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Posts Tagged ‘Bureaucracy’

The headline of this post might not be completely honest. Indeed, if you asked me to grade the accuracy of my title, I’ll admit right away that it falls into the “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” category of mendacity.

Krugman WeatherBut I’m only prevaricating to set the stage for some satire about Keynesian economics.

But this satire is based on a very bizarre reality. Advocates of Keynesian economics such as Paul Krugman have claimed that war is stimulus for the economy and that it would be good if we were threatened by an alien invasion. As such, it doesn’t take too much imagination to think that conversations like this may have taken place inside the Obama White House.

Particularly since Keynes himself thought it would be good for growth if the government buried money in the ground.

So enjoy this satire from The Onion.

By the way, Krugman also said the 9-11 terrorist attacks would “do some economic good.”

So the folks at The Onion need to step it up if they want to keep pace.

Now let’s share a serious video.

I’ve written before about how the Food and Drug Administration’s risk-averse policies lead to needless deaths.

Econstories builds upon that hypothesis, using the Dallas Buyers Club to make excellent points about why markets are better than command-and-control regulation.

Very similar to what Steve Chapman wrote about bureaucracy, competency, and incentives.

By the way, the bureaucrats at the FDA also have engaged in pointless harassment of genetic testing companies, even though nobody claims there is even the tiniest shred of risk to health and safety.

And nobody will be surprised about the bureaucracy’s anti-smoking jihad.

But nothing exemplifies brainless bureaucracy more than the raid by the FDA’s milk police. Though the FDA’s strange condom regulations might be even more bizarre.

It’s hard to decide when bureaucracies do so many foolish things.

P.S. The prize for the craziest bit of red tape still belongs to Japan, where the government actually regulates providers of coffee enemas, though the Department of Agriculture’s rules for magic rabbits is a close competitor.

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There’s an old joke that a quandary exists when your mother-in-law drives off a cliff in your new Porsche. Are you more happy about losing her or more unhappy about losing your sports car?

I’m not clever enough to come up with humorous quandaries, but I have shared policy quandaries.

I’ve asked, for instance, whether libertarians might have second thoughts about an end to drug prohibition if the result was bigger government.

And I speculated whether leftists or social conservatives would be more upset about a gay man legally adopting his lover in order to minimize Pennsylvania’s death tax.

And if you like this kind of thing, I have more than one dozen additional examples of these types of quandaries.

I have something else to add to the list, and it’s near and dear to my heart because I like to think that I’m among the biggest critics of both Obamacare and bureaucracy.

But what happens if there’s an issue pitting Obamacare and bureaucrats against each other? Would I be able to pick sides?

This isn’t theoretical speculation. Check out these excerpts from a recent report in the New York Times.

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say. …Even after the administration said this month that it would ease coverage requirements for larger employers, public employers generally said they were keeping the restrictions on work hours because their obligation to provide health insurance, starting in 2015, would be based on hours worked by employees this year. Among those whose hours have been restricted in recent months are police dispatchers, prison guards, substitute teachers, bus drivers, athletic coaches, school custodians, cafeteria workers and part-time professors.

To be honest, I don’t know how to react to this.

Am I glad that we have more evidence that Obamacare is hurting people and reducing labor supply?

That’s obviously the case, and it’s an embarrassment to the Obama Administration.

For months, Obama administration officials have played down reports that employers were limiting workers’ hours. But in a report this month, the Congressional Budget Office said the Affordable Care Act could lead to a reduction in the number of hours worked, relative to what would otherwise occur. Jason Furman, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, reaffirmed the White House view that the law was “good for wages and incomes and for the economy over all.” …The Obama administration says “there is absolutely no evidence” of any job loss related to the Affordable Care Act.

One suspects, by the way, that the Obama White House must have a very strange definition of “job loss.”

They’ll only confess culpability, one imagines, if Obama personally delivers the pink slip or HHS Secretary Sebilius personally orders the loss of hours.

But let’s get back to our main point. I was wondering whether I should be happy to have this additional evidence against Obamacare.

But perhaps I should be glad instead that local governments are squeezing the hours and benefits of the bureaucracy, particularly since the alternative would be higher taxes.

Check out these passages from the NYT’s story. Isn’t it wonderful to read about sulking bureaucrats?

William J. Lipkin, an adjunct professor of American history and political science at Union County College in Cranford, N.J., said: “The Affordable Care Act, rather than making health care affordable for adjunct faculty members, is making it more unaffordable. Colleges are not giving us access to health care, and our hours are being cut, which means our income is being cut. We are losing on both ends.” The American Federation of Teachers lists on its website three dozen public colleges and universities in 15 states that it says have restricted the work assignments of adjunct or part-time faculty members to avoid the cost of providing health insurance.

Some people love the smell of napalm in the morning. Not me. I prefer the whining of angry and resentful bureaucrats. Maybe (as I’ve suggested before) Obamacare isn’t all bad after all.

But 98 percent bad is still bad. The law is a trainwreck and needs to be repealed.

P.S. On another topic, is anyone surprised that the IRS doesn’t like obeying the laws it enforces against the rest of us.

Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration found that the expenses for nine IRS executives — out of 31 whose travel was examined — were wrongly deemed to be nontaxable, on average reimbursements of $51,420. Those executives traveled an average of 140.5 days combined in fiscal 2011 and 2012, the two years examined by the inspector general. The IRS had at least 350 executives in each of those years, meaning the inspector general report covers just a fraction of the agency’s top officials.

Maybe we should save the IRS bureaucrats from potential legal trouble by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with a simple and fair flat tax.

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I don’t like government bureaucrats.

Actually, let me re-phrase that statement. I know lots of people who work for different agencies in Washington and most of them seem like decent people.

So maybe what I really want to say is that I’m not a big fan of government bureaucracies and the results they generate. Why?

Because a bloated government means overpaid bureaucrats, both at the federal level and state level (and in other nations as well).

Because inefficient bureaucracies enable loafing and bad work habits.

Because being part of the government workforce even encourages laziness!

And it may even be the case that government bureaucracies attract dishonest people. A story in the L.A. Times reveals that there’s a correlation between cheating and a desire to work for the government.

Here are some excerpts.

College students who cheated on a simple task were more likely to want government jobs, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania found in a study of hundreds of students in Bangalore, India. Their results, recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggest that one of the contributing forces behind government corruption could be who gets into government work in the first place. …Researchers ran a series of experiments with more than 600 students finishing up college in India. In one task, students had to privately roll a die and report what number they got. The higher the number, the more they would get paid. Each student rolled the die 42 times. …Cheating seemed to be rampant: More than a third of students had scores that fell in the top 1% of the predicted distribution, researchers found. Students who apparently cheated were 6.3% more likely to say they wanted to work in government, the researchers found.

I’m not surprised. Just as the wrong type of people often are attracted to politics, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that less-than-admirable folks sometimes are attracted to jobs in the bureaucracy.

But I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from this research.

The study looked at people in India and that nation’s government is infamous for rampant corruption.

However, if you look at how America scores in that regard (corruption measures are included in both Economic Freedom of the World and the Index of Economic Freedom), the problem is much less severe.

So even though I’m willing to believe that bureaucrats in America are more prone to bad habits than their private-sector counterparts, I don’t think many of them decide to get government jobs in the expectation that they can extract bribes.

Indeed, I would guess that the average American bureaucrat is far more honest than the average American politician.

That’s damning with faint praise, I realize, but it underscores an important point that the real problem is big government. That’s what enables massive corruption in Washington.

P.S. Switching gears, I’ve written a couple of times about the intrusive and destructive Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Well, we have some good news on that front. The Republican National Committee has endorsed the law’s repeal. I don’t want to pretend that’s a momentous development and I even told Reuters that the GOP may only be taking this step for narrow political reasons.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said: “It’s hard to imagine an issue this obscure playing a visible role in elections … It is making overseas Americans far more sympathetic to (Republicans) and could have an impact on fundraising.”

That being said, I’m more than happy when politicians happen to do the right thing simply because it’s in their self interest. And if we can eventually undo FATCA and enable more tax competition, that’s good news for America and the rest of the world.

P.P.S. And here’s another positive update on a topic we’ve examined before. Governor Rick Perry of Texas has joined a growing list of people who are having second thoughts about the War on Drugs. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Washington Post.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday voiced support for softening penalties for marijuana use, and touted his work moving in the direction of decriminalization. “After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade,” Perry said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

He joins a growing list of people – such as John Stossel, Gary Johnson, John McCainMona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Bransonwho are recognizing that it’s foolish to give government massive amounts of power and money simply to stop people from doing dumb things to themselves.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

And make life easier for the folks in this cartoon.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written before about how leftists always criticize so-called tax havens, even though rich statists are among the biggest beneficiaries of these low-tax jurisdictions.

President Obama, for instance, has been so critical of tax havens that he’s been caught making utterly dishonest statements on the topic.

But I guess the President’s opposition to tax competition is less important than his desire to prop up Obamacare. Look at some of what’s been reported by Bloomberg.

…the job of taking over construction of HealthCare.gov, which failed miserably when it debuted in October, is going to Accenture Plc, which switched its place of incorporation in 2009 to Ireland from Bermuda. …Accenture has endured so much criticism over the years for its use of tax havens that it even has a disclosure in its annual report warning investors to expect as much. …Accenture’s roots date back to a once-iconic American business, which helps explain why it’s gotten a lot of heat for incorporating in tax havens since spinning off.

By the way, it makes sense for Accenture to be domiciled in Bermuda rather than the United States.

P.P.P.P.S. On a personal note, I’m down in Florida for my first softball tournament of the year and I’m happy to report that I managed to put one over the fence.

Tampa HRHitting home runs has become a distressingly infrequent event as I’ve gotten older (I’m playing in a tourney for the 55-and-up crowd), and I like to memorialize it when it happens just in case it’s the last time.

So forgive me if I engage in Walter Mitty-style fantasizing. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees will call with a contract offer.

Wait, who am I kidding?!?

That’s even less likely than Obamacare succeeding. Or politicians surrendering some of their power by enacting a flat tax.

I’m doomed to be a policy wonk for the rest of my life.

