Government Spending

Public Sector Drives Deep Into The Night

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Michael Barone writing in the Washington Examiner:

Private-sector employment peaked at 115.8 million in December 2007, when the recession officially began. It was down to 108.5 million last November. That's a 6 percent decline.

Public-sector employment peaked at 22.6 million in August 2008. It fell a bit in 2009, then has rebounded back to 22.5 million in November. That's less than a 1 percent decline.

This is not an accident; it is the result of deliberate public policy. About one-third of the $787 billion stimulus package passed in February 2009 was directed at state and local governments, which have been facing declining revenues and are, mostly, required to balance their budgets.

Barone goes on to note the union connection in this outcome. Specifically, that public-sector workers tend to be unionized. And heavy supporters of Democrats.

More food for thought:

As for the argument that maintaining government payrolls pumps money into the private-sector economy—well, where does that government money come from? From private-sector employees and employers or from those who buy government bonds and who must be repaid by government in the future….

Democrats have been surprised that so many downscale voters oppose their big spending programs. Maybe many of those voters have noticed how much of that spending has gone to public-sector union members, leaving the rest of America with a less than happy new year.

Whole col here.

There is a looming showdown in American society between public-sector employees and the rest of us, in terms of job security and, especially, unsustainable gold-plated retirement and health benefits that are working hard to bankrupt whole states such as California, New York, and New Jersey. As with some parts of the private sector (domestically owned auto companies, for instance), basic compensation packages were hammered into place in a very different America, and conferred massive future benefits when politicians were either too stupid or too cowardly to confront basic questions of fiscal responsibility. Do you want to spend your life (and have your kids spend their lives) to pay ever-increasing taxes for teacher, cop, and bureaurat retirements at early ages? Especially while you're expected to fully fund your own? This is a social contract that needs to be redrawn ASAP.

A must-read on the topic: The current issue of Reason, on newsstands now, featuring a cover story on just "how public servants became our masters."

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121 responses to “Public Sector Drives Deep Into The Night

  1. What we need is for some enterprising journalist with think tank connections – a Reason editor, maybe? – to gather the data points we would need to compare:

    1. The increased costs a state like California would face raising money following a bankruptcy filing

    and

    2. The amount a state like California would save if it filed bankruptcy and dumped or wrote down its retiree obligations.

    It’s pretty simple math if you have the data.

    People act like a state bankruptcy would be an unthinkable disaster, but at some point the accumulated obligations of some states will simply no longer be a solvable problem. Once we pass that point, a bankruptcy would actually be beneficial.

    1. States cannot file for bankruptcy genius.

  2. Locally, transit workers, cops and teachers (all organized) have won pay increases lately for more than the inflation index. Yet most private sector workers have been under pay freezes or cuts, or worse, for a year or more. One hopes the LP is tracking those politicians responsible for giving in to the unions and that enough voters remember in the next few election cycles to toss out the miscreants. One hopes that LP candidates run on a platform that permits local governments to offer contracts that don’t allow public sector employees to strike. (They can, of course, quit anytime they are disatisfied with their comp package.)

    1. They are tracking them – here are a couple lists (federal level only – not complete – I was limited to two links)):
      http://www.house.gov/
      http://www.senate.gov/

    2. Why take away the right to strike? Is this such a dire situation that extreme measures such as these are necessary, to fundamrntally change the labor relations in this nation? I will not support the current system of unions, but I will never support the curtailing of the right of collective bargaining. The rights of the individual must be protected against the oppression of those with the power to do so, and the individual’s power comes from our ability, but not our necessity, to act collectively toward shared goals. As individuals we are all too easy to “divide and conquer.”

  3. What’s a newsstand?

  4. I was arguing with some lefties about this and the moment one of them tried to claim, in all seriousness, that public-sector workers are more skilled than private-sector workers and therefore deserve the higher average salaries and much higher benefits, I too thought “looming showdown in American society”.

    1. That’s so obviously nonsense that I’m surprised you weren’t injured by the doubletake.

    2. I had one try the “there are no federal burger flippers” argument also. Because nobody sorts mail, paperwork, etc.

      1. The idea that private-sector jobs are less worthy of respect than public ones isn’t a new meme, Johnny. Couple that with the union-is-better mentality, means a lot of people looking down their noses at the modern American peasantry.

      2. No, most of these low-skill jobs are done by contractors, not employees, at least in the federal government.

        1. I’m not talking low-skill jobs, I’m talking about union and federal employees looking down their noses at the rest of us.

    3. Why is this non-sense? I think that if you compare the average federal employee’s educational and professional credentials against the average private sector employee’s educational and professional credentials, the federal employee’s would probably be better. The government has contracted out for most low-skill jobs like cleaning, mowing grass, cooking, drivers, construction, etc. What’s left is largely professionals like lawyers, accountants, scientists, engineers, etc. In the private sector, there are still a ton of people who do those low-skill jobs and they pull the average wages down.

      1. What’s left is largely professionals like lawyers, accountants, scientists, engineers, etc.

        Joke. You seriously think the guys behind the counter at the SSA have advanced degrees? Or are subcontractors?

