Meet the Shadowbosses
The scorpion wanted to cross a river, but he was a poor swimmer. So he beggeda nearby frog for a ride across the river.
"Why would I let you ride on my back?" the frog responded. "You are a scorpionand surely will sting me."
"If I were to sting you," the scorpion replied haughtily, "we'd both drown,since I can't swim."
The frog saw the logic of the situation and agreed. The scorpion crawledaboard the frog's back, and they started across the river.
Halfway across, the scorpion stung the frog.
As the paralyzed frog began to sink, he turned to the scorpion, bewildered.
"Why would you do that?" he asked. "You fool! Now we'll both drown."
"I am a scorpion," the scorpion answered. "It is my nature to sting."
And they both drowned.
Today, we're the frog. Government employee unions are the scorpions. If we allowthem to stay on our backs much longer, they will sting us and we will all drown.And, like the trusting frog, we're letting them.
Government employee unions should be expected to do what these unions do—demandmore and more from our government until they bankrupt our nation and us. And ourjob is to refuse them. It is up to us to save our poor nation from thescorpion's sting that we all know is coming in the middle of the river.
Public Servants Become Public Masters
Two generations ago, there were public-minded government servants. Mostgovernment employees took real pride in their work. Their common goal was tobuild and staff a government that served the people well.
Before government employee unions came on the scene, government employeesunderstood that service meant sacrifice in terms of pay. Sure, you wouldn't getrich working a government job, but you'd have a lifetime job with a good pensionat the end, and you'd get to make a difference. Working for the government was aprivilege, and you were really working for your fellow citizens. But now farfewer government employees approach their jobs as a privilege to serve. Whatchanged?
Labor unions came along, unionized many government employees, and drasticallyincreased what a government employee could expect to receive in pay andbenefits. Now most forms of "public service" are more profitable than working inthe private sector. The government employee unions also trained governmentemployees to demand ever higher pay and never-ending benefits, all funded bytheir fellow citizens.
To be clear, we shouldn't begrudge individual government employees for what theyget in pay and benefits from the government. As we wrote this book, we eventhought more than a few times that we should go out and apply for governmentjobs ourselves. We understand that government workers don't make the system,they just benefit from it. But make no mistake, the culture of "public service"has changed from a focus on giving back to a focus on getting. And through theirincessant focus on extracting more from the employer, unions have encouragedgovernment workers to consider their jobs as an entitlement, not a privilege.
Many Americans, including Tea Party supporters, are angered by the decline oftrue public service. According to Tea Party advocate Donna Wiesner Keene, "TeaParty members are loyal tax-paying citizens, but their anger begins with thelack of value received for taxes—the transformation of government worker fromasset to liability, of the people's government to the union's government." Withthis crucial change, government employee unions have been able to unite all nettax receivers into a huge special interest group that is focused on growing thegovernment. Net tax receivers are those Americans whose income comes from thegovernment one way or another—as salary, welfare benefits, and subsidies. Don'tgovernment employees pay taxes? Of course they do. But it isn't close to theamount they receive in salary and benefits—and, after all, they're really justpaying back tax dollars they already received from you. They give the governmenta cut of the pie they just took from your stove. This doesn't make governmentemployees bad people, and many government workers surely give good service inexchange for their salary. But whether government workers work hard for theirmoney or not, it doesn't change the fact that they are dependent on governmentto earn their living and are paid with taxpayer dollars.
This mammoth special interest group of net tax receivers is represented by theDemocrat Party. Whether individual net tax receivers are liberal orconservative, it is the Democrat Party that supports their personal interests inkeeping government large and growing it bigger.
On the other side is a dwindling group of people who actually pay the taxes thatkeep the other group afloat. How much longer are taxpayers going to be able tosupport the weight of net tax receivers?
You Should Work for the Government
Once unions organized government workers, the earlier pay gap between governmentand private sector workers closed. Then, the gap expanded in the otherdirection. Government service is now far more lucrative than private sector workever has been or probably ever will be. If you get a government job, you can beset for the rest of your life—above market salary, great health benefits, andvirtually unlimited job security while you are working, followed by earlyretirement and a generous and steady guaranteed pension until your death.