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One of my most widely read – but also most depressing – articles was from about two years ago and it exposed the fact that Washington, DC, is now the nation’s richest region.

I explained that Washington is rich because of unearned wealth. Almost all of the loot that winds up in the pockets of highly paid lobbyists, contractors, bureaucrats, politicians, cronyists, and other insiders ultimately comes from taxpayers in the rest of the country.

That’s why we should be angry that a majority of the nation’s richest counties surrounded DC. A region that produces almost nothing manages to live fat and happy because of the coercive power of government.

That’s the kind of income inequality that should be eliminated, and I do my best to fan the flames of resentment in this interview about fat-cat contractors getting big bucks from taxpayers.

All these well-paid contractors are – for all intents and purposes – members of the government workforce. Sort of a shadow bureaucracy that is several times larger than the official count. They get paid by our tax dollars and their jobs exist because of government.

This doesn’t mean all those jobs should be abolished. But, like their official bureaucrat cousins, many contractors are engaged in wasteful and superfluous activities, and almost all of them are paid too much.

By the way, I disagree with Ms. Brian when she claimed in the interview that you don’t find bureaucrats living in “McMansions.” As my Cato colleague Chris Edwards has documented, federal workers get a far larger amount of compensation than people working in the economy’s productive sector.

Heck, even the Washington Post has published stories about bureaucrats living in“a leafy section of Fairfax County where houses sell in the $700,000 range.”

Let’s close today’s post with some good news. According to the most recent Census Bureau data, Washington is now home to “only” 8 of the nation’s 15-richest counties.

That’s a small step in the right direction and it almost surely happened because government spending has been restrained for the past two fiscal years. And when government doesn’t grow, that means less loot for those that have learned to milk the system.

It’s amazing how many good things happen if you reduce the burden of government spending!

P.S. This interview was filmed right before Christmas, so I engaged in some sartorial excess. If you like the red jacket, other attempts to be on the cutting edge of fashion can be seen here and here.

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Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…no it’s Super Bureaucrat!

Actually, look to New Jersey, because you’re going to see a taxpayer ripoff that will get your blood boiling. Depending on your perspective, this may be worse that the toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike who pocketed more than $300,000 in a single year.

Because today’s super bureaucrat isn’t getting overpaid for one job. He’s getting overpaid for six jobs!

Here are some excerpts from a local news report in New Jersey (h/t: Reason).

Patrick DeBlasio was hired Wednesday as Highlands’ chief financial officer — his sixth concurrent public job and ranking him among the highest-paid public employees in New Jersey. Highlands will pay DeBlasio a $40,000 annual salary on a part-time basis… DeBlasio will not have to work a minimum number of hours, said Administrator Tim Hill, or be required to go into the office.

Maybe one day I can get one of these $40,000 no-show jobs that don’t require any work. But I don’t know if I could juggle several of them, and this is what makes DeBlasio special.

DeBlasio has a full-time job as Carteret’s CFO and part-time gigs in Keansburg, North Plainfield and the Carteret School District, the report said. He is also currently Highland’s tax collector.

It’s rather convenient that he also serves as a tax collector since it takes a lot of money to finance all his government salaries.

In 2012, DeBlasio’s annual compensation totaled $244,606, more than Gov. Chris Christie or state Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff, who earn $175,000 and $141,000, respectively.

As the old saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

Maybe it’s time to start a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame, sort of like our Moocher Hall of Fame. In addition to Mr. DeBlasio (and the toll collector mentioned above), charter members could include the following.

When you read these stories, it’s easy to understand why so many states are in fiscal trouble.

And it also makes sense that state and local bureaucrats are far less likely to quit their jobs than folks in the productive sector of the economy. After all, how many people leave positions when they’re being overpaid?

But don’t forget that federal bureaucrats enjoy an even bigger pay advantage over private sector workers. Indeed, my Cato colleague Chris Edwards reports that they get twice as much average compensation as the serfs in the productive sector of the economy who pay their bills.

This video has the unhappy details.

P.S. Super Bureaucrat joins a list of other “super heroes,” including Government Man, and also two caped crusaders inspired by President Obama. Thanks to Michael Ramirez, we have “Stupor Man.” And there’s also Super-President-Constitutional-Law-Professor.

P.P.S. Is there some hidden strand of DNA that causes people named de Blasio to be burdens to taxpayers?

P.P.P.S. Shifting gears, remember our story about ten days ago featuring the little kid who was suspended from school for firing an imaginary bow and arrow? Well, we have another example showing that government schools could be considered a form of child abuse.

A 5-year-old boy was reportedly suspended from school after making a gun gesture with his hand on the playground. His father, David Hendrix, was furious when he found out his son was issued a suspension for the gesture. “He was playing army on the playground,” Hendrix told WBTV.

Yet another argument for school choice.

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One of my first blog posts, way back in 2009, was about bureaucrats from the Social Security Administration squandering more than $700,000 on a boondoggle conference at a fancy Arizona resort.

To pick a more recent example, taxpayers have plenty of reasons to be upset about IRS bureaucrats partying at their fancy conferences (including line dances, the real message of which is captured by this Lisa Benson cartoon).

The General Services Administration, meanwhile, had a good time on our dime at a posh confab in Las Vegas.

So did revelations about all this waste cause programs, agencies, and departments to be more careful with our tax money? As you can imagine, the answer is a big fat no.

The latest scandal to be unearthed is that “public servants” from a bunch of government agencies have been enjoying fun times in the Caribbean. Here are some excerpts from a Washington Times expose.

A group of federal officials skipped chilly Washington this month for a taxpayer-funded trip to the Virgin Islands in the name of protecting the world’s coral reef. The organizer, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, isn’t saying much about the total cost or reasons for the trip or why officials chose the St. Croix beachfront resort Buccaneer Hotel (made famous by an episode of TV’s “The Bachelor”) as their destination. But life couldn’t have been too bad for the G-men and G-women at the swanky resort, which is surrounded by a lush green golf course and boasts rooms with rates that begin at $323 a night. …topped off with a $74 meal per diem. …In addition to the room rates and food per diems, the various departments were also responsible for providing airfare for attendees. A quick search of travel websites shows that flights from Washington to St. Croix, where the meeting was held, range from $500 to $1,000.

So what was the total cost of this boondoggle? Well, we have no idea.

And this doesn’t even count the fact that many of the bureaucrats got to party at another sun-and-fun conference!

With 11 agencies involved in funding and support for the coral reef task force, it can be difficult to track down just how much is being spent and by whom. Spending records are spread across multiple agencies, with no single record of just how much these meeting might be costing taxpayers. An Interior Department representative said the task force meeting was held in conjunction with a meeting of the Caribbean Regional Planning Body, and many people participated in both.

So let’s think about big picture of what this means for taxpayers.

We know bureaucrats are overpaid.

We know they work fewer hours.

We even know bureaucrats admit to being lazy!

But the real insult to injury is when they get to do fun things at our expense.

Antigua

“If you outlaw cannons, only outlaws will have cannons”

P.S. By coincidence, I happen to be in Antigua while doing this post. I’m a big fan of the Caribbean, so it doesn’t bother me for people to go where there is warm sunshine. I just don’t want them taking trips at my expense.

P.P.S. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t detained at the airport, which happened on my last trip to Antigua.

P.P.P.S. My friend has a real (but non-operable) cannon mounted on one of his terraces. I think I read someplace that it’s legal to own a cannon in the United States, which is part of what makes America a great country. Heck, we’re allowed to own tanks, which is even cooler.

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It’s no secret that I think we have too many government bureaucrats and I’ve shared very strong evidence that most of them are grossly overpaid.

I also have shown some data suggesting that they don’t work very hard, though I confess to mixed feelings about that factoid since I’d rather have some bureaucrats goofing off all day. After all, the economy would be even more burdened if they were being zealous and harassing additional people in the economy’s productive sector.

As an economist, one of my broad concerns is that taxpayers are picking up the tab for bloated bureaucracy. But I’m also worried for another big reason. We get less prosperity when too many people are being lured into government jobs. Simply stated, those people could be contributing to economic output if they instead were employed in the private sector.

In other words, our living standards depend on how productively we utilize labor and capital.

But we need to be careful about how we define “private sector.”

Why? Because not all private jobs are created equal. There are millions of government contractors, for instance, and many of those people should be considered part of a “shadow bureaucracy.” Too often, they’re doing things that are just as wasteful and inefficient as their bureaucrat counterparts, but they don’t show up in the Labor Department data as part of the government workforce.

Another example of the wrong kind of private employment is the so-called compliance sector.

Here are some excerpts from a report in The Hill about “compliance officers” hired by private companies.

A growing thicket of federal regulations under the Obama administration has contributed to an employment spike in at least one corner of the job market: the increasingly vital compliance industry.  ObamaCare, the Dodd-Frank Act and other large federal undertakings have led to an outpouring of new agency rules derided by business groups and defended by advocates.  But the regulations have also been a boon for professional compliance officers paid to help companies understand and adapt to the new requirements.  …Data kept by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows an 18-percent increase in the number of compliance officers in the United States between 2009 and 2012.

The article continues, including data showing that the compliance sector is getting bigger, costing lots of money, and that the problem began before Obama took office.

At last count, there were an estimated 227,500 compliance officers employed in the United States, according to the BLS. The bureau defines a compliance officer as an employee responsible for evaluating conformity with laws and regulations. …Compliance officers make an average of just under $65,000 annually, a gross national labor cost of roughly $14.7 billion, according to the BLS data. …for small firms without the resources to hire their own full-time compliance staff, adapting to new regulations can be an expensive proposition, said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy for AAF. …The expansion of the compliance industry did not begin under President Obama and is not solely linked to the healthcare and Wall Street reform bills. The AAF analysis found a 122-percent increase of compliance officers over the past 10 years.

Gee, maybe we can get to the point where our entire economy is nothing but government bureaucrats and compliance officers. With enough of both categories, we could have full employment!

Of course, there would be one tiny little problem since nothing would get produced. And with nobody generating any income, there wouldn’t be any money to pay for the paper pushers from both government and the private sector.

But as we’ve seen from nations such as Greece, politicians generally don’t grasp this simple point until it’s too late.