        Dude, the very fact that there are large public-sector unions necessitates the fact that they are NOT largely subcontractors. Only the lowliest of the low might be subcontracted out. If they were all subcontractors, there wouldn’t BE large public sector unions.

        Moreover, how many unionized lawyers, scientists and engineers do you know?

        Your statement is patently absurd, on the face of it.

        1. I find it incredible that anyone thinks our actual “best and brightest” are in government. I suppose that’s true for people who blow other people up and some other things the government has, more or less, a monopoly on, but as a general rule? No friggin’ way. I say this as someone who has worked at the EOP, for a state government, and as a consultant with various state and federal agencies.

          Despite the great benefits, don’t forget that the private sector pays lots more than the government does, as a rule.

          1. True enough. I’ll concede the quality of lawyers, scientist, engineers and other professionals who work for the government is, on average, less than those in the private sector.

        2. Ok, if you say its patently absurd on the face of it, it must be so. But I actually have worked in the government and actually know about the composition of the workforce.

          1. Right, one government job gives you comprehensive knoweldge of the composition of all 2M workers.

            1. Check out this website if you want some stats: http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs041.htm
              67% of federal employees are classified as management, business, and financial or professional compared to 30% across the economy as a whole.

              1. I know a person who works at HUD (as an accountant). She is involved in the hiring process and says that ex-military will ALWAYS be hired over non-ex-military if they meet even the most basic qualifications for the job due to score adjustments for vets. That does not indicate that they’re hiring the best and the brightest.

                1. >>ex-military will ALWAYS be hired over non-ex-military if they meet even the most basic qualifications for the job due to score adjustments for vets

                2. David, ex-military ARE our best. And usually, our brightest. No one with any actual experience would think otherwise. If all I knew about a potential employee was whether or not he was ex-military, I’d go with the military guy, and be making the right choice most of time.

                  Adam, your concession about the difference in quality of federal professionals compared to their private counterparts is wrong, at least as far as lawyers are concerned. I have 37 years of experience with lawyers inside & outside the government. There isn’t any difference in quality. Excellence and incompetence, inside & outside. The difference is just in pay – the excellent government lawyer is underpaid, while the incompetent one is overpaid. In the private sector, it’s the other way around. The excellent lawyer is way overpaid, while the incompetent earns a marginal living screwing up his client’s lawsuits.

                  1. “David, ex-military ARE our best. And usually, our brightest.” [citation needed]

        3. And if you want stats on contractors versus employees, check out Paul Light’s books. Total federal employment is about 2M, federal contractor employment is about 10M. A lot of the people you run into at various government agencies are not actually employees, no matter what you may think.

          1. Sounds like a scam to me.

          2. Federal contractor employment includes all the defense and NASA subcontractors. That’s cheating.

            When the government buys a new shipment of tanks or a space shuttle, nobody expects them to be produced by federal employees. And obviously a lot of scientists and engineers are employed in the defense industry.

            If you include the entire “military industrial complex” in the “contractor” category, of course it’s going to skew the numbers. but that’s not what people are talking about when they are talking about public sector employees and public-sector unions.

            1. So when people talk about public sector employment, they are excluding the entire Department of Defense, the single biggest employer of civilian employees and contractors in the entire government? Huh?

              1. Well, you’re basically taking one very large data point, defense contracting, and using it to argue that most public sector employment is subcontracted, so therefore the only people left must be super-elite “really smart people”.

                Which is absurd. The data you’re pointing at is skewed by this huge number of people who work in the defense industry. It’s not janitors and clerks that make up that 80%. It’s everyone who works for Boeing, Northrum Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, etc. etc. The entire fucking “military industrial complex”.
                Heck a lot of people working for those companies are scientists and engineers. So I could very well argue that the US government keeps it’s clerks on the payroll and subcontracts out the brains.

                That’s certainly how NASA works. The NASA employees are NOT the people doing the engineering work on the shuttle program or the space station. They are managers and accountants.

        4. “Moreover, how many unionized lawyers, scientists and engineers do you know?”

          Plenty. If they’re federal employees, they can join the unions just like other employees, except for a few conflict of interest rules for certain lawyers who practice employment law.

          1. Really? You personally know “plenty” of unionized engineers, lawyers and scientists. Sure you do.

            1. I live in DC and have worked for the government. Most people in the various agencies I’ve worked for belonged to a union. I belonged to one myself at one time. Why is that surprising?

              1. you didn’t mention the huge number of which were lawyers, scientists and engineers. And I mean working as one, not someone with a science degree working as a clerk.

      2. In Massachusetts a state senator passed a law preventing subcontracting. Everyone is a state employee and working for a favored union. Typically at a higher salary than in the private sector.

      3. Adam: You are confusing credentials with productivity. Out here in the private sector, where I run my company, I don’t care much about the credentials of my employees any more, having found that a college degree no longer means much. Instead, I concentrate on whether the applicant can do the job, and if so, I keep them and pay them well.

      4. So the educational credentials of the little post office man who couldn’t calculate the postage and the change on my two pound book yesterday were better than mine or the average customer ? He tried to give me change for a twenty after I gave him the exact change of $3.16. Maybe I should have taken it as it will be the only benefit I would have gotten this year.

