Why is Reducing Government Jobs Considered a Free Lunch?

Politicians love to brag about cutting government work forces. This month, while the private sector added 57,000 jobs, government shed 39,000 jobs, for total job growth of 18,000, which is basically not different from zero statistically.

Cutting government jobs not only has consumption effects (people who don’t get paychecks can’t buy stuff), it also has productivity effects. When the DMV is closed three days a month, people have to wait longer to get their drivers’ licenses. When there are fewer cops, crime increases. When there are fewer high school teachers, the ability to offer AP courses drops, etc.

Is there waste in the public sector? Sure. But for those working in the private sector, particularly large institutions, ask yourself whether everyone you work with is productive. I have no idea what the “correct” level of public sector employment is. I also have no idea how much public sector employment crowds out the private sector, but if the crowding out effect is less than one (and with unemployment above nine percent, I am guessing the effect must be less than one), then reducing government employment reduces total employment. But to think that cutting government employment is a magic pill for economic recovery makes no sense.

About Richard K. Green 102 Articles

Affiliation: University of Southern California

Richard K. Green, Ph.D., is the Director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. He holds the Lusk Chair in Real Estate and is Professor in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Prior to joining the USC faculty, Dr. Green spent four years as the Oliver T. Carr, Jr., Chair of Real Estate Finance at The George Washington University School of Business. He was Director of the Center for Washington Area Studies and the Center for Real Estate and Urban Studies at that institution. Dr. Green also taught real estate finance and economics courses for 12 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was Wangard Faculty Scholar and Chair of Real Estate and Urban Land Economics. He also has been principal economist and director of financial strategy and policy analysis at Freddie Mac.

His research addresses housing markets, housing policy, tax policy, transportation, mortgage finance and urban growth. He is a member of two academic journal editorial boards, and a reviewer for several others.

His work is published in a number of journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Journal of Urban Economics, Land Economics, Regional Science and Urban Economics, Real Estate Economics, Housing Policy Debate, Journal of Housing Economics, and Urban Studies.

His book with Stephen Malpezzi, A Primer on U.S. Housing Markets and Housing Policy, is used at universities throughout the country. His work has been cited or he has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and the Economist, as well as other outlets.

Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his A.B. in economics from Harvard University.

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