Though let’s give a shout out to the former left-wing President of Brazil, who irritated his socialist supporters by making a seemingly elementary observation that you have to have production before you can have redistribution. Heck, even rock stars are beginning to realize that capitalism is the right approach if you want better lives for the less fortunate.

So maybe there’s hope.

Let’s close by issuing a couple of important caveats. Notwithstanding my occasionally overheated rhetoric, not all government jobs are bad jobs. Similarly, I don’t want to imply that all compliance jobs in the private sector are wasteful and inefficient.

To be more specific, I mean those statements in the narrow sense that companies doubtlessly are trying to adapt to all the new regulatory burdens in the least costly manner possible. So the jobs they are creating make sense, given the reality that firms are being buried under a blizzard of red tape.

But I also mean it in the broad sense that there are some regulations that pass a cost-benefit test, and compliance officers resulting from those regulations presumably are part of such calculations. Even a cranky libertarian like me, for instance, won’t lose sleep about compliance officers in a nuclear power plant or at a medical lab doing research on the Ebola virus.*

*But allow me to point out that a genuinely free market would have something akin to compliance officers because of “private regulation.” As I explained last year, “the profit motive creates mutually reinforcing oversight,” and we can be quite confident that market forces would do a better job of protecting us at lower cost.

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The only sustainable way of achieving more prosperity and higher living standards is to increase the quality and quantity of labor and capital in the economy.

This may sound like boring econo-speak, but labor and capital are the two “factors of production” and our ability to consume is limited by what we can produce.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to reduce the burden of government spending.

People sometimes assume it’s important to reduce the budget to lower the threat of tax hikes. That is a good reason to impose fiscal discipline, but it’s presumably even more important to restrain spending because we don’t want labor and capital being misallocated by fiscal policy.

A big public sector, after all, presumably means a large bureaucracy. And when you have lots of people employed by government, that means that they’re not working in the private sector. In other words, they’re consuming economic output rather than adding to economic output.*

Or, as these cartoons illustrate, they’re riding in the wagon rather than pulling the wagon.

This is why advocates of economic growth should strive to limit the amount of bureaucrats and how much they’re paid. The bad news is that the public sector is far too large in the United States, and that means (as explained in this video) we have too many over-compensated bureaucrats.

The good news, however, is that we’re not Denmark, which has the most expensive bureaucracy of all developed nations.

But it’s important to look at what’s happening Europe because BIS, OECD, and IMF data all show that we are going to become a European-style welfare state if nothing is done to reform our poorly designed entitlement programs.

That’s why a new study from the European Commission is worth a look. The report measures both the size of the bureaucracy and the degree to which bureaucrats are over-paid.

Here’s a chart from the study that shows the share of the workforce that was diverted to bureaucracy in both 2006 and 2010. I’m not sure I fully trust the numbers (I doubt, for instance, that France tripled its bureaucracy in just four years), and there’s an absurdly large amount of missing data for nations on the right side of the chart, but we at least can get a rough idea that about one-third of all worker have been sucked into the public sector.

EC Bureaucrats Share of Workforce

That’s certainly not very good news for economic output. And it explains in part why European tax burdens are so excessive.

But if you want to be further depressed, here’s another chart from the study showing the degree to which government bureaucrats are over-paid compared to workers with similar skills and experience in the private sector.

EC Bureaucrats Wage Premium

Looking at the data, there are some countries – such as Denmark, Finland, Estonia, and Slovakia – where bureaucrat pay is roughly comparable to private sector compensation.**

But there are other nations where bureaucrats are wildly over-compensated. And it’s no surprise that these are some of the nations that are facing fiscal crisis, including Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Ireland.

And this is why Americans should pay close attention to this issue. My colleague at the Cato Institute, Chris Edwards, put together this chart showing that federal bureaucrats receive, on average, far more compensation than workers in the productive sector of the economy.

Federal Bureaucrat Compensation Premium

These numbers aren’t adjusted for education and experience, so they’re not directly comparable to the second chart in this post, but the data certainly suggest that federal bureaucrats are doing very well and that we could save a lot of money by freezing pay and benefits until the gap begins to narrow.

But what worries me is that politicians in Washington will make things worse, not better. Heck, just think of all the new over-paid IRS agents we’ll have to pay for just because of Obamacare!

*Some types of government spending, for core “public goods” such as maintenance of rule of law, create conditions that enable private output, so this is not an argument for zero bureaucrats. Instead, the key point is that government should be relatively small and staffed by people who are not being over-paid.

**Pay levels are an important indicator, and it’s good that some nations don’t pay bureaucrats more than workers in the productive sector of the economy. But keep in mind that bureaucrats are – by definition – being paid too much if they are part of departments, agencies, and programs that shouldn’t exist. Which reinforces the point about limiting the size of government.

P.S. I’ve criticized the European Commission for statism and I’ve mocked the two lead bureaucrats of the EC, but I should acknowledge that the international bureaucracy deserves some credit for producing a report that highlights overpaid government bureaucrats. And it was just a couple of months ago that one of the European Commissioners criticized France for excessive taxation. Maybe, just maybe, reality is forcing Europe’s political elite to wake up.

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I’ve shared some remarkable data showing that bureaucrats get paid more than people in the private sector.

JOLTS dataI’ve also dug into the Department of Labor’s JOLTS data to debunk those who argue bureaucrats aren’t overpaid.

I’ve even showed that they work fewer hours (though that’s probably a good thing since presumably the nation will be in better shape if bureaucrats are out of the office rather than molesting people in the economy’s productive sector).

Well, now we can add something else to the list, though it won’t surprise anybody who has been to the Post Office, DMV, or tried to generate any sort of action from a government agency. It turns out that bureaucrats are lazy. Here are some interesting excerpts from a National Post column from Canada.

Who says civil servants are lazy? Well, they do actually. The study that finds these effects is based on a social survey that asked people to agree or disagree, on a scale of one to seven, with the statement “I see myself as someone who tends to be lazy,” with the endpoint options being “Does not apply to me at all” and “Applies to me perfectly.” …the survey in question was for Germany for the years 2004-5. (The just-published analysis of its results has been done by Robert Dur and Robin Zoutenbier, economists at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.) …if there was a country where you’d think people would be ashamed to admitting to laziness, it’s probably Germany. So if the story holds there, it probably holds everywhere. …What results do the Rotterdam economists get? When they control for other things that are both correlated with self-declarations of…laziness and also differ systematically across sectors, such as age, gender, education, family status and so on, it does turn out that public-sector workers tend to be…more lazy than private-sector workers. A one-unit increase in self-declared laziness on that seven-unit scale increases the likelihood of a person’s being in the public sector by almost one per cent. …Turning the data around, the results suggest that workers who are…lazy have a probability of almost exactly one-third of working in the public sector. By contrast, workers who self-declare as…energetic have only about a one-fifth chance of ending up in the public sector.

Gee, knock me over with a feather. Lazy people are more likely to work for the government. And they even admit it!

However, it seems that there are some causation/correlation issues. It may be that you don’t work for the government because you’re lazy. Instead, working for the government may make you lazy.

When the researchers looked only at younger workers they found that…there was no difference in laziness. Only with people further along in their careers did the correlation between laziness and the public sector show up. Either it takes time for lazy people to find their public sector niche or naturally energetic people get worn down by the bureaucracy. They learn laziness.

As a taxpayer, I confess this causes me some mixed feelings. I’m irked that bureaucrats are getting lavishly compensated at my expense. And I don’t like the idea of them goofing off while playing Solitaire or updating their Facebook pages.

But then I remind myself that this may be the least-destructive way for them to occupy their time. Sure beats them being hard at work coming up with crazy new regulations.

In any event, this chart shows that American taxpayers at least can be thankful we’re not in Denmark.

Or any of the Nordic countries. I don’t know if bureaucrats in those nations are lazy, but they sure are expensive.

And I’m surprised that Japanese bureaucrats are relatively inexpensive, particularly when the nation’s long-run fiscal outlook is so bad.

P.S. Since we’re making fun of bureaucrats, here’s a good jab at the Post Office from Jimmy Kimmel. And to see how government operates, we have the Fable of the Ant. But this Pearls before Swine cartoon strip is my favorite.

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In an interview last week about Detroit’s bankruptcy, I explained that the city got in trouble because of growing dependency and an ever-rising burden of government spending.

I also warned that the federal government faces the same challenge. Washington is in trouble mostly because of poorly designed entitlement programs rather than excessive compensation for a bloated bureaucracy, but the end result is the same. Or, to be more accurate, the end result will be the same in the absence of genuine entitlement reform.

As I said in the interview, fiscal crisis was “the most predictable crisis in the world for Detroit [and] it’s the most predictable crisis for America.”

The Washington Examiner has the same assessment. Here’s how they conclude a recent editorial.

More than anywhere else in America (with the possible exception of Chicago) Detroit has been a one-party union city. Democratic politicians backed by the United Auto Workers and public employees unions have ruled virtually as they pleased. Along the way, many of the politicians ended up in jail on corruption charges and the bureaucrats made out with sweetheart deals on pensions and health benefits. Those sweetheart deals now account for most of the $20 billion in debt that put the city into bankruptcy. There are too many disturbing parallels between Detroit and America. The national debt of $17 trillion gets a lot of attention, but the reality is the government’s actual debt, counting the unfunded liabilities of Social Security, Medicare and federal employee and retiree benefits, exceeds $86 trillion, according to former congressmen Chris Cox and Bill Archer. As they say, things that can’t go on forever, won’t.

I used to warn that America was on a path to becoming Greece, but maybe now I should use Detroit as an example.

Some of America’s best political cartoonists already are using this theme.

Here’s one from Glenn McCoy. Since I’m not overly optimist about either Illinois or California, I also think it’s just a matter of time before this happens.

Detroit Cartoon 1

Keep in mind, however, that there was plenty of wasteful spending in both Illinois and California under Republican governors, so this is a bipartisan problem.

Speaking of California, here’s a good cartoon by Lisa Benson.

Detroit Cartoon 2

Amazingly, some people think California’s no longer in trouble because a retroactive tax hike collected more tax revenue. Yeah, good luck with that.

Next we have a cartoon by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Detroit Cartoon 3

And last but not least, Eric Allie weighs in with a cartoon comparing Texas and Detroit.

