Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Morality of "Taking"

The battle is joined and the middle ground is evaporating as the excesses won by public-sector unions are being spotlighted and scrutinized in the face of irreconcilable budget deficits in virtually every state in the union. (I don't mean that to be hyperbolic.) The progressive talking points are that this is about the working man and about the kids and all sorts of nonsense. In all of this, I think we are missing two fundamental points that go to the heart the issue: a) what should be the basis of compensation, and b) what should be the basis of taxation?

To the first point, I offer a couple of semi-rhetorical questions.

1) Are the skills/time/talent rendered to the government (and by that I mean "the people") inherently more valuable than the same skills/time/talent rendered in the private sector. (Are public teachers worth more than private? Are government engineers (etc.) worth more than those working in the private sector?)

2) Assuming that we can find no reason why a free market would value the same services rendered in the same economy differently, why isn't there a law that prohibits paying ANY government employee more than the value of those contributions in the private sector?

3) Since risk and interruption are an inherent quality of employment value, and since a public sector job, not immediately responsive to market fluctuations, is more stable and enduring than a private sector job, shouldn't we be compensating those positions at the private sector rate times a number less than one? (Example: a civil engineer with 15 years experience in the private sector averages $90,000 in TOTAL (inclusive of all benefits) annual compensation. In the private sector, that engineer is likely to have employment interruption for 1 year every 10 years. If a public sector civil engineer is likely to have NO employment interruption in 10 years, is there a justification for paying him/her $90,000 x 90%?)

To the second point, of taxation, what gives a government the moral right to seize property from its citizens to pay its employees MORE than they would earn in the private sector?

I return to the example of civil engineers. What gives the government the moral justification to seize property (taxes) from the private sector engineer (earning total compensation of $90,000 annually) in order to pay the government engineer a total compensation of $150,000? For that matter, what gives them the right to offer tenure or any other benefit not afforded generally?

Whatever one may think of unions generally, and their economic and moral role in a free society, and as a counterpoint to the holders of capital, how is it conscionable to allow such power in the face of government, whose capital is held by us all jointly?

Ric Pugmire


phil said...


Does the Government have the right to entice potential employees into their service by offering certain benefits?

In the private sector, employees are attracted to employers in this fashion; i.e., Work for us and you'll get AB and C?

phil said...

BTW, welcome to Right Speak.

fred said...

As much as I agree with what you are saying, There is plenty of blame to go around.

In the roll of "Collective Bargaining", it takes 2 sides to tango. Either the unions had great negotiators or the Gov't had lousy negotiators and always took the path of least resistance. Which is it?

BOSMAN said...

Great post Ric!

I think part of the problem also has been touched upon in the comments above.

We the people are supposed to have our public officials looking out for our best interests. Obviously over the years of Public union negotiations, this was not the case.

I believe the Unions are greedy yes. I also believe that officials have passed the buck over the years by taking the easy way out on negotiating these contracts. Hence, where we are today.

Revolution 2010 said...

Bos, I agree.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ric! I am married to a civil engineer with 18 years experience in the private sector. Just for the record, civil engineers are largely responsible for our roads, structures, clean water, and waste treatment facilities. They are the lowest paid of all engineers because they provide necessities, not luxuries. Don't think civil engineers are important? Just go to any third world country and observe the lack of them!

My husband has been laid off several times, has been underemployed, and has had to change jobs several times. We have had to pay for our own dependent health care benefits most of the time, and our retirement has been our own savings plus whatever the employer contributed after becoming vested. Being vested is usually about a 3-5 year process. In the last 3 years, my husband says that 75 percent of private civil engineers have lost their jobs in the Phoenix area. Things have not been pretty.

Now, talking about government pay. The public sector has more paid holidays, sick leave, vacation, and pension than my husband has ever had. Their health benefits are usually better and cheaper. The real frustration is that when my husband has worked with some of the public employees, there are those who are not engineers and sometimes don't even know how to read the plans they are supposed to approve. You would hope that they could at least read the plans produced by architects and engineers, and even that isn't a guarantee! Yet, these people will never be laid off and are guaranteed retirement at an early age. Somewhere our society has gone off on the wrong track regarding public and private sector employment. At this point, many public sector jobs have become little more than paid welfare employment. **Note** that does not include all people working in the public sector; there are many who work very hard and are good at what they do.

Still, the demand that payment be "equal" to most people in the public sector means that they receive the guaranteed health care, paid holidays, vacations, fewer hours, and pension benefits while still earning the same salaries. It's a little like comparing apples to oranges. I think WI is proving that there are many working people who are becoming disenchanted with unions in the public sector. All I can say is, "Go, Gov. Walker, Go!!!"


Anonymous said...

You make up all of your wage numbers. This completely invalidates your argument.

The highest paid engineer in my city makes $120k. This is to be the 'ceo' of all public works in one of the capital cities of the united states. An equivilant privave sector position makes (head of a large firm) in the ballpark of $300k + bonuses. If that same person had an MBA after their name instead of PE they would be making well into 7 figures in the private sector.

It seems like what you want is for all public sector jobs to have sub-standard wages for the profession combined with removal of job security. Do you realize that engineers need a minimum of 9 years education + experience to get these jobs?