      5. Adam,

        I worked for DuPont for 21 years and I’m willing to bet that the average level of education and IQ of the 800 people at my site were higher than equivalent figures in your gov’t department.

        The reason why Defense and the USPS are not generally included in figures of federal employees when critics of entitled and privileged folks like yourself sucking at the taxpayers’ tit discuss the matter, is that those two governmental functions are fundamental and required in the Constitution. Your own department could most likely disappear tomorrow and Americans wouldn’t be harmed.

        Any time someone dares to criticize the fat and lazy federal workforce, guys like Dave pop up to show us how grateful we are that such smart and talented folks like himself are willing to sacrifice and earn higher than average salaries and gold plated benefit plans in order to “serve” the public.

        Sheesh.

        Talk to public employees. They’re selfish and arrogant. Forget folks on welfare and other “entitlement” programs. The most entitled acting people I ever meet are government workers.

        They always have an excuse for their agencies’ failures and it’s never the employees’ fault. They genuinely believe that the average gov’t worker is more conscientious than the average private sector worker. Considering that the average private sector worker will lose their job if their firm is unsuccessful and there is no similar accountability for folks like Dave and their agencies, that, too, is a hoot.

        The average federal civilian non-USPS employee makes about $70K/yr with a benefit package that about doubles the value of the total compensation. They have benefits that are simply not available in the private sector.

        How many private sector employees have a black letter benefit that allows their boss to give them a 25% raise if they get a better job offer?

        The GS pay grade system provides for “merit” in-grade pay increases. Statutorily these are supposed to be based on merit. Out of nearly 2 million employees, only 400 didn’t get their “merit” raise.

        In summation, Dave, tell it to the Marines. They don’t get paid nearly as well as you do, they don’t get nearly as generous benefits and pensions as you do, and unlike yourself, they actually do a vital job that Americans need.

    4. Let’s concede that the “best and the brightest” are government workers. Now how does that make things any better?

    5. It seems to me that if you run into someone who is in their fifties and retired on a comfortable pension that it is a virtual certainty that he was a government worker. My neighbor in the Bay Area may be listed among them. I was listening to Ric Edelman on the radio, and a caller from Boston was asking about retirement advice was also in his 50s with a 110k$ pension from the Feds with 1.6M$ in investments.

      I, on the other hand, fully expect to be working until I’m 70 – which fortunately I should be able to do given my line of work (applied mathematics/engineering).

  5. Do you want to spend your life (and have your kids spend their lives) to pay ever-increasing taxes for teacher, cop, and bureaurat retirements at early ages?

    Two thoughts:

    (1) Nothing grinds my gears more than the thought that I will be working full-time, and paying, all in, half my income, to fund phat retirements for public sector types that are my age or younger.

    (2) Sweet RC’z Law.

    1. Bureaurats carry the plague, don’t they?

      1. No, they carry the plaque. It doesn’t kill you outright, but it clogs up almost every possible economic artery with very little effort. Every day is stroke day.

        How do they do it? Volume. Gummint is most efficient with their inefficiency.

        How do we get the public-sector equivilent to nutritional labeling for its efforts?

  6. Oddly, my latest book on tape (Children of Dune–I’m in a rare mood for listening to fiction during my commute) included a quote that addresses this point:

    Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class?whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy.

    – Politics as Repeat Phenomenon: Bene Gesserit Training Manual

    1. Pro L,

      That is a fantastic quote. ++1

      1. Those Bene Gesserit sure know their politics, don’t they?

        I think that’s an interesting statement, coming from Herbert. I’m pretty sure he was more on the left side of the political spectrum. Which goes to show that there was a time even they distrusted government on general principles.

  7. This is a social contract that needs to be redrawn ASAP.

    How about if public sector employees were to be hired under the condition that, given an X% “unemployment rate” in the private sector, the probability of their being let go is X%?

  8. There won’t be any “showdown.” There probably won’t even be a show.

    Too many of “the rest of us” work as de facto law enforcement, as navigators of law and regulation, in black or pseudo-markets created by law, or, in the press and academia, as outright idolaters of and beggars to government.

    At best, “the government” will just fail, Soviet-style, and be replaced by…itself, with all its holdings, a blank balance sheet, and fresh mobster verve. At worst, it’ll do that after some, uh, newsreel material.

  9. There’s a Roger and Me-like movie that could be made on this subject with guys like the $498,000 a year retired California fire chief and the $90,000 a year Randall Hinton in New York who just sits in a room to all the joes pounding away on the internet for more taxes to eat.

    If you work for the government, you should make less money than in the private sector.

  10. I stopped taking the local paper fir the first time ever because they printed a letter to the editor from a state worker worrying that a new merit system might make some workers only get a three percent raise instead of the usual six percent.

    1. And that was the first idiotic letter your local paper ever printed?
      That’s quite a record.
      I think I’ll stop reading H&R because they allow Chad to comment.

      1. If you really want a reason to cancel a newspaper subscription, consider what the last remaining columnist at my newspaper wrote yesterday:

        Things I Loved About 2009
        — City Income Tax Passage
        Voters commit an act of generosity during a difficult year. This is a bighearted town.

