Published for economics21.org, June 14th, 2012
One can quite easily argue that the past few months represent not only a natural but a desirable correction – a belated movement from public-sector employment into private-sector employment, restoring some equilibrium that had been disrupted by the recent recession. If on the other hand one sees a given level of government-supported employment as intrinsically desirable, one is more likely to look at recent trends with alarm.
The current debate reveals that policy makers are divided on the roles they would assign to the private and public sectors. It is natural, for example, for public employee representatives to see the recent decline in government-supported employment as a problem in and of itself; some other left-of-center advocates appear to be sympathetic to this view.
That vantage point is reflected in statements like those of Vice President Biden, arguing for increased federal support to state governments by referencing sympathetic constituencies like teachers, police and firefighters. The position is further reflected in the Administration’s continued push for federal bailout funds for state governments. Left-of-center thinkers also often express a broader view that taxpayers will in the future need to contribute more tax revenue to ensure that government can function as desired. In short, this viewpoint generally holds that the private sector needs to do more to support the public sector.
An opposing viewpoint is expressed by some right-of-center proponents, including Governors Scott Walker and Chris Christie. They argue that the public sector should be trying to alleviate the burdens of the private sector rather than the other way around.