The smartest among you who didn't know this before reading this book will putthe book down right now and go apply for a government job. Michelle Obama, ourFirst Lady, says: "Don't go into corporate America. You know, become teachers.Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careersthat we need, and we're encouraging our young people to do that." Michelle Obamacaptures the message that we are all given about government service—that Americaneeds more government workers to serve our nation. But is it really trueanymore? How much "service" does our nation really need? And are we paying ourgovernment employees too much?
Paying Government Employees
Economists have shown that government workers are overpaid compared with privatesector workers, but it still remains a much debated question. Unions and someliberals argue that government employees still are not paid enough because theyare so much more "qualified" than private sector workers.
Federal government workers averaged over twice the salary and benefits that anaverage private sector worker makes. Federal government employees average astunning $126,141 annually in salary and benefits. And how many federalgovernment workers do you think make more than $100,000 in salary alone, beforeovertime and benefits? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? Fifty thousand? No,actually there were 459,016 federal workers making more than $100,000 in salaryalone, over one in five of all federal civil service workers. We can't possiblyneed that many highly paid government workers to run our federal government,even if they are über-qualified.
One of the best detailed comparisons of full-time federal government workers andprivate-sector workers was undertaken by James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation.His report shows that federal workers earn an average of 22 percent more in cashsalary than a comparable private sector worker, controlling for the majorfactors like age, education, race, and location. Pile on all the otherretirement, health, and other benefits federal workers receive and you have ahuge gap between federal government and private workers. Federal workers receivetotal compensation of "30 percent to 40 percent ... above and beyond theirobservable skills," Sherk found. Other reports have shown that federalgovernment workers at the low end of the pay scale experience the greatestpremium over private sector workers. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute showsthat state and local government workers made on average 34 percent more insalary and 70 percent more in benefits than private sector workers. With thatknowledge, why would anyone want to make the sacrifice required to work in theprivate sector?
Job for Life
And then there is the job security that comes with being a government worker.Ronald Reagan once stated, "A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternallife we'll ever see on this earth." He was making the important point that onceour government creates a new government program, it is very hard to get rid ofit. The same could be said of hiring a government employee—once hired, they arerarely, if ever, fired.
At almost all government jobs, you would have to work pretty hard to befired—drug use on the property, embezzlement, murder, that kind of thing.Businesses fire their workers three times as often as the federal government.Once you have been on the job with the government a few years, there is almostno chance that you will be fired or laid off. In fact, there is really only oneway that you will be separated from your apparently God-given right to continueholding your federal job—death. At many federal agencies, death is more commonthan getting fired. The corpse from Weekend at Bernie's is probably stillsitting at his desk, drawing federal pay.
Here's an easy, impartial test to determine whether working for the governmentis a good deal: how often do government workers voluntarily quit their jobscompared to the private sector? If government workers are underpaid, they'dprobably quit their jobs more than private sector workers; but if they areoverpaid, they would probably hold on to those valuable jobs more than people inthe private sector.
So, do government workers quit? Sure, but not very often. Government workerspractically never quit their jobs—once employed by the government, state andlocal workers quit at one-third the rate of private sector workers. Federalgovernment workers quit even less often—at only one-eighth the rate of privatesector workers. Government workers seem to either die at their government-issueddesks—or, more frequently, on the links in Florida living off their guaranteedpensions. Why would anyone in their right mind ever give up a deal that good?
Retirement is where the real payoff comes—and it comes quicker for governmentworkers than for the rest of us. Government workers are generally able to retirewith thirty years of service at age fifty-five, or even earlier, at a fullpension for life. In contrast, only 20 percent of private sector workers getthis type of traditional defined benefit pension from their employer. Almost allbusiness workers have to depend on a retirement plan based on their owncontributions and modest contributions from their employer, their SocialSecurity payments, and any other savings to fund their retirement. And toreceive full Social Security benefits, these workers now have to wait until theyare sixty-six or sixty-seven (depending on their year of birth). Retirementsecurity is very difficult to achieve for most American workers, except for themost successful and, of course, except for government workers.
