We finally watched one of those Bloggingheads things available at the Times. Megan McArdle of The Atlantic argues that jobs created by the stimulus are “like the [New Deal’s] WPA… they’re just make-work jobs… people get a check from the government now for unemployment. Are they employed?” Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Poilicy Research explains that people who are “paid by the government to do things” are employed. “Then,” says McArdle, “we could lower unemployment right now by telling everyone who’s on unemployment to go out and, like, water their lawns and call that employment and pay them.”
Baker insists that “over ten percent of our workforce is normally employed by the government,” and asks if schoolteachers and firefighters are really unemployed. McArdle counters that “We know that the WPA, for example, was created in order to provide jobs and not to do the work.” Baker says the WPA built roads, etc. “That’s not the point,” says McArdle. “The government taxed people to pay other people to do something they called work.” Baker continues to insist that government employees are employed. “Are you denying,” accuses McArdle, “that the WPA was created for the express purpose of providing jobs to unemployed people?” Baker admits as much, but says the WPA also did useful work. “Then why don’t we still have it?” asks McArdle. You may read the rest of her argument here.