“Government Employee” is Not a Synonym for “Saint”

A good piece by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Greedy Socialism.

The reality, of course, is that government employees, be they cabinet officials or low-level clerks, are motivated by the same kinds of desires that motivate people in other walks of life: money, security, power over others, creativity, status, ego-feeding and public adulation, in addition to the satisfactions of doing good work and providing value to others…with the individuals weights of these factors of course varying from person to person. The principal-agent problem does not disappear just because the agent works for the government.

I particularly like this passage from Glenn’s article:

The absence of a bottom line doesn’t reduce greed and self-dealing — it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.

2 thoughts on ““Government Employee” is Not a Synonym for “Saint””

  1. In the immortal words of David Friedman: “Greedy capitalists make money. Virtuous ‘liberals’ steal it.”

  2. What’s rather interesting to me is the huge change that’s occurred in government bureaucrats over my lifetime of 81 years.

    I grew up in Estes Park, Colorado at the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The town was surrounded by Roosevelt National Forest. The basis of our economy was twofold – the government payroll and summer tourism. There were a lot of National Park and Forest Service personnel living in our village. No one in the Park Service or Forest Service expected to get rich. It was work that outdoor-loving people wanted to do. It offered steady employment and the promise of a pension down the road. Their income was about 25% less than comparable private sector wages because of the security and stable pension the jobs offered.

    I worked three summers for the White Pine Blister Rust Control program. (It helped pay for my college.) There were about one hundred workers in the camp It was very tightly run. Our overall boss worked for the Department of Entymology in the Forest Service. He was always haranguing us about earning our wages and not cheating the tax payers. We always put in a full eight hour day and there were foremen who laid out the work and made sure no one was dogging it. Twice each summer our boss would pick out the least productive worker on the crew and fire him in front of the rest of us. We assembled every morning before loading up in trucks to go out to work. The boss would call out the individual’s name and say, “You’re not cutting it. Pack up your gear and get out of camp.” Very intimidating. All of us wanted that job and such hard nosed policies kept us working hard. Such policies were a result of the Depression where money was tight and jobs hard to come by. They would be seen as much too harsh today.

    That was in the 1950s. Over time that has all changed. I blame public sector unions for a lot of it. However, people seem to have lost touch with the idea that the taxpayer deserves an honest day’s work for their hard earned tax dollars. The gross mismanagement and open greed in the VA is the exact opposite of what government employment was like back in the 50s.

Comments are closed.