        That made me consider canceling my subscription — and I WORK at the place.

        1. Mr. CN,

          In Columbus, as you are no doubt aware, roughly 55% of the city income tax is paid by people who reside outside the city limits. These people are forced to pay Columbus income tax – but they have no vote in any Columbus tax increase.

          1. Yes, bend, I am painfully and personally aware of that particular fact.

          2. That used to drive me nuts when I lived outside of Columbus (Worthington/Dublin).

            1. What the hell is up with Columbus and libertarians? (I say this as a fellow Dublin/Columbus resident).

              1. I was only there temporarily–first job out of law school at Ohio State. I’d never been there before and haven’t been back. What’s the point?

              2. Anon,

                I’ve noticed that also. It seems that more posters on this blog have some sort of relationship with Columbus, Ohio then any other city. (Columbus, Galena). Off the top of my head – TAO, Pro L, Citizen, Bendover

                1. I reject any association with Ohio. I’m a Floridian.

                  On Urkobold, the posters are primarily from Illinois and Florida. How is that possible?

                  1. Doesn’t The Jacket live in Ohio? I don’t think it’s Columbus.

                    1. Pro L,

                      I think that was “the vest” – he was paying homage to Jim Tressel.

  11. They deserve the extra money because they are our intellectual superiors. Earning more than we do also doesn’t violate the “we sacrifice to go into public service” argument for their moral superiority. Not at all.

    Add to this the ability to carry private arms they’d deny us cattle, and you have the makings of a true ruling class.

  12. How about if public sector employees were to be hired under the condition that, given an X% “unemployment rate” in the private sector, the probability

    Those doing God’s work excepted, of course.

    1. Quote fail. Argh.

    2. No, the House Chaplain would be included.

  13. Thats because its all about MONEY. Profit is the only thing that matters.

    jess
    http://www.invisibility-tools.pl.tc

    1. Testify Spambot! Testify!

  14. This is a social contract that needs to be redrawn ASAP.

    A contract involves two or more parties voluntarily agreeing to something they both feel might be mutually beneficial.

    What the government is doing isn’t a social contract. No one offered me a contract, and said I could decline it and seek a better deal from other willing competitors in the same locale without having to pack up and move somewhere else.

    It’s more akin to a mob shakedown.

  15. If you really want a reason to cancel a newspaper subscription, consider what the last remaining columnist at my newspaper wrote yesterday:

    Things I Loved About 2009
    — City Income Tax Passage
    Voters commit an act of generosity during a difficult year. This is a bighearted town.

    That made me consider canceling my subscription — and I WORK at the place.

    That would have made me consider throwing him off the roof.

    1. “Blockquote” failure.

      grrrrr

    2. It’s only six stories tall, P.B.

  16. mangez le secteur public!!!

  17. Government workers make an obscene amount. If you factor in the retirement, it is absolutely insane. My father makes more retired than he did working, because in NYS, the state doesnt collect income taxes on pensions.

    When i first got out of college, I worked as a proofreader for the legislature. I quit out of prinicipal, but now that I have a kid, and can’t find a descent job, I am thinking of just surrendering and joining the borg.

  18. “When i first got out of college, I worked as a proofreader for the legislature.
    “I quit out of prinicipal,”
    “and can’t find a descent job,”

    Wow, your proofreading is about what I’d expect from a government worker.

    1. You are just upset you aren’t smart enough for government work. Take a test and get a job – can a system be based on merit any more than that?

      1. Watch C-SPAN and tell us how many people in government are actually “smart”.

  19. Nick Gillespie:

    Excellent blog post. No further comment aside from X2 on Fluffy’s #1 post.

  20. in NYS, the state doesnt collect income taxes on pensions

    I almost quit my current job and seriously considered looking for State work. But goddamn it, I chickened out at the last moment. Maybe I was afraid the voters would finally open their eyes and figure out they’ve been giving away the store for all these decades. Nah.

  21. If you work for the government, you are the enemy.

  22. That government employees enjoy the electoral franchise is simply corruption.

  23. It’s all bad – very bad – but I’d rather be in my [semi-independent-]boat than the leaky public pension / public sector boat. They are doomed and will have to continue relying on shaking people down for money. The rest of us can simply come to a complete stop (sort of like John Galt, even if not as heroic).

    1. NYT out of dough, not going to be able to fund pensions –
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12…..mp;emc=rss

      1. You probably meant NYS. But yes, I look forward to the endless run of sky-is-falling stories the NYT will be printing in the coming weeks.

  24. If Gov workers are so better educated, so skilled, so professional, how come they can not manage lawn cutters, janitors and low skilled workers as well as their ‘lower skilled, lower educated’ counterparts?

    Oh! I get it. The same people who can’t manage efficiently lawn cutting and toilet cleaning but can manage public housing,NASA, TSA, public edjamakation, VA hospitals, lousy highways, bridges, water and sewer, our criminally bad criminal justice swamp courts….

    Yeah. Right

  25. My wifes Uncle was a 16 term US Rep. All the worthless cousins and second cousins who couldn’t find or hold a job were able to make career changes and work for the Federal gov’t. Incredibly one can go from being an elementary school teacher to being a manager in the SBA or go from being an associate professor at some rinky dink state college to being an undersecretary at HHS with no training. It’s the friends and family program that really works.

