Brenda Buttner, a senior business correspondent at Fox News, reflected yesterday on the latest jobs report, and made a curious comment when asked about which areas of the economy aren’t faring well.

“Well, government is a little bit losing jobs. That’s something we see as a positive because we want government to lose jobs to get more in line with the private sector.”

This is not an uncommon sentiment on the right. Two months ago, George Will argued it’s “good” that the “public sector happily shrank by 24,000 jobs” in October.

When conservatives, during a jobs crisis, are cheering public-sector layoffs, insisting that thousands of additional unemployed workers is “a positive,” there’s a problem with the state of the debate.

For the left, the economic goals are inherently pragmatic — creating jobs is the top priority. When more Americans are working, they’re not only helping themselves and their family, but they’re boosting the larger economy and helping lower the deficit. For the right, as Buttner reminds us, the economic goals are philosophical — creating jobs is nice, but the real priority is shrinking government. Maybe, conservatives argue, the economy will improve when more teachers, police officers, and firefighters are unemployed and unable to spend and invest.

Reality suggests the right has it backwards, and the severe public-sector job losses are a drag on the economy, effectively serving as a counter-stimulus. David Leonhardt described this a while back as “an unforced economic error” — the federal government can prevent these layoffs, keep these workers on the job, and help the larger economy, but Republicans don’t want to.

With all of the problems we can’t control, this is one problem we know exactly how to prevent, but choose not to, because, as Buttner put it, “we want government to lose jobs,” forcing thousands of public-sector employees into unemployment during a jobs crisis.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.