Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The New Class War

Mark Steyn is back, and on fire. He's doing a series of postings on the issues of the US election.


From Tuesday's column:
The new class war in the western world is between “public servants” and the rest of usIn Washington, the marching bureaucrats are telling us government doesn’t suck. But in Greece, the bloated public service has sucked so much out of the economy there’s nothing left. 
Exactly right. This is not a trend that can persist indefinitely:





It's not sustainable, because the blue line has to fund the red line. When enough people decide that private employment is a mug's game and join the government, there eventually won't be enough productive people left to fund the rest.I take the lesson of the Greek crisis to be that public servants will continue to vote (and strike) for continued employment and higher wages, even when it threatens the entire functioning existence of the State.


The game where government wages keep growing and private sector wages stay stagnant seems likely to end in one of a couple of ways:
a) everyone joins the government side (e.g. communism, dictatorship ), thereby eliminating any advantage to being in the government 
b) the private sector simply stops working and/or paying taxes (i.e revolt), at which point either the apparatus of the state collapses, or the state resorts to ever greater coercion to keep the private sector working (e.g. Zimbabwe).


And from today:
When the law says that it’s illegal for a storekeeper to offer his customer a cup of coffee, you should be proud to be in non-compliance. What the hell did you guys bother holding a revolution for? George III didn’t care what complimentary liquid refreshments a village blacksmith shared with his clientele. Say what you like about the Boston Tea Party, but nobody attempted to prosecute them for unlicensed handling of beverage items in a public place.
True dat.


Update: Linked by Instapundit - thanks!

14 comments:

  1. While I don't disagree with your thesis, what would the graph look like if it started in 1998? 1990? 1980?

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  2. I have to say that not all government employees are liberals/Dems. There are plenty of conservatives in the government, hiding much like they do in academia and in Hollywood. I'm one of them and I just voted for the Republicans (and hopefully conservatives) this very day. Was it against my self-interest? Probably, in the short run, but in the long run what's best for my country is best for me and my family.

    There's more of us than you know.

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  3. The slope of the graph would be the same for any period selected over the last 40 years. Federal employees have been getting 3-4% raise each year, on top of step and seniority increases. $100 compounded at 4% yields $200 in 20 years. State employees follow a similar pattern.

    The bankruptcy of the state and local plans has been disguised by assumptions that the money put away will earn 7%+, which limits how much the states must cough up to 'fully fund' these obligations. Makes Enron look like a gas station robbery.

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  4. "Mark Steyn is back, and on fire. He's doing a series of postings on the issues of the US election."

    And my opinion of him has dropped for that very reason.

    Radley Balko on pundits: Their job is to tell the portion of the audience that already agrees with them what the audience already thinks it knows. Everyone is stupider for it. The whole thing is worth reading.

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  5. One of the significant trends in government over the past decade has been a push towards privatization. I've witnessed first-hand the privatization efforts in DOE, DOD, and several of the various national security agencies.

    If you take a mixed population of all staff, but then shift all the low-paying, fungible staff to contract service providers such as Aramark, you're absolutely going to skew the compensation graphs in exactly the manner illustrated above.

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  6. I agree with the first poster. After 30 years in federal civil service, I can tell you there were a lot of lean years. Contrary to the third poster, it hasn't been 3-4% every year, nor are step increases an annual event. I also agree with the second poster - I've spent my time in DoD, which must be the most conservative branch of the feds.

    Finally, "everyone goes to work for the Government" is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. It isn't a matter of walking in and saying, "Hire me", nor is the number of positions unlimited. Federal unions rarely strike - I think the air traffic controllers were the last to try it - and our budgets are set by Congress, not by the unions.

    Overall, like many pundits lately, what I read here displays a lot of heat but little light. The author's ignorance of federal public service, its structure, and its limitations, is staggering. You want to castigate public servants, fine, that's your right. Just do your homework first. Find out what the figures really mean.

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  7. Halichoeres bivittatusOctober 27, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    "Find out what the figures really mean."

    What the figures really mean is governments compete with the private sector for resources while funded entirely by the private sector for support. Governments are on a path to strangle the private sector.

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  8. As we see here in the comments section, the bureaucratic state generates a vast army of apologists ready to claim that the looming disaster isn't really all THAT bad.

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  9. I think your graph is interesting but it only counts WORKING people, right? I mean, really, shouldn't the government graph also include all those people on welfare? The only difference is the government workers get a W-2. The people who show up for a check and don't have to deal with daily schedules should get an IRS Form 1099-GOV!

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  10. FYI most fed employees got 2% raise for 2010. 1.5% base (ie COLA) and .5% locality pay.

    Recipients of social security received 0% COLA this year and will get 0% next year.

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  11. I have to say that not all government employees are liberals/Dems.

    True to an extent but when the rubber hits the road almost all career success in gov't employment is dependent on growth of gov't.

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  12. Anon 7:39 PM

    Me too. In fact when I started working my state government job the conservative viewpoint pretty much prevailed in my agency. Today 11 years later it's not quite so dominant, and I'm looking forward to retirement--if the state doesn't go bankrupt first!

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  13. Not all government employees are liberals/Dems... I just voted for the Republicans (and hopefully conservatives) this very day. Was it against my self-interest? Probably, in the short run, but in the long run what's best for my country is best for me and my family.

    Good for you! I think I wasn't intending to tar everyone who works for the government - the problem isn't government employees per se, but the Greek-style feedback process of 'Government Hires People' -> 'People Hired by successfully vote for government to increase wages and hire more people' -> 'Government Hires People'.

    If the government instead hired people like you who voted for fiscal conservatism, you wouldn't get this feedback.

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  14. While I don't disagree with your thesis, what would the graph look like if it started in 1998? 1990? 1980?
    ...
    I agree with the first poster. After 30 years in federal civil service, I can tell you there were a lot of lean years.

    True enough. I think what is more unusual in the recent period is not the increase in government wages, but the combination with flat private sector wages due to the recession. If both are growing (and the number of employees is counterfactually held constant), then government spending expands, but it can still be financed.

    The real questions are then a) will the recession end soon and private wages begin to rise again, or b) if it doesn't, will the government sector accept flat wages too?

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