  26. My Dad is a perfect example — he is nearing retirement age (62), his 401k took a giant hit, and he’s worried. But he looks at his parents (dual-income: high school teachers) and his inlaws (single-income, GM factory worker) who all retired at 55 with full and generous pensions, and wonders WTF? Frankly, Granddad has now lived on retirement income longer than he worked; meanwhile Dad’s wondering if he can stay healthy enough to keep working until he’s 70. And Dad has a master’s in engineering.

    Something isn’t right.

    1. State pensions are based on actuarial assumptions that are no longer valid. Federal pensions are more rational, thanks to Reagan. State pensions need to be reformed, but it will take a generation to make it happen.

      Note that BOTH your grandparents worked – it’s not proper to compare them to your Dad alone. What happened with your mother?

      There’s one thing everyone should be aware of – the single most important factor in gaining financial security is to be married.

      Further, what the government provides is security, while the private sector provides opportunity to make a lot of money. The smart people marry, put one spouse to work for the government, and one in the private sector. It’s called hedging your bets.

  27. Just another sign of the decay of this once great nation.

    One of the hallmarks of a third world nation is the pre-eminence of the public sector… every bright boy and girl wants to join the government. That’s where all the best jobs are.

    One of the hallmarks of a dying nation is the pre-eminence of the public sector… that’s where the money, power, and status lie.

    Looks like we are well on our way to joining those waste-of-spaces, the “used to be’s” and the “never was’s”… nations and peoples who’s existence is irrelevant to any possible bright future for humanity.

    Its all part of the rise of the new authoritarianism. The last time it arose, back in the thirties, the power grab was too naked, the iron fist too obvious. This time around, beginning in the sixties, the goosesteppers have been more subtle. Instead of grabbing the reins, they’ve bribed us to turn them over, with promises of paradise on earth… a life free from worry as the government guarantees the basics of life.

    The lazy, the frightened and the shallow thinkers fall for this trade every time. The promise of these new “rights” is just too alluring to resist, and its only later that the folks figure out that these promises are empty, these “rights” are not rights at all, as rights are not dependent upon economic success… if it can’t be delivered fully during an economic collapse, its not a right. Its just a temporary benefit, dispensed from the aristocracy you’ve just created when you surrendered your real birthights for the temporary comfort of a pampered government pet. Its great as long as the money lasts… er, I mean “as long as the credit line lasts”.

    But don’t worry, I’m sure your grandchildren won’t mind living as serfs… their bodies will be warmed and their bellies filled by the stories of how good you had it, way back in the day. Right..? Right..?

    Fools.

    1. I totally agree with your remarks about people in third world countries having incentives to work for government. This is why they remain poor because it’s a cultural meme that they should work for the State. Meanwhile, the U.S.A. and other advance States led people to innovate through the private sectors. Innovation is after all what creates wealth—just look at the internet. While the State is just a self perpetuating Institution.
      The argument, which I have read on other posts, that advance degrees and skill certificates entitle you to a State job is ludicrous. Since jobs should be determine by supply and demand forces. And in a ecological real Capitalist system there is more focus on performance not how many inflated grades or gpa you received at school.
      Sadly, the US bureaucracy is growing bigger and bigger.Both Dems and Reps have a self-interest to raise taxes on the middle class.

      I wonder if there is a a State on this world that does stay out people’s business. Hon Kong, Australia, maybe.

  28. Guys, if you want to slam government workers for making a good wage and having some job security then that’s fine (and even justifiable in certain cases), but all this moronic nonsense about us “looking down our noses” at private sector workers is embarrassing and borders on hysteria. Fact is, the vast majority of us are as concerned about the economy as you are, if for no other reason that we have spouses, children, and other relatives working in private sector jobs. We don’t just abdicate our citizenship and sense of responsibility towards our nation because we chose a federal career over private sector – in my case many years ago when I could have made a lot more working outside government.

    Yes, federal wages are good now, but they are not as good as reported because they really do compare apples and oranges when they do this whole private sector-public sector comparison. (They make no attempt to do a job by job comparison which is the only valid way. They know they are doing it, too, but they just don’t care. It doesn’t make good copy to show that an attorney for DOJ makes less than an attorney for a private firm doing similar work. Doesn’t fit the narrative.)

    I noticed up above that someone stated vets get a job before anyone else despite their qualifications. That is not exactly true. Vet status is factored in, yes, but it is not always the deciding factor. And even if it were true, I imagine all (most?) of you are saying we have the best and brightest in our military so I have to ask what’s wrong with hiring those same people into government? Makes sense to me, but then that’s what I did – move from the Air Force Officer’s Corps to a public sector job.

    Anyway, I know I am just pissing in the wind here in libertarianville. You never met a government anything you liked and you never will.

    1. I detest how government workers like to compare their current job to an imagined private sector counterpart, and then argue that they could perform at the level of the private sector, so they should get similar pay, respect,whatever.

