.”

Chaffetz: House needs housing allowances?

Ed Morrissey Jun 27, 2017 8:41 PM

“There are dozens upon dozens of members living in their offices, and I don’t know how healthy that is long term.”

“This isn’t going to get a lot cheaper, it can’t, it won’t.”

“…what we failed to achieve with votes, we would do with weapons.”

“[S]o dumb it’s amazing we even have to have the conversation.”

“It was not necessary.”

“You’re inflaming everyone right here right now with those words!”

“Trump’s people said, ‘We’ll be writing the speech that the President’s Audio-Animatronic figure will be saying.'”

Excuses, excuses.

Not really a “kill all the lawyers” scenario

4 pm ET!

“it has not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking, including forced laborers from North Korea.”

Currently doing a search for “good international trade lawyers”

Ransomware attack spreads through Europe

John Sexton Jun 27, 2017 1:01 PM

“A massive ransomware campaign is currently unfolding worldwide.”

At least their address rarely changes

It just keeps on happening

“Trump is good for business right now.”

Start spreading the news…

“Now it’s time for the next step.”

A “cryptic” warning to Bashar al-Assad?

Jazz Shaw Jun 27, 2017 8:01 AM

The three strikes rule may be in effect

CNN reporters resign over retracted story

John Sexton Jun 26, 2017 9:21 PM

“The individuals all stated that they accepted responsibility and wanted to resign.”

Federalism’s greatest champion is now …

Ed Morrissey Jun 26, 2017 8:41 PM

“In the end, we’re a democracy.”

“Almost all controversial speech harms people, upsets or offends them…”

Obama: Back home again in Indonesia

Andrew Malcolm Jun 26, 2017 7:21 PM

The call to prayer and eating dog.

Testing the waters.

“primarily because the penalty for not having insurance would be eliminated.”

“If I were a Seattle lawmaker, I would be thinking hard about the $15 an hour phase-in.”

Days of future past

“Not only are taxpayers footing the bill, but people are dying unnecessarily because of this.”

Israel settles who can stand where at the Western Wall

Andrew Malcolm Jun 26, 2017 3:21 PM

Women to the right, men to the left.

Look on the bright side. There’s less snow in the summer

Big win … but for how long?

“Several Russian cities have unveiled monuments to Stalin in recent months.”