Archive for May 4th, 2013

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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After the Supreme Court’s politically motivated decision to approve Obamacare, I shared a bunch of depressing (but funny) cartoons, including a few focusing on added power for the IRS.

That was a miserable point in time.

Five Justices on the Supreme Court basically said the Constitution didn’t limit the federal government, even though that’s exactly what our Founding Fathers were trying to do when they put together the document! And they gave the green light to a costly expansion of the welfare state.

Oh, and that decision was handed down on my birthday. What a kick in the gut.

Since that time, though, I’ve become a bit more optimistic.

I’m feeling hopeful because Obamacare is turning out to be a disaster. But why is that a reason for optimism?!?

Well, as I recently wrote, this creates an opportunity to help people understand that big government is the problem in health care.

Obamacare was enacted in 2010, and it was perceived to be a paradigm-shifting change in the healthcare system, even though it was just another layer of bad policy on top of lots of other bad policy. …But because people think we’ve had a paradigm shift and government now is in charge (pay attention, since this is my key argument), they will be much more likely to blame “Obamacare” and “government” for all the warts and inefficiencies of the healthcare system. This means the public will be more receptive to pro-market policies, such as Obamacare repeal, tax reforms to reduce over-insurance, as well as the Medicaid and Medicare reforms in the Ryan budget.

Here are some new cartoons that illustrate the law’s growing unpopularity.

We’ll start with this contribution from Eric Allie.

Obamacare Crtn 5

For obvious reasons, it sort of reminds me of this Jerry Holbert cartoon.

Our next cartoon is from Henry Payne.

Obamacare Crtn 4

And here’s one from Chuck Asay, our runner-up from the cartoon contest.

Obamacare Crtn 3

What makes the Asay cartoon so appropriate is that people who supported the law will now have to defend every bad thing that happens.

Speaking of which, a prominent Democrat recently warned that Obamacare was turning into a “train wreck,” and Steven Kelley turned that comment into a very good cartoon.

Obamacare Crtn 2

Let’s close with another Henry Payne cartoon.

Obamacare Crtn 1

A very relevant cartoon since the job market remains far below its potential. Something else that defenders of the law will have to justify.

If you haven’t exhausted your interest in anti-Obamacare cartoons, you can enjoy some others here, here, here, and here.

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