Detroit Cartoon 4

On a serious note, it would be interesting to see how Detroit looks compared to cities in Texas, such as Dallas and Houston.

But let’s end with something that’s really hilarious, albeit by accident rather than on purpose.

A few people want to enable Detroit’s profligacy. Here are some excerpts from a story in The Hill about union bosses wanting a federal-state bailout of Detroit.

Union leaders are calling on Congress and President Obama to provide a federal bailout to the city of Detroit. The executive council of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, called for an “immediate infusion of federal assistance for Detroit” to be matched by Michigan, which they say has not done enough to keep the city from going through bankruptcy. …“It appears that Governor [Rick] Snyder and [Emergency Financial Manager] Kevyn Orr are pushing Detroit into bankruptcy to gut the modest benefits received by Detroit’s retired public service employees,” the AFL-CIO’s statement reads.

I suppose I could make some snarky comments, but I’ll close with two vaguely sympathetic responses.

First, there’s no way a bailout of Detroit goes through the House of Representatives. Heck, I don’t even think it could make it through the Senate. So some folks on the left would be justified if they asked why the high rollers on Wall Street supposedly deserved a bailout a few years ago but they don’t get one today.

The answer, of course, is discrimination by color. But I’m not talking black vs white. The color that matters in politics is green. The financial industry dispenses huge campaign contributions to both sides of the aisle, and the bailout was their payoff. Public employee unions, by contrast, give almost every penny of their money to Democrats, so there’s no incentive for GOPers to do the wrong thing.

Second, I have no idea whether retired bureaucrats in Detroit get “modest benefits.” I’m skeptical for very obvious reasons, but the real problem is that the city screwed up by having too many people riding in the wagon without paying attention to whether there were enough people producing in the private sector to pull the wagon.

Is that the fault of the garbage men, clerks, secretaries, and other municipal employees? That’s a hard question to answer. They obviously weren’t calling the shots, but they were happy to go along for the ride.

At some point, they should have paid attention to the message in this Chuck Asay cartoon.

P.S. For readers in New Jersey (and also New York City), I’ll be speaking this Wednesday, July 31, at the Friedman Day luncheon sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.

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The IRS is worthy of scorn. It is a bloated bureaucracy that routinely violates the rights of taxpayers.

But even I didn’t think it was possible for a collection of bureaucrats to display the blithering incompetence necessary to send $46 million of handouts to nearly 24,000 fake returns filed from a single address.

Yes, a single address. I’m not joking. Read these details from MSN…but only if you don’t have high blood pressure.

If you make an oversight while paying your taxes to the IRS, you better believe you’ll be audited, harshly fined, and held completely accountable. Meanwhile, in 2011, the IRS accidentally sent more than $46 million in refunds to 23,994 “unauthorized” alien workers. And they sent it all to one Atlanta address. This is coming to light thanks to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) audit report.

Even I’m amazed, and I have extremely low expectations.

Keep in mind, by the way, that the “refunds” mentioned in the story almost surely aren’t refunds. Instead, they’re “earned income credit” payments, which are a form of income redistribution laundered through the tax code.

I explained back in 2010 how this scam works, and it’s worth noting this is a huge problem – more than $10 billion of fraud each and every year.

The nitwits at the IRS even sends housing tax credit checks to prisoners!

And these are the geniuses in charge of enforcing Obamacare. Hey, what could possibly go wrong?

For Heaven’s sake, let’s rip up the entire tax system and replace it with a simple and fair flat tax.

Or, better yet, let’s shrink the federal government down to the size envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Then we wouldn’t need any broad-based tax.

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What do you do if you’re part of a government bureaucracy that has been caught red-handed engaged in sleazy, corrupt, and (almost surely) illegal targeting of Americans for their political beliefs?

But before you answer, keep in mind that your bureaucracy also has been exposed for wasting huge amounts of money at lavish conferences. What’s the ideal way of dealing with the fallout from that scandal as well?

The answer is simple. Even though you and your pals already are paid more than the peasants in the private sector, give yourself and your cronies giant bonuses!

I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from an AP report.

The Internal Revenue Service is about to pay $70 million in employee bonuses despite an Obama administration directive to cancel discretionary bonuses because of automatic spending cuts enacted this year, according to a GOP senator. …“The IRS always claims to be short on resources,” Grassley said. “But it appears to have $70 million for union bonuses…” Three congressional committees and the Justice Department are investigating the targeting of conservative groups. And key Republicans in Congress are promising more scrutiny of the agency’s budget, especially as it ramps up to play a major role in implementing the new health care law.

Sort of makes this cartoon self evident.

IRS Trust Cartoon

Indeed, this motivates me to announce “Mitchell’s First Theorem of Government.”

I’ve explicitly expressed this sentiment in the past, and hinted at it here, here, and here.

Now it’s time to make it official.

Mitchell's First Theorem of Government

I hope you’ll agree this is a nice addition to Mitchell’s Golden Rule, Mitchell’s Bleeding Heart Guide, and Mitchell’s Law.

And maybe one of these will catch on and I can be famous like Art Laffer.

P.S. Enjoy some cartoons about the IRS scandals here, here, and here.

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I’ve repeatedly explained that Keynesian economics doesn’t work because any money the government spends must first be diverted from the productive sector of the economy, which means either higher taxes or more red ink.

So unless one actually thinks that politicians spend money with high levels of effectiveness and efficiency, this certainly suggests that growth will be stronger when the burden of government spending is modest (and if spending is concentrated on “public goods,” which do have a positive “rate of return” for the economy).

I’ve also complained (to the point of being a nuisance!) that there are too many government bureaucrats and they cost too much.

But I never would have thought that there were people at the IMF who would be publicly willing to express the same beliefs. Yet that’s exactly what two economists found in a new study.

Here are some key passages from the abstract.

We quantify the extent to which public-sector employment crowds out private-sector employment using specially assembled datasets for a large cross-section of developing and advanced countries… Regressions of either private-sector employment rates or unemployment rates on two measures of public-sector employment point to full crowding out. This means that high rates of public employment, which incur substantial fiscal costs, have a large negative impact on private employment rates and do not reduce overall unemployment rates.

So even an international bureaucracy now acknowledges that bureaucrats “incur substantial fiscal costs” and “have a large negative impact on private employment.”

Well knock me over with a feather.

Next thing you know, one of these bureaucracies will tell us that government spending, in general, undermines prosperity. Hold on, the European Central Bank and World Bank already have produced such research. And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has even explained how welfare spending hurts growth by reducing work incentives.

To be sure, these are the results of research by staff economists, which the political appointees at these bureaucracies routinely ignore.

Nonetheless, it’s good to know that there’s powerful evidence for smaller government, just in case we ever find some politicians who actually want to do the right thing.

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I’ve shared some outrageous stories about bureaucrats ripping off taxpayers.

So perhaps it is time to create a Bureaucrat-of-the-Year Award to honor the parasite who best exemplifies the unofficial SEIU motto of “Better Living on the Taxpayer Teat.”

And I think we already have a very strong candidate for 2013. Ms. Dorothy Dugger certainly has the right skills, working the system to get 19 months of vacation time after being forced out of her position. Here are some excerpts from a story in the Washington Times.

A former official of the Bay Area Rapid Transit raked in more than $333,000 last year without working a single day after she resigned under pressure in May 2011. Dorothy Dugger, the BART’s former general manager, quietly stayed on the payroll, burning off nearly 80 weeks of unused vacation time, drawing paychecks and full benefits for more than 19 months after she agreed to quit more than two years ago, San Jose Mercury News reported.

But that’s only part of the story. Yes, she was grossly overpaid and, yes, she has been bilking the grotesquely lavish fringe benefits system reserved for the bureaucracy.

But she also got a big fat severance package! Sort of a reward she received because she was an incompetent employee who wasn’t properly fired by an incompetent government.

But no worries. Taxpayers are there to smooth everything over.

The months of extra pay were in addition to the $920,000 Ms. Dugger was paid to leave after the BART’s board botched an effort to fire her by violating public meetings laws, San Jose Mercury News reported.

You’ll be happy to know, however, that Ms. Dugger is willing to acknowledge that some people may not be happy about

When asked by the paper if she thought the payout was fair to BART riders, she said: “That’s a fair issue to debate.”

How generous of her to say this is a “fair issue” now that she’s already pocketed all her loot and left “government service.”

But don’t forget that there are millions of other bureaucrats still on the payroll, earning more than us while working less than us.

And while Ms. Dugger has some impressive credentials for the Bureaucrat-of-the-Year Award, she does face some stiff competition. John Geary, for instance, used his job as a welfare bureaucrat to perpetrate a welfare-for-sex scam. And Susan Muranishi managed to snag a guaranteed yearly payment of $423,664 for the rest of her life.

We pay, they play.

P.S. Let’s be thankful we’re not Denmark.

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I’ve complained endlessly about America’s bloated and expensive government bureaucracies. It irks me that people in the productive sector get slammed with ever-higher taxes in part to support a bunch of paper pushers, regulators, cronies, busy bodies, hacks, and others who have climbed on the gravy train of public sector employment.

It even bothers me that bureaucrats put in fewer hours on the job than private-sector workers, even though I realize the economy probably does better when government employees are lazy (after all, we probably don’t want hard-working OSHA inspectors, Fannie and Freddie regulators, and IRS bureaucrats).

But sometimes it helps to realize that things could be worse. And based on some international data from my “friends” at the OECD, let’s be thankful the United States isn’t Denmark.

That’s because nearly 20 percent of Denmark’s economic output is diverted to pay the salaries and benefits of bureaucrats, compared to “only” about 11 percent of GDP in the United States.

Bureaucrat Costs

Not only are bureaucrats nearly twice as expensive in Denmark as in the United States, they’re also much more expensive in Denmark than in other Nordic nations.

Speaking of Nordic nations, they tend to get bad scores because a very large share of their populations are sucking at the government employment teat.

Bureaucrat share of labor force

Whether we’re looking at the total cost of the bureaucracy or the number of bureaucrats, the United States is a middle-of-the-pack country.

But I am somewhat surprised by some of the other results.

