Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Department of Lashing Out, Pay Freeze Edition

Whatever the other arguments for and against Obama’s proposal to freeze pay packages for federal employees, there’s one, in my view, that doesn’t fly: the argument from fairness—that because the private sector employees are suffering, so too must federal employees suffer. Ezra Klein writes about this argument (after quoting an e-mail he received from an angry private-sector worker):
…the freeze isn't about saving money. It's about recognizing the resentment private-sector workers have toward the federal workforce.

Of course it’s not about saving money—it saves all of, like, $60 billion over 10 years, which is the federal equivalent of balancing your family’s bankrupt budget by being extra careful with your spare change. So in the end it becomes about making federal employees experience the same sensations that their fellow citizens in the private sector are.

That’s as good an illustration of the bad knock-on effects of allowing stagnation that exists—it makes people mean-spirited, wanting to cut people down to size even though it will have no conceivable positive effect on their own lives. The federal government can afford the money spent on pay raises; it is, in many cases, spending less money on talent than its private sector competitors, meaning that said talent will migrate from the public to private sectors; and of course it will take money out of the economy when we should be trying to inject it into the economy. And all to make people feel better about themselves.

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