Government Jobs and Broken Windows

By: Colin Combs

Rep. Joe Garcia (D – Fla.) has recently come under fire for his comment that “we’ve proved that Communism works.”

The relevant quote from the video is here:

So the… safest city in America is El Paso, Texas. It happens to be across the border from the most dangerous city in the Americas, which is Juarez, right? And two of the safest cities in America, two of them are on the border with Mexico. And of course, the reason is that we’ve proved that Communism works. If you give everybody a good government job, there’s no crime.

He later retracted that statement saying that it “is an absurdity, accusing the son of Cuban immigrants of believing in Communism is just ridiculous.”  Granting him the benefit of the doubt, this poorly worded statement does appear to be more of an off-hand hyperbole rather than a direct endorsement of totalitarianism. But it still clearly shows that he wants to endorse big government, even if it is not quite a totalitarian government. He is of the opinion that if the government were to simply bestow jobs on people to end unemployment, crime would be eliminated.

There are several errors with this reasoning, but the biggest and most troubling error is in believing that the government can simply create jobs from thin air. He has fallen victim to one of the classic fallacies debunked by Frederic Bastiat’s famous “broken window” parable, the fallacy being one of the most basic and persistent of economic errors.

What he sees is the State creating public work programs, which indeed gives jobs to certain laborers. What he does not see is the people the State has deprived of work because of their interference, and that is where the heart of this error lies. Just like people see the jobs created when a shop owner has to replace a broken window and not the jobs that would have been created had the shopkeeper not have had to divert resources to the fixing the broken window.

When the state decides it wants to end unemployment by “giving everybody a good government job,” it forgets these basic facts about why we have employment in the first place: to produce things. The state has lost the focuses of serving the consumer, and instead makes its goal to pay people to do… something. What that thing happens to be is suddenly of little importance so long as it can list these people as “employed.” And how does the State get the money to pay for these jobs? By taxing the people who produce things consumers actually want, destroying their jobs instead! The state has merely robbed Peter to pay Paul, and thus only “creates” jobs at the expense of others that consumers had deemed more useful.

Garcia has confused an act of destruction for an act of creation, just as in Bastiat’s parable people believe that destroying windows will save their economy because it provided employment for the glazier. True economic prosperity and harmony, as always, occur in liberty and not in the State.

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