  • Germany is significantly better than the United States, whether measured by the cost of the bureaucracy or the size of the bureaucracy.
  • Japan also does much better than America, notwithstanding that nation’s other problems.
  • In the I’m-not-surprised category, France does poorly and Switzerland does well.
  • To see where bureaucrats are most overpaid, look at the nations (particularly Greece, but also Portugal and Spain) where overall pay is a very large burden but bureaucrats are not a big share of the workforce.
  • To see where the trends are most worrisome, look at the changes over time. The total cost of bureaucracy, for instance, jumped considerably between 2000 and 2009 in Ireland, Greece, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Spain, and the United States. So much for “austerity.”

P.S. These numbers are only for OECD nations, so it’s quite possible that other jurisdictions are worse. To cite just one example, I was one of the researchers for the Miller-Shaw Commission, which discovered that fiscal problems in the Cayman Islands are almost entirely a function of too many bureaucrats with too much compensation.

P.P.S. Here’s my video on the cost of bureaucracy in the United States.

P.P.P.S. Denmark has a bloated and costly bureaucracy, but it compensates by having very pro-market policies in areas other than fiscal policy.

P.P.P.P.S. Perhaps the numbers are bad in Denmark because people like Robert Nielson are listed on government payrolls as independent leisure consultants?

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John Geary is not a good person.

He’s been a bureaucrat for about a decade, which almost surely means he’s over-paid and under-worked.

IRS welfareNot only is he a bureaucrat, but his job is to distribute welfare, which means he’s been screwing taxpayers and trapping poor people into government dependency.

But apparently he wasn’t satisfied with screwing taxpayers and poor people, at least in the figurative sense of the word. Here’s some of a report from a local CBS station.

Welfare Bureaucrat CriminalA state welfare worker is facing charges after allegedly offering benefits in exchange for sex. …According to the police criminal complaint, Geary also repeatedly asked the woman to smoke crack with him on the weekends when his wife was working and his children were asleep in their North Versailles home. …Police think there may be more victims as Geary allegedly told the woman that he had done the same thing with women in the past.

Gee, he sounds like a really swell guy and a model husband and father, wouldn’t you agree?

P.S. Perhaps Mr. Geary should be the first non-recipient member of the Moocher Hall of Fame?

P.P.S. Furthermore, we could include this in the Great-Moments-in-Local-Government series. Previous versions can be seen here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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I’m happy to bash the IRS, but I usually try to explain that our anger should be focused on the politicians who created the corrupt, 74,000-page tax code.

But sometimes the IRS deserves some negative attention. The tax collection bureaucracy has thieving employees, incompetent employees, thuggish employees, brainless employees, and victimizing employees.

The senior folks at the IRS also deserve scorn for bone-headed decisions such as squandering millions of dollars on a P.R. campaign and a scheme to regulate and control private tax preparers.

Now it seems we have another reason to condemn the tax-collection bureaucracy. The IRS is engaging in Nixon-type political harassment.

Here’s some of what the Associated Press just reported.

The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups.

Heaven forbid somebody self-identify as being patriotic. Obviously a cause for investigation by the IRS.

And it’s rather ironic that the IRS felt compelled to apologize just a few days after President Obama just told us we shouldn’t listen to “voices” telling us that bad things happen in Washington.

But it’s not just that the IRS targeted groups opposing big government. The bureaucrats also violated the rules designed to protect taxpayers from IRS abuse.

…groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said. “That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.

But you can put your mind at ease because senior IRS officials assure us that the targeting of Tea Party groups had nothing to do with political bias.

Lerner said the practice was…not motivated by political bias. …IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the IRS was not targeting groups based on their political views. “There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman told a House Ways and Means subcommittee.

Just like we’re supposed to believe that political bias had nothing to do with all the IRS harassment of conservative groups during the Clinton years. The message from the elites in Washington is “Nothing to see here, move along.”

But as the Wall Street Journal warned at the time, it seems there is a remarkable lack of curiosity about patterns of IRS abuse.

…once we agree that a politicized IRS is a dangerous thing, it is hard to understand the see-no-evil approach taken by the Congress, the press and the judiciary about serious, current allegations of exactly this. …organizations have been using the Freedom of Information Act to find out if there is anything to the extraordinary run of audits that happened to hit a number of tax-exempt organizations that might reasonably be described as Clinton enemies. …we have lots of Clinton enemies who have suffered actual audits, and very little interest in finding out whether this was simply a massive coincidence or the result of something more sinister.

And now we’re going through the same process again.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a lesson to be learned about the dangers of giving power to politicians and bureaucrats.

Yet another argument for the flat tax. If there’s no charitable deduction, there’s no opening for a politically biased IRS bureaucracy to investigate and harass non-profit groups because of their philosophical beliefs.

P.S. On a lighter note, here’s the IRS version of the quadratic formula, and a cartoon showing how GPS would work if operated by the IRS.

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I can say with great confidence that government bureaucrats are overpaid compared to people in the productive sector of the economy.

Why am I sure that this is true, particularly when the so-called Federal Salary Council claims bureaucrats are underpaid?

For the simple reason that the “job opening and labor turnover” data from the Department of Labor is the best way to measure whether a group of workers is overpaid or underpaid.

And you probably won’t be surprised to learn from this data that bureaucrats at the federal, state, and local level are only about 1/3rd as likely to quit their jobs as workers in the private sector.

They’re less likely to leave their jobs, needless to say, because they generally get paid more than they’re worth.

But just in case you think this data is unconvincing, let’s look at some additional research.

Sita Slavov of the American Enterprise Institute explores this topic in an article for U.S. News & World Report.

…studies show that, while the salaries of public sector workers are roughly in line with those paid in the private sector, public sector workers receive substantially more generous fringe benefits, such as pensions, health benefits, vacation and job security. …Why are public sector workers so highly compensated? And, why is their compensation so heavy on benefits? Workers certainly value benefits, such as access to group health insurance, and many benefits are tax advantaged. But do public sector workers really value these benefits more than private sector workers? Edward Glaeser and Giacomo Ponzetto have attempted to address these questions in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper entitled “Shrouded Costs of Government: The Political Economy of State and Local Public Pensions.” The authors present a formal model in which public sector compensation is determined by a political process that pits politicians against each other in a competition for votes. They show that this political process results in a public sector compensation package with generous benefits.

In other words, bureaucrats are over-compensated, and much of their excess compensation is in the form of generous fringe benefits.

The new study cited by Sita looks at why this happens.

Public sector workers have an information advantage over other voters. In particular, they are better informed about their own compensation packages. Moreover, this information advantage is more pronounced for benefits than salary. This is plausible because information about public sector salaries is available to the general public… In contrast, information about public sector pensions is less widely available, and because of complications involved in valuing future pension benefit promises, it is also more difficult to interpret. As a result, politicians propose generous public sector compensation that is tilted towards benefits rather than salary. A politician who tries to scale back public sector benefits will lose support from public sector voters (who are hurt by the benefit cut) without gaining much support from other voters (who gain from lower taxes but are poorly informed).

My interpretation of these findings is that politicians and bureaucrats basically conspire to rip off taxpayers.

In exchange for campaign contributions and other forms of political support, the politicians give the bureaucrats excessive compensation. But they make it difficult for taxpayers to figure out how they’re getting robbed by concentrating a big share of the excess in harder-to-measure fringe benefits.

Another advantage of that approach, by the way, is that the bill for all the retiree benefits doesn’t come due until some point in the future, by which time the politicians who put taxpayers on the hook often have retired or moved on to some other position.

But these promises do translate into real costs sooner or later, as taxpayers have painfully learned in places such as diverse as California and Greece.

Though, to be fair, governments get into fiscal trouble because they also make irresponsible commitments to all workers, including those in the private sector. America’s long-term fiscal crisis, for instance, is because of poorly designed entitlement programs.

Bu this isn’t an excuse to do nothing. It just means we have to reform entitlements and also trim back the excessive compensation for the bureaucracy. This video elaborates.

P.S. If you still aren’t convinced that bureaucrats are overpaid, look at this remarkable map.

P.P.S. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that bureaucrats also don’t work as hard as the rest of us.

P.P.P.S. I’m more concerned about the overall size of government than I am about the pay levels of bureaucrats. I’d much rather focus on shutting down the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for instance, instead of simply trying to reduce the pay of HUD bureaucrats.

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A regular feature of this blog used to be a “taxpayers vs bureaucrats” series, which featured outrageous examples of government employees getting wildly overcompensated.

I even narrated a video on the topic of excessive pay and benefits for bureaucrats.

But I stopped the series because it was too depressing. How often can read stories like this, after all, and not feel glum about America’s future?

But I must lack willpower because I can’t resist writing about the latest scandal involving bureaucratic bloat.

Check out some of the ridiculous details about the woman who has earned the title of California’s Golden Bureaucrat.

Alameda County supervisors have really taken to heart the adage that government should run like a business — rewarding County Administrator Susan Muranishi with the Wall Street-like wage of $423,664 a year. For the rest of her life. …Muranishi’s annual pension will be equal to the dollar total of her entire yearly package — $413,000. She also has a separate executive private pension plan, for which the county chips in $46,500 a year.

Yes, you read correctly. She’ll be ripping off taxpayers “for the rest of her life.”

But if you want to get even more upset, check out how she’s bilking the people.

…in addition to her $301,000 base salary, Muranishi receives:

  • $24,000, plus change, in “equity pay’’ to guarantee that she makes at least 10 percent more than anyone else in the county.
  • About $54,000 a year in “longevity” pay for having stayed with the county for more than 30 years.
  • An annual performance bonus of $24,000.
  • And another $9,000 a year for serving on the county’s three-member Surplus Property Authority, an ad hoc committee of the Board of Supervisors that oversees the sale of excess land.

Like other county executives, Muranishi also gets an $8,292-a-year car allowance.

I’m relieved she’s getting a car allowance. The poor thing otherwise would have to rely on public transit. And isn’t it nice that she automatically gets a “performance bonus”? Sort of defeats the purpose, though, if it’s automatic. But what do I know, I’m just a taxpayer.

Jerry Brown MosesEven though I obviously lack the special insight needed to justify bloated compensation packages for California bureaucrats, I have enough common sense to know that the over-burdened taxpayers of California are being stretched beyond the breaking point – especially now that the looters and moochers have imposed a new 13.3 percent top tax rate on the state’s dwindling supply of high earners.