      The delusion goes something like this: “Well, I am an employment law specialist for the Federal center for agricultural statistical data compiliation. We have 10,000 employees! If I left this job to work for a large private law firm (as a partner, of course–no decade long associateship for me!), I would make $500,000! The federal government only has to pay me $95,000 to get the same worker.”

      The other lie they tell is along the lines of “Teachers have BAs. Accountants have BAs. Accountants make $70,000 annually. Therefore teachers should make $70,000 annually.”

      Total. F-cking. B-llshit. That law firm partner (or accountant) has skill sets and “work muscles” the government employee doesn’t even know exist. I worked in a huge bureaucracy, and I also owned my own shop. That bureaucracy was a Fortune 500 company, and fairly well run.

      It was, however, a terrible place to develop work habits and learn how to add value. The incentives are entirely different, and people are not developing anything like the skill sets found in the small business private sector.

      But even that was not as bad as government. I worked for government as a very young man for a time, and the circumstances were even worse there. There were people in government offices who had, to my eyes, literally not worked in years, but just kept showing up and getting a check. Imagine an office where everyone understood–bosses included–that Irma does not do anything, so no one asks her to. She just comes in, and sits at her desk with Christian music playing softly on her clock radio. Every day. I saw that.

      In sum, government workers, do not imagine for a second that your 10 years of government experience translates into a similar skill set developed over 10 years in private industry, let alone 10 years running your own business as a professional. You would be disabused of that very quickly, and very harshly, if you actually leave your cushy, secure job and try and make it in the private sector doing that job you imagine you can.

      But hey, you keep comparing yourself to proven private sector success stories, telling everyone that could be you. Forget that for every success story you point to, there are five failed people who left that field. Surely you would have succeeded had *you* tried, right?

      You also might like to read the “Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

      1. Kidding Me, my experience is otherwise. The main difference between the government and private practice lawyers I’ve known is not quality, nor competence. It is a difference based in their degree of risk aversion.

        1. Degree of risk aversion, or degree of competence at risk management?

          I know competent government lawyers too. They would not last a moment in private practice at their level, however, as that requires a set of skills they never developed.

    2. Rasmussen disagrees, “Government employees are much more bullish about the economy than those who work in the private sector. That’s a big change from the beginning of the year when those on the public payroll were a bit more pessimistic than private sector workers.” I suppose blowing $800 billion of private sector earnings to save government jobs from being right-sized will do that though.

      As for the Columbus group, I’m from Dublin.

  29. TRO

    You’re missing the point.

    The current status, where the public servants are better paid in their worklives, better protected in their job security, and better provided for in their retirement, is inherently unsustainable. It cannot continue indefinitely. There is no economic model where the overhead can continue to grow while the productive elements continue to shrink… and yes, government is overhead, even the necessary parts.

    For a glimpse of the future, look to California, NJ, or NY. The budget crunches they are experiencing are caused by more than the current economic slow down, they are the new normal, created by uncontrolled growth in pensions and benefits. We’re paying more than ever for government, meanwhile roads and bridges are crumbling, classrooms grow more crowded, government offices limit hours of operation and the number of clerks who interact with the public all the while middle management behind the scenes relentlessly bloat.

    All the talk of degrees and job categories is chaff, the bottom line is government workers have gone from less pay/better benefits forty years ago to better pay/better benefits/earlier retirement/health insurance for life today… its an upside-down pyramid, and it will collapse… either all at once, or in a slow entropic grind. They always do.

    1. That’s true, I think, when the economy is contracting. Things change dramatically when the economy is expanding.

      The problem is that we do not restrain government growth when the economy is expanding, thus exacerbating the situation when the economy is contracting.

  30. One reason that there is such a huge imbalance between public and private sector job pay/benefits is that there is NEVER a downward adjustment to the public sector. In the private sector wage, health care and retirement benefits are continually under fire because of the vagaries of private business. The public sector never has to worry about income, (taxes), so the employees never are under any pressure to share the pain. As far as this BS that the best and brightest work for the Gov. all you have to do is look at a subway station in any city to see that pig won’t fly.

    1. Hey, Inspectorudy, you been in a Subway sandwich shop recently? Let’s compare Subway employees and subway employees…

      1. At least at Subway shops, the employees don’t sit at the counter sleeping, like New York’s token booth clerks do.

  31. I don’t call it the public sector I call it the extortion funded sector. When people get paid by extortion rather than customers chosing them they only do what ensures the extortion of others continues (including voting for parties that promise to parasite off peers).

    1. I kind of agree, at least to the extent that we have this crazy idea that public employees should be allowed to strike. Calvin Coolidge was correct – there is no right to strike against the public interest.

  32. The arguments seem to go back and forth over the quality of government employees versus that of the private sector employees and entrepreneurs. The comparison is pointless. The level of competence of government employees is simply a measure of the quantity and complexity of goverment rules and regulations created by government in its insatiable quest for power and control over the ever-dwindling private sector. Given that government only consumes and does not produce, the house of cards will fall when the consumption is no longer sustainable by the productive. The Soviet Union failed when it reached that point and exactly for that reason.

  33. I’m an 11-year state employee getting close to retirement. However, I spent many years in the private sector and can speak from experience. I guess I’m lucky insofar as I’ve been able to diversify my employment history (not always by my choice, I will add in full disclosure 🙂

    However, I do agree that there is a looming showdown, which needs to be made sooner rather than later. Public employees need to be reminded very forcefully that they work for the people, not the other way around.

