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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Obama Era Brings Smaller State and Local Government

Socialist power grab, or Bush-Norquist plot?

An eager reader forwards this CNN report that seems to turn conventional wisdom on its head: under President Barack Obama, government is getting smaller:

The layoff ax has hit public sector payrolls with force as states wrestle with massive budget shortfalls. Since August 2008, some 231,000 state and local government jobs have disappeared -- 22,000 last month alone, according to federal data.

The majority of the cuts are on the local level, which at 14.4 million workers is nearly three times the size of the state workforce. Plus, unlike at the federal level, most of these cuts come from the ranks of teachers, cops, firefighters and social service workers.

And more pain is coming down the pike. Some 19 states say they plan to implement layoffs to narrow budget gaps, according to a recent survey [Tami Luhby, "Endangered Species: Government Worker," CNN.com, 2010.06.18].

Remember, when you cut government at the state and local level, you're not striking a blow against tyranny. You're putting your local cops, the men and women in blue who stand between you and the real thugs in our society, out of work.

Note this report highlights cuts at the state and local level. Layoffs are not the case for the federal government workforce. Uncle Sam hired more people in 2008 and 2009:

Federal Government Workforce, 1962-2009(click image to enlarge)

Note that the last 50 years have not seen an enormous increase in the number of people working for the federal government. Since 1962, Uncle Sam's total workforce has shrunk 17%. That decline comes entirely from the Cold War peace dividend: the number of uniformed military personnel has dropped 44% since the pre-Vietnam surge. The executive branch has grown 12% since 1962, but compare that to a national population that has grown 64% over the same period, and that growth seems small. Plus, the current executive branch workforce, even with a 3% surge last year under Obama (and under President Bush's last budget, FY2009), is still just about 10% smaller than it was under its peak levels from 1985 to 1992 (remind me again: who ran the executive branch back then?).

For your weekend enjoyment, you can spin two opposing conspiracy theories from this data:
  1. Conservative flavor: President Obama and his fellow travelers are weakening state and local governments to remove that check against their expansion of federal power, all the better to forward the Marxist revolution.
  2. Liberal flavor: President Bush and VP Cheney used reckless deficit spending and tax cuts to drive government into such dire financial straits that it would collapse to bathtub-drownable size. The federal government has a little more power and wiggle room to continue deficit spending, so the axe is falling on the state and local governments first, but the trend will trickle up.
I'm actually not as confident about the latter: after all, how can neocons establish a global empire if they don't keep the imperial government big?


  1. So much for the myth that Democrats always increase the Federal Government. Bill Clinton used the peace dividend to shrink the Government by the largest percentage since the scaling down of the Vietnam war. I wonder how this figures into the ultra- right argument of Democrat = Marxist?

  2. Right on, Barry. It's kind of like the NRA recruitment letter I got this week (poor list management on their part), throwing vague accusations of "hundreds of politicians" determined to take away my guns, even though the current administration hasn't made any of Wayne LaPierre's doomsday accusations come true. Realtiy is very different from right-wing propaganda.

  3. Your follow-up should be about how the constitution doesn't mean anything if there's no funding for the judicial branch. MN Chief Justice Magnuson just stepped down because he got tired of fighting with Gov. Pawlenty over judicial funding.

    Perhaps we want to be like India, a thriving constitutional democracy in which there are only 11 (yes, eleven) judges per 1M people. They have a 320 year pending case backlog across various levels, and spend an average of 5 minutes reviewing each case.

    I'm sure there's NO corruption there at all....


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