Friday, December 11, 2009

Would You Like Freedom Fries With That?

While I was poking around on LinkedIn, I found a "news story" that breathlessly reported "a surge in Federal employees making over $150,000 a year in the height of a depression with bankruptcies, foreclosure and unemployment soaring." A little more reading revealed a completely unsourced article from a foreign firm that specializes in "Asset protection," "Offshore corporations" and "Offshore banking." It didn't take long to realize that this woeful tale of the federal government is ignoring the plight of its citizens, and cynically attempting to enrich its employees at public expense wasn't news - rather it was a thinly veiled advertisement for their services, complete with a built-in pseudo-populist justification.

But it got me wondering - where DID the information come from? These days, pretty much anything that can be understood as "fact" can be pretty easily checked out with a quick Google search - you can bet that someone's posted something about it somewhere, although you might have to do some digging, send some e-mails or cough up some cash to get at what you're looking for. And if it's not online, you should at least be able to find out where you need to go to get at it. An online search revealed a number of conservative blog postings, mainly ranting about the data without bothering to say from whence it came. The closest I could find to someone who actually appeared to have done some homework was this article by Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute. And even though he was trying to stoke the fires of anti-government anger (at least he wasn't blaming the current administration for things), he could actually point to factual data, released by the government, to back up what he was saying. It would have been nice if he'd been more free with linking to exact locations where he'd found data, but he was free enough so that you could look for yourself, and make a judgment as to whether or not government workers are overpaid that didn't require a reliance on hearsay and supposition.

But I did feel (and Edwards points out that others have made the same point, and he somewhat agrees) that it's something of an apples to pears comparison. While it's true that General Federal Government Civilian employees made an average of $79,197, compared to a private sector average of $50,028, it's worth noting that the private sector includes farm workers, general merchandise store employees and accommodation and food services workers along with the oil and gas extraction people and securities, commodity contracts, and investments workers. Since it's doubtful that the federal government has very many minimum-wage jobs, government workers are likely somewhat élite when compared to the entirety of the private workforce in America. While Edwards might very well be correct in his assertion that they're unlikely élite enough to justify being paid more than the average, it's a safe bet that when your average McJob is part of that average, government work looks better by comparison.

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