Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yup...The Sectors, Again

Last week, I saw yet another op-ed in which the writer pointed out the supposed irony that arises when people who draw paychecks from Uncle Sam complain about excessive government spending.

I'm sensing a double standard here.

If and when a "Wall Street Insider" comes out and criticizes greed, corruption, or whatever other ills befall the most-hallowed sanctums of American capitalism, he is usually lauded for it, sometimes from all sides of the political spectrum. The idea, of course, is that someone who sees the system from "behind the green door" has special knowledge, or access. He is uniquely qualified to speak, and can even be called courageous for it.

With government workers, it shouldn't be hard to see a parallel -- it may be their very familiarity with the system that fuels so much of their strong sentiment. Because they see how incentive structures can get turned upside down in the absence of a profit motive, how incompetence sometimes gets rewarded within bureaucracies, and how the bottom line is often ignored when key decisions are made, their passions are stirred in a way that a counterpart from a private-sector profession can conceptually grasp but won't feel as viscerally.

I'll be the first to admit that I love my public-sector job. I plan to keep at it for another couple decades or so (the part-time side of it, at least). That said, I'm also keenly aware that several of our government budgets on all three levels have been stretched to the breaking point because of steady, annual public sector pay and benefit increases that have occurred even while compensation packages in the private sector have stagnated. The old trade-off about giving up some pay and perks in exchange for the stability and pension promised by government service isn't really the case any longer for many professions and education levels.

And I don't care where you work, who it's for, or whether you even like it -- that ought to scare you a bit.

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