Ask virtually any private sector employees how they feel about the perks and rewards that are offered to those who work on the payroll of the government instead of an independent employer, and you’re likely to receive similar responses. Few among the commonly blue-collar ranks of privately employed workers are shy about the advantages of taking a job in the public sector instead of working for a private enterprise. Who can blame them, given the obvious differences between the two types of career fields and their systems of financial incentives, especially in terms of their benefits packages and the consequences (or lack thereof) for failing to perform their required job duties? Most government jobs come packaged with health benefits, paid vacation time, generous salaries, and an unspoken guarantee that the position being filled will always continue to exist in the future (unlike offices in the more competitive private market, which are subject to obsolescence if the business itself fails to succeed). Morality aside, why wouldn’t anyone want job perks such as those which the government promises its employees? From an employment standpoint, it would be financial insanity not to.
Combing through the news lately in search of subject matter to write about, as I so often do, I must admit that every day I become more and more envious of those who are part of the public sector workforce. It sounds like quite “the life” to me: working less frequently, with more holidays, and for better pay than most other employers might be able to offer, filling a position which isn’t likely to be going out of business in the near future, and which above all else, offers health benefits (something that many of even the best employers aren’t able to afford for their workers). If it was possible to remove the immorality of government from the equation altogether, I’d take just about any job offered to me that boasted perks such as these in a heartbeat. For now, however, all I can do is envy those who remain ignorant enough of the ethical implications of government and its methods of conduct to continue serving it. And believe me when I tell you that the media has been providing me with plenty of enviable subject matter lately, several of which are as follows.
The first example of some of the aspects of public employment that most private employers could never even hope to be able to compete with comes about in light of the recent and controversial “government shutdown.” When the federal government was temporarily forced to halt many of its operations due to an alleged dispute between congressional democrats and republicans, up to 80,000 of its employees were forced to take a mandatory vacation until a decision could be reached regarding its new budget standards. I use the term “vacation” deliberately here, because essentially, that’s all it was: congress has agreed to refund federal employees who were affected by the shutdown for the lost time they incurred as a result of the debacle. While such a refund alone is enough to rival many businesses in terms of their ability to compensate employees for time lost to them during a company hiatus, the paybacks for those who were temporarily put out of work because of the shutdown don’t just stop there. Apparently, depending upon which state they live in and its individual laws regarding the matter, government employees who were impacted by the temporary closings are also going to be able to receive the unemployment compensation they would have been entitled to (had they not been brought back following the shutdown) in order to cover the time during which they were forced to spend out of work.
Talk about a dream job, right? Imagine if your boss realized his company was going broke, and closed it down to make some important budget changes, and in the process, you received both a paid vacation and an additional unemployment check for lost time once the company reopened? That would hardly sound like a bad deal to anyone, especially considering the fact that many independent business endeavors never reopen once they have reached the level of financial turmoil that the United States government has managed to get itself into. No business could ever afford that kind of compensation for employees who were put out of work as a result of its own financial mismanagement. Only the government could manage such a feat, due to its means of funding itself, which relies on the forcefulness of involuntary taxation rather than on peaceful and voluntary contributions offered in exchange for the services it provides. Such a business model would make any entrepreneur envious.
The second example involves now-infamous former UC Davis police lieutenant John Pike (pictured at the top of this page), who was catapulted into the public eye back in 2011 when he brutally pepper-sprayed 21 students during a peaceful demonstration that took place as part of the global Occupy movement. This week, Pike was awarded a $38,000 workers’ compensation settlement that he pursued due to alleged psychological problems which he claims resulted in the aftermath of the incident. Pike, who also received eight months of paid administrative leave following his shocking display of violence, has since left the force altogether, but not without the kind of hefty compensation that accompanies a position of government employment. Despite the fact that UC Davis has been forced to cover nearly all of the damages (shelling out roughly $30,000 a piece to each of Pike’s victims, in addition to his workers’ compensation settlement), the fact remains that few other positions could ever possibly afford an individual the kind of cushy leeway that Pike has received, especially after having committed such an unspeakable atrocity.
