Confessions of a Public Servant

The Free Market 13, no. 5 (May 1995)

You’re looking for a job. You want to get paid several times your worth, come and go when you please, work only when you feel like it, take as long a lunch as you want, and get ten paid holidays per year and six weeks paid vacation per year. There’s only one way to go: work for the federal government.

Few Americans, I’m afraid, have any idea, what it’s like. If they did, there would be a political earthquake. As a member of the Parasitic Class for 15 years, I have witnessed and participated in this corrupt and grotesquely unfair system first hand. I am both qualified and morally obligated to expose it.

You could, of course, call me a hypocrite. I have prospered financially beyond my wildest dreams. Given my talents and work, my standard of living is higher than anything I could earn in the private sector.

But by reading the right books, and talking at length with my wife (a private-sector employee) and our friends in the private sector, I have come to see this repugnant system for what it’s worth.

What draws people to government work? What keeps them there for a lifetime? It’s simple: overcompensation, huge benefits, and great working conditions. It’s attractive to sign up and nearly impossible to leave. That’s because the government, by and large, rewards skills and experience that are unmarketable in the private sector, at least not at the same level of pay.

Take me for example. I have a degree in political science. I write, edit, and research. The taxpayers pay me approximately $65,000 [$102,000 today] in salary, excluding benefits. I could not legally earn this in the private sector. If you don’t believe me, peruse the want ads. Salaries for “writer/editor” and “research analyst” start in the low $20s.

Let’s say I took a job in the private sector (presuming that someone would hire a person who has spent his whole adult life working for the government). And let’s pretend I can earn $65,000.

What would I lose if I left the government? The short work week would be out the window. I could take off early, but this would be detrimental to my income. I would have to meet deadlines, because consumers want jobs done in a timely manner.

I would have to forget about ten paid holidays. People in the private sector have a hard time getting paid on Thanksgiving. My private-sector friends laugh at me when I tell them I get paid for such bogus holidays as Presidents Day, Martin Luther King Day, and Columbus Day.

And vacations? Right now, I can spend 8.7% of my work time on vacation. That’s six weeks per year in perpetuity. The average vacation time in the private sector is two weeks, and it’s not an entitlement.

I could also forget about the unofficial “bennies”: for example, I take an hour-long jog every day, followed by a shower and a leisurely lunch. It keeps me in tip-top condition for my vacations. And shopping excursions during work are always possible. What about stress? If relaxation lengthened life, bureaucrats would live to be 150 years old.

Every few years, a big-shot commission bemoans the disparity between public and private sector work. It invariably concludes that bureaucrats need much higher salaries and more benefits. Nonsense. If bureaucrats were paid according to their net value to society, the result would be mass exodus and the federal government would have to shut down.

For anyone versed in free-market economics, the reasons for all this taxpayer abuse are obvious. Unlike the private sector, the government is not subject to the rigors of the profit and loss system. The government can tax, print, and borrow money to meet its obligations. It can pay millions of people salaries absurdly out of proportion, and not be outcompeted.

Lacking the discipline imposed by the market, the government cannot be efficient by private-sector standards. It will never terminate or scale back unnecessary functions on its own. So long as people are tricked into thinking that government employees are sacrificing anything for the public good, politicians won’t feel pressure to end it.

I have begun in earnest to look for employment in the private sector. I have to take a huge salary cut and give up those generous “bennies,” but I will at least then contribute something to society. And at least I’ll be able to live with myself.

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