What a drag

Since the start of 2010, the overall U.S. economy has added about 1.9 million jobs. The vast majority of these jobs have come from the private sector, which created nearly that many jobs just over the last 13 months, and over 1.1 million jobs so far in 2011.

And then there’s this: state and local governments have eliminated more than 400,000 jobs since the start of 2010.

Every time you hear a Republican official or candidate argue today that public-sector spending is dragging down the economy, remember that this person has the problem exactly backwards.

Layoffs at the state and local level were mitigated in 2009 by the Recovery Act, which saved thousands of jobs that would have otherwise been eliminated. Those funds have since been exhausted, and the public sector is back to making severe layoffs.

This is what David Leonhardt recently described as “an unforced economic error” — with all of the problems we can’t control, this is one problem we know exactly how to prevent. We just choose not to, thanks to the Republicans’ ideology.

Indeed, it’s important to remember that these job losses are, in the eyes of Republicans, a positive development. Under the GOP economic model, the public sector is supposed to lose jobs, and as part of the party’s austerity agenda, this is a problem that must get worse on purpose.

Earlier this year, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about his spending-cut plans and the fact that the cuts would force thousands of public-sector workers from their jobs. “So be it,” the Republican said.

In other words, deliberately making unemployment worse wasn’t seen as a problem. This is a feature of the GOP model, not a bug.

State and local governments can’t run large deficits, so they’re forced to balance their budgets by laying off teachers, police officers, firefighters, etc. Those laid off workers, in turn, rely on unemployment benefits — which Republicans also want to cut — to try to get by, and have no choice but to spend less, thereby hurting the local economies, too.

The job losses, in other words, have a ripple effect. All of this is easily preventable, but our jobs crisis is partly the result of our political crisis.

Congress can choose to spend the money to keep these workers on the job, but it runs counter to Republican philosophy, and therefore doesn’t happen.

These identical Republicans then complain bitterly when unemployment gets worse, and blames Democrats for the job losses the GOP chose not to prevent. Worse, Republicans then try to persuade the public that “out-of-control spending” is to blame for the weak economy.

It’s quite a feedback loop.