We're living in an age of unprecedented austerity.
Now, that sounds impossible to conservatives who know, just know, that government has exploded under Obama's socialist watch. And that we have trillion dollar deficits—dun, dun, dun—as far as the eye can see. But I have some good news for them (though not the economy). They're wrong. Government employment has actually fallen under Obama, and the deficit is falling fast too.
As Ben Bernanke put it, "people don't appreciate how tight fiscal policy has been." And how much that's knee-capped the economy. Take jobs. Bernanke points out that total public sector employment—local, state, and federal—has fallen by over 600,000 during the recovery alone. As point of comparison, it rose by 400,000 during the previous one.
But even this million person job swing doesn't tell us how historic austerity has been this time. You have to look at the chart below to see that. It shows government job growth during every recovery on record, going back to 1945. This is the least there's ever been.
How is it possible that government added more jobs after World War II demobilization than now? Or after the 1980 recession, which was followed by another recession a year later? Well, it's what Paul Krugman calls the 50 Herbert Hoovers effect. See, state governments are required to (mostly) run balanced budgets, even during a recession. That's usually not too much of a problem as long as the slump is quick or shallow.