Obviously, we need teachers, soldiers, police officers, epidemiologists and the other workers the Times mentioned. How many we need and what they should do are political questions.
It's also true that many government activities - basic research, highways, schools - can support the private sector.
I am not making an argument for or against a given size of government; that's another debate. My aim is merely to explain how government employment increases.
- Second: The sharp lines I've drawn between the public and private sectors are, in the real world, blurred.
Most businesses and industries are shaped by government's tax, spending and regulatory policies.
Some industries - defense and health care, to name two - depend heavily on government spending and regulations, for good or ill. Industries that rely heavily on government contracts often resemble public agencies as much as private enterprises.
But these murky realities do not alter the broad differences in job creation.
- And third: There is one glaring exception to the logic I've outlined.
When the economy is in a deep slump, government can - in theory - increase hiring by borrowing and spending when consumers and businesses are retrenching.
If the Times had confined its argument about government job creation to this possibility, it would have been on more solid ground.
Note, however, that economists fiercely debate how much government "stimulus" succeeds in practice.
If stimulus programs inspire offsetting private-sector behavior - suppose consumers and companies react to larger government budget deficits by increasing their saving - then employment gains would be muted.
I don't intend to settle this debate either.
Understanding job creation has policy implications.
If the private sector is the main source of jobs, then the incentives, disincentives and the general climate for firms to expand do matter.
In its editorial, the Times opposed government "austerity" because the economy remains weak.
That's a legitimately debatable policy - see my third caveat above - but it doesn't make government a permanent job creator.
There's a flat-earth quality to the Times' argument. If government seems to create jobs, it must.
We need to move beyond this primitive view.