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Friday, April 1, 2011

Government Employees and Manufacturing Jobs: Takers and Makers?

In 2011, according to Stephen Moore, “there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government. . . . More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers.”

“Collecting a paycheck from the government” implies that people who work in government are somehow receiving an entitlement rather than compensation for their labor. Treating government employees, and, moreover, the receivers of government services, as “takers” reduces all the functions of government to welfare programs. Are the corporations in the private sector that receive defense contracts “takers” akin to the lazy “takers” that Stephen Moore has in mind in his opinion piece?  Is G.E. a “taker” in not having any tax due on 2010 earnings in the billions?  Presumably, the defense contractors and tax-minimizing companies benefitted from government-sponsored infrastructure, such as police protection and roads?  Furthermore, are citizens who benefit from security and transportation to be regarded as “takers”?  Are flyers “takers” when they rely on the FAA to keep flight control agents in control towers on the up and up?

Furthermore, Moore is ignoring non-governmental reasons for the reduction in factory jobs in the U.S. “Every state in America today except for two—Indiana and Wisconsin—has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods. . . . Even Michigan, at one time the auto capital of the world, and Pennsylvania, once the steel capital, have more government bureaucrats than people making things.” However, even though government payrolls have expanded as we have asked for more from our governments, such as in regulating banks too big to fail, the proliferation of capitalism in the world, such as via more foreign direct investment in developing countries (with the notable exception of Africa), has brought with it a spreading-out of manufacturing around the world.

Even so, the U.S. still has the most manufacturing jobs of any economy, but this does not mean we need not expand our skilled labor force in new fields such as computer technology. In focusing on manufacturing, Moore seems to reduce “making” to manufacturing.  Does not a CPA “make” something of value when investors and creditors rely on the certified financial statements of a company?  Without doubt, we need to expand our notion of “making” in the twenty-first century global economy. We also need to reduce our conception of “taking” when it comes to what government employees do and even in what the government does. Otherwise, even Moore might be left with the unavoidable conclusion that the American corporations, even more so than the “welfare mothers,” are the “takers.”

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