Who Really 'Serves the Nation'?

In a few short weeks, spring will be upon us, and many college seniors – possibly a good number of LRC readers – will be in the midst of searching for a job, possibly embarking on a long-term career. They might attend job fairs at their colleges. Those who are more aggressive, especially during the current economic doldrums, are probably networking through their parents, relatives, and friends as well as checking out newspaper advertisements.

One such advertisement appeared in the Sunday, February 9, 2003 Washington Post. On page K13 was a full color 5 3/4 by 7 3/8 inch copy of a Chinese print, with Chinese letters above a sketch of a ram. Beneath the sketch was the following come-on:

"Staying true to our global focus, the Central Intelligence Agency welcomes the Chinese New Year and its celebration of rejuvenation and renewal. Just as the Year of the Ram is centered on a strong and clear motivation for peace, harmony, and tranquility during challenging times, we are equally intent on our mission to safeguard America and its people. You, too, can play a key role in this important responsibility. Why work for a company when you can serve the nation (my italics)? For additional information and to apply online, please visit our website at"

Many citizens – especially a preponderance of those living inside the Washington Beltway – would think such an advertisement was eye catching and trendy in a new age sort of way. In fact, the CIA probably received a lot of responses to this ad. Furthermore, many might even agree with the italicized sentence in the advertisement, thinking that someone who goes to work for the CIA is actually providing a greater benefit to the nation than someone who works in the private sector. The ad implies that going to work for the CIA – or for that matter, the federal government – is an act of patriotism (the love of one's country and the defense and promotion of its interests) whereas taking a job in the private sector is not.

But these people are wrong. Why?

First of all, the CIA reports to the President of the United States and generally does what he tells it to do; that is, the CIA acquires and produces "intelligence" that meets his demands. More often than not, his demands for intelligence coincide with the needs of the political and commercial elite in this country, especially with regard to making it safe for large U.S. multinational enterprises to expand overseas and dominate world markets.

Of course, since the mid-1970’s, the CIA has also had to satisfy the Congress, especially with regard to getting Congressional approval for sensitive intelligence operations. But do the President and Congress really articulate the needs of each and every American with regard to the CIA's operations and the products it produces? The answer is an emphatic NO!

Despite the fact that the public is forced to pay for CIA activities, it cannot get access to classified CIA reports nor can it demand that CIA produce intelligence assessments of topics not specified by the President and the Congress. Because most intelligence products are classified, the public has no way of knowing – short of someone leaking the information – whether or not the resulting intelligence is what they would freely purchase to assure their safety. Nor can they be sure that the report has not been rigged – or buried – in order to satisfy the political and commercial elites.

For instance, since I cannot get access to CIA reports on the alleged connection of Iraq to al Qaeda, I have no way of evaluating the veracity of George Bush's claim that Iraq helped al Qaeda attack the U.S. on 9/11. In fact, Bush's unwillingness to release such information made me uneasy and led me to conclude that there was and is no such link between Iraq and al Qaeda and that the U.S. has no justification for attacking Iraq.

As a result, I do not benefit from CIA's activities – at least at the current level and scope – at a time when I and other Americans need to make our voices heard on the extremely grave issue of the U.S. starting a war. And that is also true for the vast majority of the American public.

Thus, anyone contemplating getting a job with the CIA, at least as it is currently constituted, would really not be working for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Instead, he would be paid by the public but would be working for the benefit of the political and commercial elites. One can conclude that getting a job at the CIA is not necessarily an act of patriotism.

And this is true for those working for all other federal government activities, not just the CIA. A minority of citizens or groups benefit from federal activities.

What about working in the private sector? Is one being patriotic by taking a job in the private sector instead of working for the CIA or another part of the federal government?

Here, the free market provides an extremely clear answer to the question – an emphatic YES!

Consumers, in a free voluntary exchange, pay for those goods and services – at the quality they want and in the quantity they need. They get the benefits. Workers earn their pay and firms earn a profit by providing those desired goods and services.

Those not wanting to buy a product or service do not benefit from it, but then they are not forced to pay for it. They purchase those things they want and need.

Adding it all up, under free and voluntary exchange, everyone benefits. And they do so in a peaceful way. Because private firms are subject to both the profit test and the solvency test, we also know that resources are being used as efficiently as possible. Despite various re-inventions, we can never know this for government activities. In fact, it would only be by sheer happenstance that any government activity could ever approach the efficiency of a similar operation run by the private sector.

Anyone considering a job with the CIA or the rest of the federal government – at the current grossly oversized level – should not be blinded by visions of patriotism since his work will benefit a few – the political and commercial elites – and not the nation as a whole.

Instead, young people would be wiser to start a career in the private sector, where, by their daily example, they would be showing their neighbors and the rest of civilization that free markets – through peaceful and voluntary exchange – produce the most happiness that is possible in this world. And it would help reverse the impression of our current enemies – and even some friends – that the U.S. is a nation bent on the reckless worldwide expansion of an empire.

Those who love their country and who want to defend and promote its interests would indeed be patriotic by taking a job in the private sector.

February 25, 2003

Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) [send him mail], formerly an economist with the federal government, writes to “un-spin” the federal government’s attempt to con the public.