It’s no surprise that lots of high-paying jobs are relocating to states like Texas with better tax policy. Nor is it a surprise when pro golfers like Phil Mickelson warn they may leave the state. But when even a certified leftist like Bill Maher says he’s thinking about escaping, you know the situation is serious.

So for the umpteenth time, I will predict that the combination of bloated government and punitive taxation will lead to fiscal crisis in California.

Too much government spending and the Laffer Curve are not a good combination.

When you lure too many people into riding in the wagon and penalize those pulling the wagon, bad things happen. Doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at France or California.

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I like rankings and maps because you get to see a lot of information in a single image.

I’ve shared some maps making very interesting international comparisons.

Here are some good state maps with useful information.

And I even have a local map.

Now we have a map, based on some research from the Friedman Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, showing which states have the most education bureaucrats compared to actual educators.

Non-teacher to Teacher Ratio Map

I’m ashamed that my state of Virginia is the worst in the nation. Maybe paying for this bureaucratic bloat explains why our Governor recently broke his promise and imposed a huge tax increase.

I’m also shocked that Illinois is one of the best states in the nation, at least by this measure. Though I suspect this is the exception to the rule and the Prairie State will still be neck and neck with California in the race to bankruptcy.

Though Illinois is much closer to the bottom than to the top in the “Moocher Index,” so maybe it’s not as bad as we think.

P.S. If you like this “educrat” ranking, here’s a “Poverty Pimp” ranking of “public welfare” bureaucrats compared to state population. Ohio and Alaska do poorly in both, for what it’s worth.

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I’m not a TV watcher. I don’t even have cable. So I’m only vaguely aware that there’s a program called “Parks and Recreation.”

Based on these clips, though, it seems that Ron Swanson would be my favorite character.

Let’s start with his inside assessment of government efficiency. This is the snarkiest clip I’ve seen about local government, rivaling this brutal video on overpaid firefighters.

Makes my video on overpaid bureaucrats pale in comparison.

But is he right about local government? Well, read this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this and decide for yourself.

Oh, and don’t forget what our feckless local school officials are doing to America’s children.

Swanson also has an amusing take on the general topic of bloated government.

I’d apply the same level of skepticism to the defense budget, of course, but Swanson’s character is on to something. Sort of the same theme of government being bloated and overweight that can be found in cartoons here, here, here, and here.

Then there’s this gem.

The piglet comparison, needless to say, made me think of this famous Chuck Asay cartoon.

I’m curious, by the way, whether Swanson’s character on the program is unappealing. In other words, is this an example of Hollywood seeking to mock libertarianism?

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Public finance experts are quite familiar with the budgetary shenanigans of cossetted government bureaucracies.

They even have terms to describe how agencies and departments try to manipulate outcomes by claiming that any requirement for fiscal restraint will necessitate cuts to the most politically popular parts of the budget.

  • The “fireman first principle” – Describes how local government bodies (often coordinating with local politicians) will claim that firemen will have to be laid off and/or firehouses will have to close if there is any budgetary discipline. You can replace firefighters with cops or teachers if you want. The key point is to divert attention from the countless ways that local governments waste money by focusing on the few things that voters actually care about.
  • The “Washington Monument syndrome” – Based on a real-world example during the 1970s of the National Park Service claiming it would have to shut down tourist access to popular Washington-area sites if it was subject to fiscal restraint, the modern-day equivalent is President Obama scaring people with hysterical assertions about threats to food safety and airline operations.

Thomas Sowell clearly understands this racket.

Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do? The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.

Bingo. Bulls-eye. A perfect analysis of bureaucratic incentives and public-choice economics.

Sowell then describes what’s now happening in Washington.

The Obama administration is following the same pattern. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, released thousands of illegal aliens from prisons to save money — and create alarm. The Federal Aviation Administration says it is planning to cut back on the number of air traffic controllers, which would, at a minimum, create delays for airline passengers, in addition to fears for safety that can create more public alarm. …it serves Obama’s interest to maximize the damage and the public alarm, which he can direct against Republicans. President Obama has said that he would veto legislation to let him choose what to cut. That should tell us everything we need to know about the utter cynicism of this glib man.

The political cartoonists also are having a field day making fun of Obama’s silly demagoguery.

Let’s start with Michael Ramirez. You can see why he’s currently leading in the best-cartoonist poll.

Sequester Cartoon Ramirez 4

Nate Beeler also has a good contribution to the debate. The President is acting like the world is going to end because spending is going to be “slashed” by 1.2 percent, which means – gasp! – that spending will “only” grow by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years.

Yet somehow Armageddon has not occurred.

Sequester Cartoon Beeler 4

Indeed, the worst possible outcome for Obama and the other statists is that people notice zero negative impact when spending is restrained.

This Steve Kelley cartoon is very appealing to me because it shows the President going after the sequester when the real problem is an excessive burden of government spending.

Sequester Cartoon Kelley 4

Last but not least, we have a very good Scott Stantis cartoon.

Sequester Cartoon Stantis 4

The Stantis cartoon is particularly insightful because the GOP has won the battle, but the war is not over.

As I noted yesterday, Obama will have several additional opportunities to undo the sequester savings.

Thomas Jefferson was right when he warned that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

P.S. You can enjoy more sequester cartoons here, here, and here.

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When I first read this story in the Washington Post about supposedly under-appreciated federal bureaucrats, I was tempted to focus on the sentence referring to “the sledgehammer of budget cuts scheduled to hit today.”

Is the Washington Post so biased and/or clueless that reporters really think that a 1.2 percent reduction in overall spending for the current fiscal year (which means the federal budget would still be larger than it was last year) represents a “sledgehammer of budget cuts”?

But I just mocked the New York Times last week for its reporting about supposed “deep spending cuts” and I also nailed the Washington Post back in 2011 for using the term “slash” for a budget plan that would have shaved a miniscule $6 billion from a budget of $3,800 billion.

So instead I want to focus on the part of the story featuring self-pitying remarks of federal bureaucrats. Here’s a good sampling.

…federal workers in Mantua say…having “United States Treasury” atop their paycheck [now] means having to defend yourself against arguments, from strangers and even from your own relatives, that you’re an overpaid and underworked leech. …many federal workers are…bothered by the growing sense that the careers they chose may now seem unattractive, even unworthy. …on a recent visit to Missouri, he got fed up with ritual denunciations of federal workers… Won, a federal worker for 31 years, resents the notion, now commonplace on talk radio and Web sites devoted to bashing the government, that federal workers carry a lighter load than their for-profit counterparts. …older government workers…are concerned about their pensions but even more anxious about why politicians are so willing to make federal employees the target of popular rage.

Excuse me while I wipe away the tears and compose myself. There are so many stories of unbearable hardship.

  • It’s absolutely heartbreaking to read about those unfortunate, oppressed, and under-appreciated bureaucrats who live in “a leafy section of Fairfax County where houses sell in the $700,000 range.”
  • And you can understand my tears of sympathy for folks who, as one bureaucrat admitted, had jobs where the “pay was guaranteed and you couldn’t get laid off.”
  • Moreover, we all share the pain of bureaucrats who must deal with uncomfortable comparisons, such as the fact that “pensions, once considered routine, have become a wild luxury in the private sector, so when many Americans hear that public employees still get retirement pay, they can get frustrated.”

Perhaps we can create a civilian version of the Medal of Honor, given to the bureaucrat who suffers the most because of the “sledgehammer” cuts and those mean people on “web sites.”

Indeed, I think we have our first recipient. But brace yourself before you read this passage. The anguish and suffering may haunt you for the rest of your life. This bureaucrat is enduring unimaginable hardship.

..has already cut back in anticipation of the forthcoming budget slashing: He told a carpenter who was going to build bookshelves in the living room that the $5,000 job will have to be put off, and he told his doggie day care provider that he’ll have to go without that service when the furloughs kick in.

Oh my God! Not only are we failing to appreciate government bureaucrats, but the “budget slashing” will lead to neglected pets as well. What sort of cruel and heartless society have we become?!?

And imagine the Keynesian death spiral that will occur when the carpenter and dog walker then have to cut back on their purchases? Maybe we need to take Bastiat’s advice and go break some windows!

Edwards Bureaucrat Pay ComparisonTo make matters worse, there are mean-spirited people such as Chris Edwards at places such as the Cato Institute that have the nerve to point out that federal bureaucrats get about twice the overall level of compensation as those in the productive sector of the economy.

How can that man sleep at night after making such an invidious comparison?

But there’s another cad at the Cato Institute who actually had the nerve to narrate this video, which unfairly uses facts and data to show that the federal workforce is over-compensated.

Worst of all, he actually suggests at the end of the video is that the real problem is that the federal government is far too large. What sort of place would employ such unreasonable folks?

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Texas is in much better shape than California. Taxes are lower, in part because Texas has no state income tax.

No wonder the Lone Star State is growing faster and creating more jobs.

And the gap will soon get even wider since California voters recently decided to drive away more productive people by raising top tax rates.

But a key challenge for all governments is controlling the size and cost of bureaucracies.

Government employees are probably overpaid in both states, but the situation is worse in California, as I discuss in this interview with John Stossel.

But being better than California is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Texas fiscal policy.

A column in today’s Wall Street Journal, written by the state’s Comptroller of Public Accounts, points out some worrisome signs.

As the chief financial officer of the nation’s second-largest state, even I have found it hard to get a handle on how much governments are spending, and how much debt they’re taking on. Every level of government is piling up incredible bills. And they’re coming due, whether we like it or not. Even in low-tax Texas, property taxes have risen three times faster than the inflation rate and four times faster than our population growth since 1992. Our local governments, meanwhile, more than doubled their debt load in the last decade, to more than $7,500 in debt for every man, woman and child in the state. In Houston alone, city-employee pension plans are facing an unfunded liability of $2.4 billion. But too many taxpayers aren’t given the information they need to make informed decisions when they vote debt issues. Recently I spent several months holding about 40 town-hall meetings with Texans across our state. Each time, I asked the attendees if they could tell me how much debt their local governments are carrying. Not a single person in a single town had this information.