Allow me to attempt to put it in perspective. If you hired a babysitter to care for your children, and found him instead endangering them with physical abuse, would you pay him to take an eight month vacation and then hand him a large settlement if he claimed to have been distraught by the public backlash that followed the incident (which had been his own fault, anyway)? What kind of a system would follow such a standard list of procedures? What kind of message might be sent to others still in Pike’s former line of work, as a result? Wouldn’t it make more sense for such individuals to just wait until the right moment to abuse some person or another in order to receive time off with full pay and benefits, before filing for a settlement to cover the “psychological distress” that was ultimately the the result of their own actions, in the first place? Such an incident is hardly different from the outcome of the majority of police brutality cases observed today–if anything, police are indirectly rewarded for their actions, rather than penalized for them. Even if they are fired outright, which is generally rare, they almost always still receive pensions and compensation for the rest of their lives, the figures of which many private sector workers could only dream of matching in all of their years of hard work. Who wouldn’t want a job that pays its employees forever once they do the wrong thing, without ever even making them work again? Does any of this sound like “justice” to you? Does any of it sound right?
The third and final recent example of how government jobs feature such enticing (though skewed) programs of rewards and consequences is a recent story reported by the Associated Press that raises some rather alarming concerns about the dependability of the individuals who are most entrusted with the safety of both the national and international public. As was confirmed by the Air Force on October 23, 2013, an incident transpired earlier this year in which one of the members of a two-person crew that was responsible for watching over an underground facility containing nuclear missiles left his post unattended, door open, in order to receive a food delivery while his fellow crew member slept. A similar incident took place at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana back in May of the same year, when a maintenance crew was allowed into an underground launch control center while one of the crew members responsible for its attendance remained asleep. Such conditions violate Air Force safety standards, and with good reason: nuclear missiles are hardly a lighthearted matter, especially when left almost entirely unattended by those to whom the responsibility of maintaining their security has been delegated.
But what repercussions did those who were responsible for such potentially catastrophic breaches in the security of nuclear weapons face? The most extreme penalty imposed upon these individuals was the mandatory forfeiture of no more than $3,100 pay for a total of two months, and the remaining parties who were found guilty of such negligence received punishments of even less severity. And while there was admittedly no victim brought about by any of their actions, each of them failed to perform their most important job duties (which could have resulted in deadly consequences under the wrong circumstances) and were unable to fulfill the responsibilities that they had voluntarily sworn to personally uphold. Anyone in a line of work not funded through the government and its system of taxation would have at the very least been terminated, and might even have had to face charges being pressed against him or her in court for engaging in hazardous occupational negligence. However, when a government employee is caught doing so, even in the most extreme cases bearing life-or-death implications (in this instance, failure to properly watch over a nuclear missile control center), there are few repercussions, if any. The ultimate outcome of scenarios such as these almost always results in what is, at most, a mere inconvenience for whomever comes to be held responsible (if anyone even is held responsible, in the first place). Compare such an outcome with the case of a waitress who gets fired for accidentally missing even one of her shifts, and you might begin to see the point that I am trying to make here, if you haven’t already.
However well-intentioned, individuals who are employed by the government represent a different economic class of people altogether. They operate under different codes of conduct, with different repercussions for their actions, and with different economic incentives to guide them through their decision-making processes than those who are otherwise employed by private citizens. For these reasons alone, government services will rarely, if ever, be provided efficiently or conscientiously by those who are on the state’s payroll. There just isn’t enough of a system of checks in place to ensure that state employees consistently strive to provide their “services” in such a manner, and there never will be. It’s a logical impossibility, altogether. In many cases, the motivating incentives are just the opposite: there are more often than not significant benefits to either abusing one’s position of power, or to simply neglecting one’s duties, both of which generally result in paid leaves of absence, enormous settlements, and various other forms of compensation–all in exchange for not even having to work. It’s only logical that many individuals would respond to such incentives accordingly.
Even I admit that I sometimes envy those who occupy such financially secure positions, required to provide such little labor output in return. It must really be nice, after all. However, once individuals across the board start to recognize the true nature of these conditions for what they are, along with their often-serious implications, the challenge of preventing future dilemmas like these from happening again can begin to be approached from a more sensible and strategic standpoint. When a system that rewards failure, incompetence, and misconduct is in place, what else can anyone honestly expect from those who work for it? Once the shift has been made towards the direction of personal responsibility, accountability, and more sensible economic incentives, the transition to a more morally responsible and economically sustainable means of organizing society can begin to occur. As for now, who can really blame the freeloaders that just want to get paid for doing virtually nothing? If you thought you could get away with it, wouldn’t you be doing the same thing? And wouldn’t anyone else? Isn’t that the problem, altogether?
Lt. Pike’s Settlement: