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The Conintern

The Right Is Now Saying Biden’s Creating the Wrong Jobs

There are Democratic jobs and Republican jobs, apparently, and guess which are growing faster.

Biden at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner
Bonnie Cash/UPI/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Biden at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last month

The Biden economy is in excellent shape, and that’s a problem for what my onetime boss Jacob Weisberg wittily labeled the Conintern. “Conintern” is a play on “Comintern,” the Soviet organization that imposed the international Communist Party line through the 1920s and 1930s. Today’s Conintern is the network of politicians and journalists who impose the Republican Party line, and lately it has taken to arguing that although the Biden economy is creating jobs, they’re the wrong kind of jobs. This is every bit as idiotic as it sounds.

In a way, it’s kind of encouraging that the Conintern finds it necessary to knock the Biden economy. It suggests that the GOP anticipates the public, sometime before Election Day, will catch on to the fact that the president has done a first-rate job managing the economy. From their lips to God’s ears! 

There’s almost no sign of that happening today. Gallup reported on May 6 that only 38 percent of the public has confidence in Biden’s management of the economy. The best you can say is that’s higher than last year, when only 35 percent had confidence in Biden’s management of the economy. Still, a 38 percent confidence rating is really, really low; in the twenty-first century, only President George W. Bush scored lower on the economy than Biden (34 percent), and that was in 2008, when Bush went all deer-in-the-headlights over the subprime-mortgage-driven financial crisis that cratered the economy. 

Today’s economy, by contrast, is in excellent shape. Unemployment is stable at 3.9 percent, with 175,000 jobs created in April. That’s down from the previous month, but “still a very positive number for this stage in the business cycle,” according to my guru on such matters, Georgetown economist Harry Holzer. Inflation, which has got everybody upset, is only slightly elevated at 3.5 percent (or 2.7 percent if you go by the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure). The Fed wants inflation down to 2 percent, but, as I’ve noted elsewhere, 2 percent is an arbitrary target that New Zealand’s finance minister pulled out of his ass during a television appearance in 1988. Even inflation hawk Larry Summers thinks 3 percent inflation would be just fine. Wage growth continues to outpace the consumer price index, but not so quickly that there’s much danger the Fed will raise interest rates further. And as Holzer notes, productivity growth is a robust 2.9 percent, outpacing growth in unit labor costs and thereby preventing recent wage increases from translating into inflation.

The Conintern apparently fears all this good news won’t remain secret forever, which is lovely to hear. And so it has invented the Wrong Jobs meme, which originated in a January 2024 post by Mike “Mish” Shedlock headlined “Government + Social Assistance Accounted for Nearly 60 percent of Job Growth in 2023.” Shedlock is a blogger and investment adviser who, according to his website, writes “typically from an Austrian Economic perspective.” More to the point, Shedlock is affiliated with the California Policy Center, a Koch-funded affiliate of the State Policy Network in Tustin, California. The State Policy Network, according to, is “the policy, communications, and litigation arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council,” which writes right-wing bills for state legislatures.

Shedlock’s blog item began, “The welfare state is booming along with social assistance for illegal immigrants.” By “welfare state” Shedlock meant government jobs, and by “social assistance for illegal immigrants” he meant the Bureau of Labor Statistics job category of “Health Care and Social Assistance.” The latter (according to the BLS) consists primarily of “personal and home care aides,” a cohort of health paraprofessionals who seldom if ever provide services to undocumented immigrants. The second-largest group in this category is childcare workers, for whom the welfare state similarly provides little employment, on behalf of undocumented immigrants or anyone else.

Sometime between January and April, the Wrong Jobs meme migrated (with Lord knows how many stops in between) from Comrade Shedlock to Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina and a Conintern member in good standing. Here’s what Foxx said last week at a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (which Foxx chairs):

The mirage of job growth is … subsidized by gains in the public sector. It hasn’t escaped my notice that over the last two months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment growth in the government sector was second only to growth in the health care sector. In March, the health care sector edged out the government sector by only about 1,000 jobs. In 2023, nearly 25 percent of added jobs were government positions, which inevitably will be paid for by private sector jobs. 

By “health care sector” Foxx meant the BLS’s “Health Care and Social Assistance,” a reasonable elision considering that most of the social assistance jobs, as noted, are for health care aides. But Foxx didn’t bother to clarify that “the government” mostly meant not the federal government, a favorite Conintern whipping boy, but state and local government, and that “state and local government” meant mostly people on the city and county payroll.

Awkwardly, the city and county level is where, conservatives always tell us, government should reside primarily, because it’s closest to the people. Devolution is a sacred small-government principle (except when localities act liberal by, say, passing measures requiring outdoor workers to be given water when the temperature rises above 95 degrees). Foxx’s contemptuous reference to “the government sector” wouldn’t pack the same punch if she said “cities and counties.” And Shedlock’s characterization of government workers as welfare-state functionaries doesn’t really work because county and local governments seldom dispense welfare; that’s almost always a federal and state function.

Let’s walk through the numbers. Total civilian federal employment is two million, which is about as many people as Uncle Sam has employed since World War II. State and local governments, on the other hand, employ about 20 million people. Of that 20 million, 73 percent are on city and county payrolls, with the remaining 27 percent working for state governments. Federal workers, those guv’mint parasites whom right-wingers love to hate, are practically a rounding error. (In dismissing the relevance of federal workers to this discussion, let me make clear that I have high regard for the much-maligned federal worker, as I’ve expressed here, and the much-maligned administrative state, as I’ve expressed here.) 

From Comrade Foxx, the Wrong Jobs meme migrated to The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page on Saturday said:

Government, healthcare and social assistance accounted for about 95,000 of last month’s new jobs. Over the last year these industries have made up nearly 60 percent of the country’s 2.8 million in job growth.… These aren’t bad jobs—any honest work is good work—and often they fulfill a social and market need. But jobs that rely on transfer payments from government aren’t the kind of investment-based jobs that will create new products or productivity gains that add to national wealth.

The Journal’s Wrong Jobs take is a bit more polished than Foxx’s and Shedlock’s. Here we have some recognition that government, health care, and social assistance workers aren’t total cretins. But, the Journal insists, they are all wards of the state, because government workers work directly for the government and health care and social assistance workers work indirectly for the government. To this I must cry foul. According to the Pete G. Peterson Institute, government insurance pays for a 45 percent minority of all health care services. Private insurance pays for another 30 percent, and the remaining quarter gets paid by out-of-pocket spending. 

Delegitimization by the Conintern of government employment is misleading and dumb but not all that surprising; we’ve seen it before. Delegitimization of health care jobs, however, is new and somewhat surprising. Health care constitutes a growing part of the economy, with a majority of its revenue coming from the good ol’ private sector. Improvements in health care mean that people who might otherwise die will live and that people who in earlier times might have been shunted aside can participate in the economy. Had Stephen Hawking been born 50 years earlier, he’d surely have been put away in a sanitarium. Advances in health care allowed him to instead become one of the great mathematicians of his age.  What economic sector does more important work than that? None that I can think of.