In other words, taxpayers need to be eternally vigilant, regardless of where they live. Otherwise the corrupt rectangle of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, and interest groups will figure out hidden ways of using the political process to obtain unearned wealth.

P.S. The second-most-viewed post on this blog is this joke about Texas, California, and a coyote, so it must be at least somewhat amusing. If you want some Texas-specific humor, this police exam is amusing and you’ll enjoy this joke about the difference between Texans, liberals and conservatives. And if you want California-specific humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon hits the nail on the head.

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During the Obamacare debate, Paul Krugman told us we could ignore stories about what was happening across the ocean, writing that “In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.”

Every so often, I wonder how Krugman would define a “scare story.” How about starving babies to death, as I wrote about last month? Would he say that’s “false,” or simply not a “scare story”?

Let’s look at some new information from the U.K.’s government-run system and see whether we can expect our healthcare to improve or deteriorate now that Obamacare’s beginning to get implemented.

We’ll start with a look at how the overall British system is performing, including the remarkable and depressing fact that more than 1 in 10 patients are victimized by “basic errors,” leading to 5.2 percent of deaths.

The largest and most detailed survey into hospital deaths has revealed that almost 12,000 patients are needlessly dying every year as a result of poor patient care. The researchers from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine based the study on 1,000 deaths at 10 NHS trusts during 2009. The study revealed that basic errors were made in more than one in 10 cases, leading to 5.2% of deaths, which was the equivalent of nearly 12,000 preventable deaths in hospitals in England every year. The research published in the British Medical Journal’s Quality and Safety publication found that errors occurred when hospital staff made an incorrect diagnosis, prescribed the wrong drugs, failed to monitor a patient’s condition or react when a patient deteriorated. Errors in omission were more frequent than active mistakes. The majority of patients who died were elderly suffering with multiple health conditions, but the study found that some patients whose deaths were preventable were aged in their 30s and 40s.

Now let’s look at healthcare – if you use the term loosely – at one Government-run hospital. The UK-based Telegraph has the stomach-turning details.

Hundreds of hospital patients died needlessly. In the wards, people lay starving, thirsty and in soiled bedclothes, buzzers droning hopelessly as their cries for help went ignored. Some received the wrong medication; some, none at all.Over 139 days, the public inquiry into the Stafford hospital scandal has heard testimony from scores of witnesses about how an institution which was supposed to care for the most vulnerable instead became a place of danger. Decisions about which patients to treat were left to receptionists…and nurses switched off equipment because they did not know how to use it. …patients were left so dehydrated that some began drinking from flower vases. By the time the hospital’s failings were exposed by regulators, in 2009, up to 1,200 patients had died needlessly between 2005 and 2008. …on the wards, patients – most of them elderly – were left in agony and screaming for pain relief, as their loved ones desperately begged for help. The human toll was dreadful. In the course of 18 months, one family lost four members, including a newborn baby girl, after a catalogue of failings by the hospital. …Patients were left without medication, food and drink, and left on commodes. Basic hygiene was neglected: a woman was left unwashed for the last four weeks of her life. Relatives tried to keep their loved ones clean, scrubbing down beds and furniture and even bringing in clean linen. One consultant described how amid the chaos, it seemed at though nurses became “immune to the sound of pain”.

It’s disturbing to read something like this, but can you imagine the horror of having a sick child in one of these wretched British institutions?

I’m not saying there aren’t mistakes and instances of sub-standard care in U.S. hospitals. I’m sure that’s the case. And regular readers know that I’ve complained about the absurd government-caused inefficiency of the American healthcare system.

The point I’m making is that horror stories are more common from the U.K. because the entire system is a bureaucracy. The nurses and doctors on that side of the Atlantic are akin to clerks at the Postal Service and DMV on this side of the Atlantic.

P.S. If you want more horror stories about government-run healthcare in the United Kingdom click here, here, here, here, herehereherehereherehereherehere, here and here.

P.P.S. And to close on an upbeat note, click here to learn how we can save America’s healthcare system.

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In large part because of an excessive burden of government, the American economy is suffering European-style stagnation, with even the Washington Post now confessing that growth far below the long-run trend.

This helps explain why job creation has been so dismal in recent years, with more than twenty million Americans out of work, underemployed, or dropped out of the workforce.

But there is one pocket of enormous prosperity in America. It will warm your heart to know that our overlords in Washington are living the life of Riley.

Here are some of the highlights of a remarkable Reuters expose about the fat cats of big government, starting with the huge gap between the insider elite and the poor.

In the town that launched the War on Poverty 48 years ago, the poor are getting poorer despite the government’s help. And the rich are getting richer because of it. The top 5 percent of households in Washington, D.C., made more than $500,000 on average last year, while the bottom 20 percent earned less than $9,500 – a ratio of 54 to 1. That gap is up from 39 to 1 two decades ago. It’s wider than in any of the 50 states and all but two major cities.

One small but important correction in the previous excerpt. As I have noted many times, the “poor are getting poorer” because of “the government’s help.”

The article then explains that a lot of the redistribution in Washington is from taxpayers to a pampered elite.

…in the years since President Lyndon Johnson took aim at poverty in his first State of the Union address, there has been an increasingly strong crosscurrent: The government is redistributing wealth up, too – especially in the nation’s capital. …Two decades of record federal spending and expanding regulation have fostered a growing upper class of federal contractors, lobbyists and lawyers in the District of Columbia area. …Direct spending by the federal government accounts for 40 percent of the area’s $425 billion-a-year economy. …Roughly 15 cents of every dollar from the entire federal procurement budget stays in or around the government’s hometown, said Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. Last year, that was about $80 billion out of $536 billion in procurement spending, he said. The 15 percent share is far greater than the region’s 2 percent portion of the U.S. population. “We’re seeing an enormous transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the Washington economy,” said Fuller.

And all this spending leads to an elitist class of cronyists, politicians, contractors, bureaucrats, and lobbyists. No wonder the DC area is home to some of the richest counties in America.

But unlike other well-to-do areas, the wealth in DC is rarely accumulated by honest means.

Instead, it’s the result of perverse form of redistribution to big-government insiders. Check out these horrifying details.

Washington-area workers with incomes above $100,000 rose to 22 percent of the workforce, up from 14 percent in 1990, adjusted for inflation, a Reuters analysis of Census data found. …there are 320,000 federal jobs in the Washington area. Within the District of Columbia, 55 percent pay $100,000 or more. …Nearly 13,000 lobbyists registered with the government last year and reported $3.3 billion in fees, or about $260,000 per lobbyist. That’s 22 percent more lobbyists and 37 percent more inflation-adjusted revenue per lobbyist than in 1998… Times are flush for Washington lawyers as well. The number of attorneys in the area has risen 44 percent, twice the national rate, to 41,000 since 1999. Their average income, adjusted for inflation, rose 35 percent to $156,000.

I guess we know who’s having a merry Christmas.

All these rich bureaucrats, lobbyists, politicians, cronyists, and contractors certainly are living the good life, as revealed in a Washington Post story on the “Region’s Rising Wealth.” Here are some sordid excerpts.

…the D.C. region already has a reputation as one of the most affluent in the country. But the area is fast emerging as a home to the truly rich as well. High-end luxury retailers are responding. Brands such as Aston Martin are expanding their operations into the area — betting, for instance, that there will be plenty of customers who can afford the $280,000 sports car James Bond drives in the movies. …Already there are 500 Aston Martin owners in the area with the potential for more.

I’ve already shared an interview with Andrew Ferguson by Reason TV that should make all taxpayers upset. Why should ordinary taxpayers be coerced to subsidize Washington’s high-flying parasite economy?

Redistribution is a bad thing in most circumstances. But when you redistribute from poor to rich, that’s utterly perverse.

Well, thanks to profligacy by Bush and Obama, that’s exactly what’s happened.

The region’s top one percent of households make more than a half million dollars yearly — far more than the national average for the one percent, according to a study of Census data by Sentier Research, an Annapolis-based data analysis firm. And these top earners — many of whom are from dual-income households and benefit from federal contracting — weathered the recession better than their counterparts in some other metropolitan areas and the nation. More are moving beyond comfortable affluence to a much higher standard of living. “What is unique to D.C. is that there has been a change in the complexion of wealth here. There didn’t used to be much of this ultra-high-net-worth business here and now there is,” said Susan Traver, the regional president of BNY Mellon Wealth Management.

But everyone in the rest of America at least can go to sleep tonight with a warm and fuzzy feeling of joy, knowing that our money has created such comfortable lives for the political elite.

Milton Pedraza, the CEO of the Luxury Institute, a research and consulting firm, said that purveyors of luxury goods are drawn to the area because it has…a stable economy bolstered by the federal government. Government contracting, where some local entrepreneurs and business owners amassed their fortunes, has been a key driver of the region’s economy for three decades. A third of the region’s gross regional product still comes from federal spending… “Let’s face it . . . the only place with money during the recession was Washington, D.C.,” Pedraza said.

Perhaps we should make a slight correction in the previous excerpt. After all, shouldn’t it read “America suffered a recession because the only place with money was Washington, DC.”

Let’s wrap this up. A few years ago, I issued this video about overpaid bureaucrats.

But I now realize my mini-documentary only scratches the  surface. Yes, there are too many paper-pushers on the government payroll, and of course they get far too much compensation.

But what about unofficial government workforce of over-paid contractors? And all the lobbyists, consultants, and cronyists that exist only because we have a bloated federal government?

Our nation is being seriously damaged by this corrupt system, and I fear that the outcome will be Argentinian-style decline.

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My Cato Institute colleague, Chris Edwards, put together a remarkable (and depressing) chart showing that federal bureaucrats get almost twice the level of compensation as workers in the productive sector of the economy.

Defenders of the bureaucracy (including a federal pay panel dominated by bureaucrats) claim that government employees actually are underpaid because…well…just because.

My modest contribution to the debate was to put together a chart based on the Labor Department’s JOLTS data, which shows that bureaucrats are far less likely to voluntarily leave their jobs than folks in the private sector, which is very strong evidence that they are being over-compensated.

