Two recent articles — one national in scope, the other covering only Kansas — tell us why our budgets are so bloated and why the private sector is struggling to survive.
Kansas Watchdog reports “In February more than one in five non-farm employees in Kansas worked for government.” This is government all levels. Why is this a problem? Reporter Paul Soutar explains:
Malcolm Harris, a professor of finance at Friends University in Wichita, said the level of government employment is an indicator of a bigger problem, “It tells me that we’ve got a lot of our resources going into government.”
“Government spending squeezes resources that might be available for increasing productivity,” Harris said. “It makes us less competitive.”
Harris said Kansas and the U.S. need to be more competitive in order to increase exports and reduce our trade imbalance.
The second article in is the Wall Street Journal, penned by Stephen Moore. Titled We’ve Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers: More Americans work for the government than in manufacturing, farming, fishing, forestry, mining and utilities combined, it starts off with a startling statistic: “Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.”
Later Moore highlights the decline of America’s manufacturing tradition at the expense of more government: “Even Michigan, at one time the auto capital of the world, and Pennsylvania, once the steel capital, have more government bureaucrats than people making things.”
Moore finds that since government has been hiring, and since rarely is anyone fired or laid off from a government job, many college graduates want to work for government: “Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”
Moore notes that productivity in government is measured differently than in the private sector: “But education is an industry where we measure performance backwards: We gauge school performance not by outputs, but by inputs. If quality falls, we say we didn’t pay teachers enough or we need smaller class sizes or newer schools. … The same is true of almost all other government services. Mass transit spends more and more every year and yet a much smaller share of Americans use trains and buses today than in past decades. One way that private companies spur productivity is by firing underperforming employees and rewarding excellence. In government employment, tenure for teachers and near lifetime employment for other civil servants shields workers from this basic system of reward and punishment. It is a system that breeds mediocrity, which is what we’ve gotten.”
Moore also uncovers a paradox of government employees: “Public employees maintain that they are underpaid relative to equally qualified private-sector workers, yet they are deathly afraid of competitive bidding for government services.”