Your Tax Dollars At Work… Sometimes, Anyway.

When folks suggest that we reduce the size of government, we’re often accused of seeking Somalian anarchy, wanting to sack police and firefighters, that sort of thing. In point of fact, we dislike having to fund bureaucrats, hacks, and timeservers who pull down above average salaries for relative sinecures.

Now who’s stereotyping, Mondo?” I hear you cry. This leads us to a study discussed at the WSJ this morning. The authors examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and discovered

[D]uring 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. In a calendar year, private-sector employees work the equivalent of 3.8 more 40-hour workweeks than federal employees and 4.7 more weeks than state and local government workers. Put another way, private employees spend around an extra month working each year compared with public employees. If the public sector worked that additional month, governments could theoretically save around $130 billion in annual labor costs without reducing services.

We’ve excluded teachers from the full-year comparison because of their naturally shorter work year. But could public-private differences in work time be due to other occupational differences between the sectors? Large differences in work hours actually persist even when comparing workers with similar jobs and similar skills in each sector.

Their conclusion?

Before we ask private-sector employees to work more to support government, government itself should work as much as the private sector.

But that way lies Somalia, apparently.


About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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4 Responses to Your Tax Dollars At Work… Sometimes, Anyway.

  1. dave.s. says:

    I was an FDA inspector for a time, years ago. Interesting management problem: two big things you are trying to do. 1) food manufacturers (and drugs, cosmetics, med devices, etc etc) need to be kept on the straight and narrow. You don’t want guys to think, ‘I’ll spend ten percent less on fuel to heat the cans, and be almost as sure they won’t develop botulism. And besides, usually people cook the corn before they serve it, so that would take care of it, too’. 2) When things go badly wrong – a batch of contaminated food goes out to the warehouses around the country from a factory mishap, or Katrina knocks out power to frozen food warehouses in Louisiana, you need to have a bunch of trained people you can deploy to find the problem and get stuff off the market.

    The first thing, FDA handled by having the inspector corps go around with notebooks and rules, doing inspections, seeing if folks had signed off on the can heater procedure, if there was traceability. We wrote reports, kept records, went out of the office wherever our bosses sent us. We had to show up at factories during other people’s working hours, and if we’d looked at the line by two pm we left and went back to the office and wrote it up. The rhythm of our working life was, well, stately. And we really couldn’t ask some factory guy to put on a second shift to let us finish our work in the evening: we worked to their schedule. So yah, 38.7 hours, maybe so. But we were also the reserve army for Katrina, or for chasing down Green Giant creamed corn which was from the same batch as had taken somebody out. When that stuff happened, they needed us to hop to it. I’m not sure I see a better way – than having the reserve army of inspectors you can deploy at need – to manage that function, and I sure as Hell want somebody making the creamed corn gets enough heat at the cannery.

  2. dave.s. says:

    Actually, there were two burrs under your saddle: ‘relative sinecures’ and ‘better than average salaries’. And my above was really only a response to ‘relative sinecures’. What should civil servants make? Your view is, less.

    I generally think that’s right. There are a lot of pluses to the civil servant life – you generally have a pretty good ability to keep the job, which is a big plus in these times. You don’t have to hustle to get the work, it comes to you. The stately pace of the work (!). Civil servant organizations make a lot of hay out of salary surveys which content that wages are lower than comparable work in the private sector, these things seem to me to be generally cooked to give the desired answer and to leave out a number of the differences which make civil service compensation more attractive. The best argument, though, is that when positions are advertised, there are generally large numbers of qualified applicants. If you can fill them with people who can do the work, the positions are probably adequately compensated, right?

    I don’t think you want to be in vow of poverty territory: your building inspector should not be able to double his salary next month by going to work for the firm whose concrete strength he is testing this month. That way lies China and collapsing apartment buildings. Or Sao Paolo and collapsing apartment buildings. Or Haiti and collapsing apartment buildings. Or Mexico and a $20 in the wallet with your driver’s license which you hand to the trooper, and which is not there when he hands it back and waves you on, your traffic infraction otherwise unpunished. When your grade 8 earthquake strikes, you want to be in California or in Chile, places which were revealed to have held the line on building quality when it was tested, not in Szechuan. So I’m asserting that you want the wages and working conditions good enough that people will value the job, want to keep it, and be able to feel not-exploited in the work.

    The way they have been set is often by percentage increments over a base. There was a civil service wage, and then there was a meeting between the union and the Governor, and a 3.5 per cent increase was announced. And by the way, retire at 55 at 3 per cent of your top wage times number of years worked. Lather, rinse, repeat. Do that enough times and you are paying people well over what similarly qualified and energetic people in competitive industries are getting.

  3. dave.s. says:

    Yee Haw! Anecdotes about civil servants who could do with considerably less:

  4. dave.s. says:

    If your blood hasn’t boiled yet this morning, I can help:

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