The foolishness of Ann and Amanda

July 11, 2011

Television is my least favorite medium because pundits usually strike outlandish poses that are wholly disconnected from the facts. Case in point is the short video above from MSNBC with Chris Hayes of The Nation, author Amanda Foreman, pundit Ann Coulter and political commentator and comedian Bill Maher. What are these people talking about?

Amanda Foreman: “Government doesn’t create jobs. Ideas create jobs. Innovation creates jobs.”

Fact check: State and local governments employ approximately 19.6 million people.

Chris Hayes: “My mother works for the government. Is that not a job?”

Fact check: Chris Hayes mother definitely has a “real” job. About 20% of the U.S. economy comes governmental expenditures, and much of that is paid as salaries and wages to government employees. State and local governments are about 12% and the federal government is about 8%.

Ann Coulter: “She [Chris Hayes’ mother] is a drain on society.”

I know enough to know that Ann Coulter says ridiculous things to get attention for herself but that last statement is totally reactionary. The nation suffers when pundits cast the issues is such a harsh frame, and it also contributes to political deadlock as the issues are cast in black and white.

I do believe that government payrolls must come down as tax revenues have declined, and as state and local governments balance their budgets, they must reduce their staff levels. But to say, across the board, that all government workers are a “drain on society” denies the important role teachers, firefighters, road crews, law enforcement officers and many others play. We can disagree as to its scope, but every society needs a public sector.

Here is a simple graph of the number of California state workers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can see the number of workers climbed as the economy expanded through 2008. Following the crisis there’s a small drop (a loss of about 3% of workers).

The national unemployment level for government workers was 5.8% in June versus a national unemployment rate of 9.3%. This discrepancy shows that government have a ways to go in adjusting their employment. I’m not advocating that state and local government slash jobs until 9.3% of government workers are unemployed. I’m just recognizing that with a balanced budget mandate, the revenues are not there to continue on at the same rate.

As for pundit foolishness, my advice is just turn off the cable and take a walk. Listening to such extreme, unfounded views is not good for your health or your view of society.


U.S. Census Bureau: State and Local Government Finances Summary

Off the Charts: State and Local Job Losses Are Largest Since 1955

New York Times: The Cost of Austerity

Sacramento Bee: Search for California State Worker Salaries

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