Is Hiring More IRS Employees 'Job Creation'?

The latest "flash point" in the debate over health care reform is whether the United States government will have to add thousands of IRS employees to its ranks to keep up with the individual mandate and new responsibilities.

"There are going to be tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, before this is all over," Sen. Jim DeMint tells POLITICO. "We are going to be looking for the real truth of what this means. Just on something as simple as having 16,000 IRS agents chasing them around, that is going to open a lot of eyes." Slate's Chris Beam makes an interesting point: even if the 16,000 number is true, why isn't that job creation?

It is. Ideally the road out of double digit unemployment does not lead through permanent expansion of government ranks at the expense of private sector jobs. But DeMint's critique is indeed strange in light of the fact that just last week, Republicans were fighting for the US government to spare the jobs of thousands of federally subsidized workers in the student lending industry. To make a long story short, the feds used to guarantee up to 97% of banks losses on student loans to encourage them to offer low rates to students without credit or collateral. This week Obama signed a law that made explicit the government's formerly implicit backing of student loans for the purpose of saving billions of dollars a year. Republicans said the bill was "just another way that Democrats are killing jobs." Rep. Dan Burton predicted that "the bill signed today will kill a lot of those jobs."

Now consider the parallel. IRS workers are government bureaucrats performing the (pretty necessary!) task of making Americans comply with federal tax law. Private student lenders are superfluous federally subsidized bureaucrats who occasionally facilitate the exploitation of student borrowers. Hiring more of the first is the dangerous expansion of government. Decreasing the latter is "killing jobs." Well, OK.

The broader question here is, do we want to use government spending to subsidize employment with joblessness near to 10 percent? Maybe. If so, what kind of jobs do we want the government to support?