  34. The budget crunches they are experiencing are caused by more than the current economic slow down, they are the new normal, created by uncontrolled growth in pensions and benefits.

    This is the key point, the one that union workers, NYT reporters, and party-line voters don’t get (or willfully ignore). The neurons leading from “Our ever-growing public workforce deserves ever-growing benefits, because hey, we’re rich” to “zOMG we’re broke!1!” have been short-circuited.

  35. Damn it, you can’t frame it as just “teachers and firemen and cops” against the rest of us That is buying into the bureaucrat’s mentality, where spending cuts always fall first on the most essential employees and services, as punishment for the ungrateful taxpaying serfs.

    If it were just those essential employees at the tip of the spear, the generous benefits wouldn’t upset people as much and the numbers would be sustainable. The optimal per-capita number of cops and teachers has been relatively fixed over the years.

    We need to deal instead with the ever-growing armies of paper-pushing bureaucrats who provide little or no marginal benefit, or even a net negative benefit, to society. Civil service rules need to be redrawn and tens of millions of them should be summarily fired without benefits or buyouts.

    If we don’t, the tail will wag the dog ever more vigorously as the Obama administration seeks to expand the ranks of politicized/unionized government do-nothings. This country will become like post-colonial India, where the maintenance of a vast and highly corrupt bureaucracy became the organizing principle of civilization itself.

  36. I work for the State of NJ (reading news on my break), and the employees here haven’t received a raise in quite some time, pre-2007. Average rent in the area in North NJ is about 2k/mon for a two bedroom, and car insurance is astronomical–I pay $3200/yr.

    With my dismal starting salary ($32k in 2005 for a job that required a BS) I find it difficult to believe that state workers are overpaid. Federal workers are paid more on par with the private sector, but states fall far short.

    A competitive promotion 4.5 years later, and I am one of the few “fortunates” making $50k/yr in the state. I am still the lowest paid of any of my college friends.

    I chose this job because it provided a stable work schedule in order to go to graduate school at night, and had decent benefits at the time.

    Since 2005, we have lost the employer funded healthcare (now contributory–1.5% of salary plus self-paid dental/vision), mandatory pension deductions are over 6% (of which I will not see a dime of interest–not planning on staying that long), and no raise in sight. It’s simply not looking that appealing to stay.

    If state employment was soooo appealing to these high IQ people (who don’t realize that the “perks” of stability and minimal benefits come with significant salary drawbacks), why is there no competition among qualified private sector employees for the gvt jobs? Why are the government jobs easier to obtain than private sector?

    To those of you thinking that government employees are overpaid: go get a gvt job–it’s truly not that difficult. Find a job that you qualify for, and apply. Keep us up to date on how you save for a down payment, let alone pay a mortgage on that one. I’m barely staying afloat.

    Fortunately, I’m graduating in May with a J.D. and plan to join the private sector. The workday will be longer, the pay better, and by god, I will not have to put up with people telling me that I’m overpaid.

    I am looking for a job in a firm rather than with the government, because after 100k in loans entering repayment, 40k to 60k for a starting attorney position is not attractive when the private sector consistently pays twice that amount. Conversely, if I put in the years of being underpaid in gvt employ, I might actually reap some benefits on the back end when I’m old and useless, and have nothing to spend my money on but adult diapers and a medicaid spend-down plan.

    I, however, don’t have the patience for that.

    1. dunno what you’re calling dismal. I have a starting salary of 30k, for a job that requires a PhD.

    2. I lived in NJ for eleven years. I loved my location with access to NY, Philly, AC, the beach and the Poconos, but I simply couldn’t afford it any more.

      NJ property taxes are the nation’s second highest. New Hampshire is first, but NH has no sales or income taxes. NJ has high levels of those too.

      In all fairness to Governmentworker, I would say the problem in NJ is not state workers per se, but the legions of teachers, county and municipal workers and the duplication of services provided by 566 municipalities.

      In his valedictory speech after losing his re-election bid, Gov. Jim Florio called for consolidation of purchasing and other economies of scale. That was real courageous after the fact, but he never did a damn thing about it while he was governor. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jon Corzine does the same on his way out too.

      Where I am now I pay about one-third of what I did in property taxes on a comparable salary, and we have no income tax either. Our state has fiscal problems too, but nowhere near the scope of those in NJ or CA.

      1. Jersey residents like their profusion of municipalities just fine–no governor is going to change that. I have friends, for example, who chose Carlstadt–which consists of about 4 residential streets plus a shitload of industrial wasteland–because of the low(er) taxes and less zoning restrictions. New York has a crazy-quilt of micro-villages on Long Island, too, and the voters have demonstrated time and again that they like the situation just fine the way it is.

  37. If you are a public employee, it’s virtually impossible to be fired.

    That lock on the job is worth a HELL OF A LOT.

    1. This is precisely why there should be term limits for all in government, not just Congress. Nobody gets to suckle at the public teat for more than ten years; after that, one must leave and find a job in the private sector. Since government doesn’t produce anything, the only way to keep it from continuing to gobble up larger and larger portions of the economy is to keep as many people in the productive class as possible.