The average New York City police officer, for example, can retire after onlytwenty-two years of service—often in his early forties. An officer who retiresas a captain can expect to receive upwards of $92,000 per year in retirementbenefits, costing the city nearly $3 million during his retirement. Of course,we appreciate our police officers—they put their lives at risk to keep us safe.But no matter how much we appreciate them, we also have to realize that retiredgovernment workers in all areas of service are bringing our government's housedown and foisting huge burdens on the next generation of Americans.
Now, how many Americans do you think have the $3 million in retirement savingsit would take to fund that police officer's pension we were just discussing?Unfortunately, not too many. If you want to see how much you'd collect inpension if you were a government employee, the Manhattan Institute has a handycalculator at CalculateYourPublicPension.com which shows you how much you wouldcollect on a state-by-state basis. Try it—you'll be so shocked you mightactually consider trading in your corporate job or your small business for thebenefits of government work.
Although there are differences between pensions available at the federal, state,and local levels, most government workers get a pension based on at least 60percent of their last working salary. Since pension income is generally based onaverage salary from the last three working years of his career, the governmentworker can jack up his overtime in his last years on the job to boost, evendouble, the amount of his pension. And it gets even better—in some states,government workers who have hit retirement age can retire and get hired back attheir same job and earn another government salary on top of their pension. It'sone for the price of two!
Government Service Lifestyle
Government workers must work harder than workers in the private sector for allthat extra pay and benefits, right? You decide. A news team investigation inPittsburgh tracked edits to Wikipedia, the open-source website where anyone canlog in to change facts about events, people, and objects. The news team found"thousands of edits done by government employees on government time usinggovernment computers. And few of those edits have anything to do with governmentbusiness." What were these intrepid scholars up to? They were editing theWikipedia pages for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, singer Beyoncé, andJames Bond. One employee edited the profile for Lurch, the butler on The AddamsFamily—he added the valuable information that Lurch didn't actually play theharpsichord. Another employee wrote a full plot summary for a Star Wars TVseries. Overall, the news team found 1,536 edits by state employees and 5,542edits by federal offices. And, as the news team pointed out, "Wikipedia is justone Web site."
Even if these wiki-employees are an aberration, we do know that governmentemployees tend to be in the office less often than workers in businesses.Federal employees get a whopping 13 days of sick leave, 10 federal holidays, andup to 26 additional days of vacation for a total of up to 49 days of paid timeoff per year. Because unions encourage their workers to use all their "sick"days as holidays instead of just when they are actually sick, government workersget the equivalent of up to ten paid weeks of vacation per year—that's equal toworking a four-day workweek every week! How would your business do with you gonethat much?
There are lots of other benefits of working for the government, too. Accordingto Steven Greenhut in his book Plunder! "Drivers of one out of every 22 cars onCalifornia roads have special license plates whereby their addresses are keptsecret from toll agencies and parking enforcement agencies. When an officerpulls over someone with one of these plates, the addresses are in a specialdatabase that alerts the officer that the driver is a government worker, orfellow police officer, or a family member of someone in law enforcement orgovernment work. The result is a de facto pass on many, if not most traffic lawsby the drivers." If working for the government can get you out of speedingtickets, what can't it do?
On the downside, though, most union contracts prevent government workers fromgetting paid extra for good performance, although some government employees doget extra bonuses in the form of performance awards. So if you don't feel likehaving your performance evaluated but still want to earn good pay and retireearly with great benefits, the government sector is for you. But if you wantto be paid based on your performance, try the private sector.
This may explain why you have a harder and harder time getting people at theSocial Security bureau or the Department of Motor Vehicles to hustle to serveyou. After all, they understand what you may not—they don't work for you; youwork for them. Your job is to keep making the pie so that the government employeeunions and their "net tax receiver team" can eat more of it. Now, get back to work!