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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press George Will Makes It Up to Go After Public Sector Workers

George Will Makes It Up to Go After Public Sector Workers

Thursday, 26 April 2012 10:53

Okay, I know that picking on George Will might seem like cheap fun, but as an oped columnist for the Washington Post we are supposed to take him seriously. Today Will is beating up on states that don't follow his pro-rich prescriptions focusing on California and my home state of Illinois.

Let me start with my favorite Will line:

"From September through December 2008, the premium that investors demanded before they would buy California debt rather than U.S. Treasurys jumped from 24 to 271 basis points (100 points equals 1 percent). The bond market, the only remaining reality check for state politicians, must be allowed to work."

Okay, boys and girls, can anyone think of anything that might have affected spreads in the bond market in the fall of 2008? (Hint: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson were running around screaming that the world was about to end.)

That's right, we had the collapse of Lehman Brothers and a financial freeze-up. The yield on anything that wasn't U.S. Treasury bonds soared in this period. In other words, Will's statement here means absolutely nothing -- but it is good enough for the Washington Post editorial page.

As far as the Illinois bashing, Will tells us that:

"The Illinois Policy Institute, a limited-government think tank, in a report cheekily titled “Another $54 Billion!?” argues that in addition to the $83 billion in pension underfunding the state acknowledges, there is $54 billion in unfunded retiree health liabilities over the next 30 years."

Hmmm, $83 billion in unfunded liabilities? That sounds scaaaary. If the oped page imposed any standards on its writers it might have asked Will to express this number as a share of state income over this period, since no one (I mean no one) has any clue how large an expenditure $83 billion is for Illinois over the next 30 years. The answer is that it would be equal to around 0.7 percent of the state's projected income over this period. That is not trivial, but not exactly the sort of expenditure that implies the immiseration of the population. 

Projections of health care costs are highly uncertain. The one thing that we can say is that if protectionists like Will didn't have such control over policy, we could save an incredible amount of money by purchasing more of our health care from the more efficient systems in other countries. The private health care system is a cesspool of waste and corruption. This raises costs for everyone, including public sector employers.

Will also tells us that it is unrealistic for Illinois to expect any segment of its pension fund investments to produce 8.5 percent yields. Obviously arithmetic was never Will's strong suit.

Finally Will tells us:

"Illinois’ unemployment rate increased faster than any other state’s in 2011."

That's interesting. Let's compare employment growth in Illinois in 2011 to employment growth in neighboring Wisconsin, which is run by a right-wing favorite: public sector union busting Scott Walker. Since January of 2011 Illinois has created 47,400 jobs, an increase in employment of a bit more than 0.8 percent. That's not great, but not awful either.

ill-unemployment-4-2012Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.


By contrast, Wisconsin lost 14,200 jobs over this period, or neary 0.5 percent of total employment.


 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If the unemployment rate rose more in this period in Illinois than in Wisconsin than presumably it is because people in Illinois were out looking for work because the state was creating new jobs. By contrast, in Wisconsin workers probably gave up looking, knowing that there were no jobs available.

But the really fun part of the story is that Will had to be careful to specify that he was only talking about the unemployment rate in 2011. The reason is that Illinois' unemployment rate has fallen by 0.9 percentage points since December of 2011 and is now 0.6 percentage points below its January 2011 level. Including this fact would be the honest thing to do, but hey, this is George Will and the Washington Post oped page.


  Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Comments (8)Add Comment
george will bitter old man
written by mel in oregon, April 26, 2012 12:04
you have to remember that when george was young he wasn't allowed to partake of the sex, drugs & rock n roll of the 60s. he had to go to church 6 days a week & he was president of the young republican's club. he has managed to do very well for himself as a columnist & television talking head for all things that take money from the 99% & move it to the 1%. but as he enjoys his escargo & lobster, he secretly thinks, "i'd trade all this for the life of the old hippy living in a trailer, who has enjoyed life from his childhood through old age." poor old rich george, he's so mad he could spit nails.
written by S.D. Jeffries, April 26, 2012 1:23
George Will may be paid for his opinions, but his opinions amount to nothing more than propaganda. Trouble is, they're not labeled as such.
"we could save an incredible amount of money by purchasing more of our health care from the more efficient systems"
written by diesel, April 26, 2012 1:25
Either that or the state could use tax payer money to quietly purchase shares in all the health care services, insurances etc. and let the inflated profits flow back into the general fund. Of course this would require operating through an anonymous account in the Cayman Islands (otherwise it would be socialism), but as they say, "What's good for the goose....
WE always get a double dose of ol' George
written by jumpinjezabel, April 26, 2012 2:46
Here is Joplin, Tornado Capital of the World, we get to see Georgie Boy on the TeeVee Sunday AND an editorial in the Sunday editorial section of our local paper that has as it's mission - keeping the populace uninformed with such unrebutted tripe as well as "Swill from Sewell" another tankthinker/stinker. They never fact check anything and let outright lies, slander and distortions go unremittantly out to their readers.
written by Floccina, April 26, 2012 3:12
Will also tells us that it is unrealistic for Illinois to expect any segment of its pension fund investments to produce 8.5 percent yields.

What do you mean by "any segment of its pension fund"?

8.5% seems like too high a return to expect.
written by Chris, April 26, 2012 3:21
Will coasted for years as a brainy pundit on the basis of his authoritative, know-it-all arrogance of manner. But as people have paid closer attention to what he says, rather than how he says it, his reputation has collapsed. This is another little nail in its coffin.
written by Eric 377, April 27, 2012 12:07
Dean, forget Will and just tell us whether or not you understand CA and IL state finances to be in reasonably good shape or not.
written by Lenny Goldberg, April 30, 2012 1:29
Nice point about CA's bond rating in 2008, but beyond that the reason that CA's bond rating is relatively low is not our level of debt (moderate), not our failure to pay on bonds (never happened, never will), nor our state's wealth to be able to pay off bonds (obviously sufficient). It's the constitutional knots California is tied up in, particularly the great difficulty in raising taxes in any form, that the ratings agencies point to. Perhaps Will and other California attackers will take note.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.