      Ideally, government would not be an entry-level job, either; people would have to gain experience in the productive class first, in order to develop useful skills that could be utilized during their ten years (or less) in government, thus making it true public service instead of the self-serving mess that it is today.

  38. It’s the unions. This country would be better off without the unions. Look what the unions did to Enron. Once the mail room was unionized, they demanded to be paid in cash, and receive benefits. This bankrupted Enron and forced Ken Lay to do some shady business deals. And look what the unions did to Merril Lynch, and Lehman Bros, and numerous other Wall St firms. Disgraceful. Do you know that spouses of the firemen and police who died in 9/11 are still receiving pension benefits because of the unions. Disgraceful. Could you imagine if the military had a union. What kind of benefits would those brain damaged soldiers demand. I say eliminate all unions. And bring back a form of indenture. Corporatism lives. Hail Ayn Rand……..

  39. It’s the unions. This country would be better off without the unions. Look what the unions did to Enron. Once the mail room was unionized, they demanded to be paid in cash, and receive benefits. This bankrupted Enron and forced Ken Lay to do some shady business deals. And look what the unions did to Merril Lynch, and Lehman Bros, and numerous other Wall St firms. Disgraceful. Do you know that spouses of the firemen and police who died in 9/11 are still receiving pension benefits because of the unions. Disgraceful. Could you imagine if the military had a union. What kind of benefits would those brain damaged soldiers demand. I say eliminate all unions. And bring back a form of indenture. Corporatism lives. Hail Ayn Rand……..

  40. The problem with public sector collective bargaining is that there is no taxpayer representative on the other side of the negotiating table. No one represents the taxpayer/customer. The city/county/state government does the “bargaining” knowing full well that the public will blame them if a strike occurs so they just fold.

  41. I served, intermittently, over a ten year period on our local school board. In my last term, I was on what was laughingly called a negotiating team that worked out “THE NEGOTIATED AGREEMENT” which set the pay, benefits and working conditions for teachers. It bascially consisted of the teachers reading to us from the scripts provided to them by their NEA representative. When presented with the realities of our declining enrollment and funding loses & cuts, they provided blank stares and then began re-reading from their scripts. Most disgusting was their complete disregard & contempt for their fellow, non-certified, district employees plight and the demands they expected tax-payers to meet. Unions today deserve no respect at all. They have lost their way and are a destructive & self-destructive force – a mindless beast lunging along in the dark and killing even their own supporters.
    Oh yes, and when they did settle for what the district could afford, it was only by way of forcing us to fire younger teahers – non-tenured or lacking seniority by union standards. This allowed them to avoid other cuts in the remaining teachers’ pay and benefits. Sweet fraternal love, yes?

  42. Blame the GREEDY PUBLIC SAFETY PERSONNEL (police, sheriff, fire, etc.) who exploit the overtime system to earn $200,000 per year and then get obscene pensions. Oh wait, we should bow to them for their “sacrifice and service.” They’re scum! Cue the disgusting “we’re heroes” song and dance.

  43. I am a Mass. State Employee- We have had all cost-of-living increases frozen since July 2007. Also, we are now paying a bigger share of our health insurance than before. Despite the fact that we are in one of the most expensive parts of the country, average state employee pay is low- about equivalent to a GS-3 on the federal pay scale.

  44. I worked as a DOD civilian for almost a decade. I joined during the 82-83 recession and found that I was working with a mixed bag of competent and incompetent people. As the private sector improved in my industry, I found that all the truly competent people left and only the incompetent remained. One day I asked myself why all the good people I had worked with were gone and I was having to deal with so many losers. I called a buddy of mine, former USG worker, and got a private sector job the next day. That was two decades ago and I haven’t looked back since.

    There are some good people in the government, but there are more timeservers and slugs. When you start to feel that you’re the only person in your department that gives a damn about doing a good, or even proper, job, you can either ride that into the bitter cynicism of the government “lifers” or you can bail. I bailed.

    1. Problem is, it’s the “lifers” who get propped up and put in front of the public. I too am sure there are legions of talented workers in government (excepting all bureaucrats), but the public face seems to be staffed by the surliest, least-competent among all of them. Probably because service jobs (i.e. dealing with the public) are the shittiest, lowest-paid of all jobs. Lord knows I’ve had plenty of those. The difference between private and public is that in the private sector, service jobs are for college students. Only in the public sector (and the unionized private sector) do you see people making a career out of entry-level jobs. It’s the decades of grinding bureaucracy that turns these people mean, I think.

  45. If their pension didn’t kick in until 65, and all of us stuck working for the private sector could buy into their guaranteed, inflation-graded pension plan, I’d be really happy-and buying into it myself.
    Once, when I went to the local Social Security Service to replace a lost card, I thought they’d be open until 5 p.m. at least, and it was 4 p.m. No,they were walking out the door an scowling at me for being there. These people get paid at 21/2 times more than I do in direct pay alone, and they can’t even stay until 5 p.m.?
    They don’t deserve a gold-plated retirement at 50 for this!!!!

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