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A public policy blog from AEI
On “This Week with George Stephanopolous” yesterday, Senator Rand Paul and Professor Paul Krugman got into a quick argument about the size of government under President Obama.
Here is ABC’s transcript:
Mr. Paul: … understand is you are arguing that the government sector is struggling. Are you arguing that there are fewer government employees under Obama than they were under Bush?
Mr. Krugman: That’s a fact.
Mr. Paul: No, the size of both — of government is enormous under President Obama.
Mr. Krugman: If government employment had grown as fast under Obama as it did under Bush, we would have a million-and-a-half more people employed right now, directly.
Mr. Paul: Are there less people employed or more people employed now by government?
Here’s the video:
So what are the facts? It depends on whether you’re looking at the federal workforce or the total government workforce.
The number of federal employees has risen under President Obama. There were 2,790,000 federal workers in January 2009 when the president took office, and now there are 2,804,000 workers. The fact is that there is no month during President Obama’s term when the federal workforce was smaller than it was in the first month of Mr. Obama’s presidency. The president took over in January 2009. Every month after January 2009 has seen more federal workers than were employed in January 2009.
Moreover, there are more federal workers under President Obama than there were under President Bush. This is clear from the chart below.
That huge spike is temporary Census hiring. Under any president, the 2010 Census would have produced a massive temporary uptick in federal workers. But that doesn’t explain the other months.
In only one month of Mr. Bush’s presidency was the federal workforce larger than it was during the month of Mr. Obama’s presidency when the federal workforce was at its smallest. With the exception of that one month, Mr. Obama’s minimum is larger than Mr. Bush’s maximum.
On the other hand, total government employment — federal plus state and local — has fallen significantly under President Obama after rising significantly under President Bush. Here’s the picture:
It’s important not to understate the federal government’s role in the size of state and local governments. The stimulus gave tens of billions of federal dollars to the states in order to prevent cutbacks in the number of state and local workers, and many, including Professor Krugman, argue that that wasn’t enough.
So those are the facts. What to make of them?
I think Senator Paul is overstating his case by using the word “enormous” to describe either the growth of the federal workforce under President Obama or the size of the federal workforce under President Obama relative to President Bush. (It’s unclear which the senator was arguing.) And, of course, if the senator was referring to total government employment and not just federal, then clearly he was wrong.
But the senator is right that there are more federal workers under President Obama than under President Bush, and that there are more federal workers today than there were on the day Mr. Obama was sworn in as president.
Given the ambiguity over whether the senator was referring to total or federal workers, Professor Krugman, who was clearly referring to total government employment, is being a little hard on the senator on his blog when he writes: “[I]t’s clear that [Senator] Paul was completely shocked at the notion that government employment had fallen under Obama, rather than soaring.”
Professor Krugman goes on to describe how the “hermetic world of movement conservative” is populated with “a zombie lie” based on a combination of a misunderstanding of the nature of temporary Census hiring and the fact that “nobody in that business ever admits having been wrong,” which results in Senator Paul, who “evidently” hasn’t “ever read or listened to an analysis from nonpartisan sources,” believing that “a big-government surge” has taken place under President Obama, instead of understanding that in reality a “zombie” ate his brain.
Maybe Professor Krugman is correct that Senator Paul lives in a hermetic world where lies are considered truths. Or maybe Senator Paul was referring to the federal workforce, and not the total government workforce. I haven’t seen any zombies walking the streets lately, so I’m leaning against accepting Professor Krugman’s explanation.
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