The state-employee unions are making much of the fact that their members are out of work. For example, AFSCME laments that state employees have been laid off, and that Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) wants to “wipe out the jobs of 5,000 state workers.”

Begin with the technicality: Not all jobs that are reduced in any restructuring are filled at the time of the restructuring — meaning that a reduction of 5,000 jobs may not mean that 5,000 people lose their jobs. The reduction may come through layoffs, yes, but also through voluntary retirements, buyouts, and not filling vacant positions.

But here’s the more fundamental point: The purpose of the state hiring an employee is to have the person perform a public service–not to hand out a job like it was candy or (worse yet) some form of civil / human right. To make up an absurd (?), example, imagine that at one time Minnesotans decide the state should own and operate live theaters in every city with a population of less than 50,000 people. So the state hires 5,000 actors and puts them on the public payroll. Some years pass and the people decide that government should not, in fact, be in the business of operating live theater. Elected officials fire the 5,000 actors. Do the actors have a case?

We’re in our budget difficulties, in part, because we’ve assigned too many responsibilities to the state, responsibilities that ought to reside in the spheres of private businesses, associations, faith communities, and families.