But all this debate about pay is looking at only one part of the equation. What about the stereotype that bureaucrats don’t work very hard? Well, as anyone who’s ever visited a motor vehicles department or a post office already knows, that’s also true.

And the hard data confirm our personal observations. Here are the main findings of new research by Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation, which was published in the Wall Street Journal.

…overstaffing is a serious problem in government, and the best evidence is a simple empirical fact: Government employees don’t work as much as private employees. …new evidence from a comprehensive and objective data set confirms that the “underworked” government employee is more than a stereotype. …The time-use survey’s data on work time…allow us to analyze both the number of hours individuals work during a typical workweek and the total number of hours they work during the year. …What we found was that during a typical workweek, private-sector employees work about 41.4 hours. Federal workers, by contrast, put in 38.7 hours, and state and local government employees work 38.1 hours. …Put another way, private employees spend around an extra month working each year compared with public employees.

Here’s the chart Excel generated when I entered the data in a spreadsheet. It must be nice to get paid a lot to work a little.

Bureaucrat Hours Worked

Actually, maybe it’s not a bad thing that bureaucrats are lazy. Do we really want more diligent IRS agents? More hard-charging OSHA inspectors? Do we want Fannie and Freddie regulators burning the midnight oil concocting more affordable leading rules?

I think you understand my concern.

So this brings us back to the fact that they are paid too much. This video has the gory details.

The real issue, as I state at the end of the video, is that most government jobs shouldn’t exist at all.

By the way, Biggs and Richwine include a very important point in their op-ed about the connection between the current budget negotiations and the existence of an over-paid and under-worked bureaucracy.

This fact may hold different lessons for different people, but our own take is simple: Before we ask private-sector employees to work more to support government, government itself should work as much as the private sector.

As noted above, I want government to do less, not for bureaucrats to do more, but their point is still appropriate.

P.S. Here’s a good joke about government bureaucracy. Here’s a similar joke in picture form. And we find the same humor in this joke, but with a bit more build up.

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Over the years, I’ve shared some outrageous examples of overpaid bureaucrats.

Hopefully we’re all disgusted when insiders rig the system to rip off taxpayers. And I suspect you’re not surprised to see that the worst example on that list comes from California, which is in a race with Illinois to see which state can become the Greece of America.

Well, the Golden State has a new über-bureaucrat. Here are some of the jaw-dropping details from a Bloomberg report.

The numbers are even larger in California, where a state psychiatrist was paid $822,000, a highway patrol officer collected $484,000 in pay and pension benefits and 17 employees got checks of more than $200,000 for unused vacation and leave. The best-paid staff in other states earned far less for the same work, according to the data.

Wow, $822,000 for a state psychiatrist. Not bad for government work. So what is Governor Jerry Brown doing to fix the mess? As you might expect, he’s part of the problem.

…the state’s highest-paid employees make far more than comparable workers elsewhere in almost all job and wage categories, from public safety to health care, base pay to overtime. …California has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs. …In California, Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t curbed overtime expenses that lead the 12 largest states or limited payments for accumulated vacation time that allowed one employee to collect $609,000 at retirement in 2011. …Last year, Brown waived a cap on accrued leave for prison guards while granting them additional paid days off. California’s liability for the unused leave of its state workers has more than doubled in eight years, to $3.9 billion in 2011, from $1.4 billion in 2003, according to the state’s annual financial reports. …The per-worker costs of delivering services in California vastly exceed those even in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Ohio.

Actually, it’s not just that he’s part of the problem. He’s making things worse, having seduced voters into approving a ballot measure to dramatically increase the tax burden on the upper-income taxpayers.

I suppose the silver lining to that dark cloud is that many bureaucrats now rank as part of the top 1 percent, so they’ll have to recycle some of their loot back to the political vultures in Sacramento.

Cartoon California Promised Land

But the biggest impact of the tax hike – as shown in the Ramirez cartoon – will be to accelerate the shift of entrepreneurs, investors, and small business owners to states that don’t steal as much. Indeed, a study from the Manhattan Institute looks at the exodus to lower-tax states.

The data also reveal the motives that drive individuals and businesses to leave California. One of these, of course, is work. …Taxation also appears to be a factor, especially as it contributes to the business climate and, in turn, jobs. Most of the destination states favored by Californians have lower taxes. States that have gained the most at California’s expense are rated as having better business climates. The data suggest that many cost drivers—taxes, regulations, the high price of housing and commercial real estate, costly electricity, union power, and high labor costs—are prompting businesses to locate outside California, thus helping to drive the exodus.

Yet another example of why tax competition is such an important force for economic liberalization. It punishes governments that are too greedy and gives taxpayers a chance to protect their property from the looter class.

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A regular feature on this blog is the government-stupidity contest between bureaucrats and politicians from the United States and the United Kingdom.

You can click here to peruse some of the most outrageous examples, including a couple of contestants from the private sector.

This has been a nip-and-tuck race for a long time, but the United Kingdom recently jumped into the lead with two jaw-dropping examples of moronic government behavior.

First, British bureaucrats took some kids away from their foster family because the parents didn’t believe in unlimited immigration, and, second, the U.K. government created a subsidy program that was so convoluted that not one single household in the entire country signed up for the goodies.

You know you’ve reached a special level of incompetence when a government is so bloody stupid that it can’t even give away money.

I was beginning to think the United States was doomed to also-ran status in this race.

But I should have known better. When it comes to finding creative ways to piss away other people’s money and make bone-headed choices, American politicians and bureaucrats are ready to meet the challenge.

This isn’t empty patriotism on my part. For proof, check out this Washington Examiner story about the federal government sending bureaucrats to a posh, $1,000-per-person conference, where they learned…I’m not making this up…how to respond to zombie attacks.

“Give…me…your…wallet”

When zombies attack, the Department of Homeland Security will be prepared. …money from the DHS’s Urban Areas Security Initiative went to buy snow cone machines in Michigan. Places like Fargo, N.D., and Keene, N.H., now have armored vehicles at their disposal, as do many other small towns. Keene said the vehicle was needed to protect its annual Pumpkin Festival. Arizona used $90,000 in DHS funding to install a video monitoring system at the Peoria Sports Complex, because apparently it is in the taxpayers’ interest to monitor the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres during spring training. …But if you think that’s waste, you need to know about the extraordinary training that the DHS was able to provide to first responders this year. They made attendance at the HALO Corp.’s 2012 Counter-Terrorism Summit an allowable expense for federal grant money. Yes, the California-based security company’s five-day event was held at a posh island resort and spa just outside of San Diego and cost $1,000 per person to attend, but that’s not even the best part. The showpiece event of the summit made was a live war game of a zombie apocalypse, complete with 40 actors in full zombie makeup as well as “state-of-the-art structure, pyrotechnic battlefield effects, medical special effects, vehicles and blank-firing weapons” according to a promotional video by HALO President Brad Barker. This enabled first responders to participate in a real-life “Dawn of the Dead” scenario and to know precisely what to do when their neighbors start trying to eat their human flesh.

As the Boy Scouts say, it’s best to “be prepared.” And thanks to federal tax dollars, the Department of Homeland Security is ready to defend us from a zombie attack.

I’m basically at a loss for words. Is anybody minding the store back in DC?

“Must…waste…more…money”

Why did this federal contractor think this was a good idea? Why did the Department of Homeland Security think it should be an allowable expense? Why did bureaucrats think it was a worthwhile way of spending their time?

There are no good answers – other than the fact that folks are far more likely to be frivolous and wasteful when they’re spending other people’s money. And that applies to the other examples cited in the excerpt above.

An armored vehicle to protect a pumpkin festival?!? If the taxpayers of Keene, NH, actually think the Canadians are about to sneak over the border and swipe some pumpkins, they should kick in a few bucks and hire an extra cop.

But so long as the kleptomaniacs in Washington are giving away our money, local governments have every reason to dream up ridiculous wish-lists.

No wonder the burden of government spending has reached record levels.

P.S. Don’t forget that the Department of Homeland Security was created during the Bush years. Another black mark on that statist period.

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I’ve written before about the heavy costs of regulation, including these rather sobering statistics. Or, to be more accurate, here are some staggering numbers.

But a lot of people don’t focus on the cost of regulation. They are motivated instead by a desire to protect themselves against unknown risks, which they assume are exacerbated by companies that are greedy for short-run profits.

I acknowledged this concern in the November issue of Townhall magazine.

…it is difficult—or even impossible—for the average consumer to gauge safety. Are we flying on a well-maintained plane? Are we eating food that is free of salmonella and botulism? Is our workplace protected against dangerous machinery? Are our children vulnerable to chemical exposure? Since the vast majority of people have no way of answering these questions, we shouldn’t be surprised that many of them want some sort of independent oversight—especially since they suspect that businesses will be tempted to cut corners. After all, less money spent on health and safety means more profit for shareholders.

But I also explained how the free market produces very effective forms of private regulation.

…the desire for profits creates a big incentive for businesses to use good practices while producing safe and effective products. Imagine you’re the CEO of a major airline, and one day all the regulatory agencies disappear. Are you going to stop maintaining your planes? At the risk of stating the obvious, the answer is no. One disaster could be the death knell for an airline, particularly if there were the slightest hint that the company was skimping on upkeep. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that investors would plow money into an airline when share value could disappear overnight because of an accident. And banks presumably would be leery about lending to an airline that faced the risk of quick bankruptcy. Moreover, insurance companies would have a very strong incentive to monitor the safety practices of the airline— and keep in mind no bank would lend money to an airline that lacked insurance. In other words, the competitive marketplace can be viewed as a very effective form of regulation. Instead of rules and red tape from Washington, the profit motive creates mutually reinforcing oversight.

This “mutually reinforcing oversight” does not guarantee that business won’t cut corners and/or make mistakes. But, then again, regulation from politicians and bureaucrats don’t stop that from happening either.

The key question to ask is which approach achieves the best results at the lowest cost.

The answer is the free market, though augmented by government regulations that pass a cost-benefit test, the tort system to discourage bad business behavior such as negligence, and the criminal justice system to fight behaviors such as fraud.

There will be a debate, of course, on where to draw the line. But one thing I can say for sure is that an intelligent system will never produce these examples of bureaucratic idiocy.

Remember, if government is the answer, you’ve asked a very strange question.

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