Sunday, November 14, 2010


Ideologically, I may be progressive, but dispositionally, I am quite conservative when it comes to money. I don’t like to borrow beyond my means, and it makes no sense to me that our federal government should perpetually live with trillions of dollars worth of debt – particularly given how much of this debt is owed to foreign countries. Consequently, I view myself as fiscally responsible and have been awaiting a report from the National Debt Commission as to how best to raise more revenues or cut expenses.

That Report is now out. And instead of allowing me to see red tape, it just has me seeing red.

I will leave it to others, progressives and conservatives alike, to chronicle everything that is wrong with that report and confine my brief statements today to a single provision – the suggestion that the Government freeze federal salaries for a period of three years.

Supposedly, federal salaries have become bloated because they never dropped as a result of the recession that began in 2008. But that statement is misleading for two reasons. First, federal workers’ retirement plans were largely affected by the recession insofar as they were tied to the stock market. But more importantly, the statement is a half truth – for just as it is true that federal (non-pension) salaries didn’t appreciably decrease due to the recession, it is also true that federal salaries didn’t appreciably rise during the boom years that preceded the recent recession. Federal salaries, in short, move like turtles – slowly, and steadily – whereas private salaries can skyrocket or shrink depending upon short-term trends in the economy. Simply to examine one particular slice of time in an effort to show that the federal employees are a fat and happy bunch is patently absurd.

If there are folks who have effectively beat the system, it isn’t federal workers. Rather, it’s workers like those on Wall Street who made gobs and gobs of money when the economy was going great, and then when it tanked, they were bailed out by the Government. Federal workers never had such a luxury. There was no time I can recall when their salaries increased dramatically. So if they are not benefiting when the economy is going well, why should they be punished when it isn’t? How could that possibly be fair?

Surely, the Debt Commission recognizes the conceptual error in their reasoning. But they are desperate to find ways of reducing the Debt that are politically palatable. And what could be more palatable these days than bashing Government workers? In fact, as my conservative friends often remind me, even the term “Government worker” is an oxymoron. According to the Fox News/Tea Party narrative, we are lazy people with an exaggerated sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to be held accountable. We resemble those on welfare much more than we resemble people who do real work (meaning in the private sector).

Seeing as how I have been working roughly 80 hours a week lately on my own federal job, you will hopefully understand that I find these arguments to be nothing short of revolting. What I’ve noticed with my own eyes – which mean more to me than the ideology spewed by Government-hating talking heads – is very different from the image of the federal worker portrayed on Fox News. Line attorneys for most Government agencies, even after achieving the very top grade and step of the GS pay scale, now earn roughly the same amount as first year associates at Washington, D.C. law firms, and about half of what law firms pay experienced attorneys who never made partner. As for those law firm attorneys who did make partner – and these are the ones who attorneys like myself are expected to battle in court – they frequently earn four or more times what we earn.

Those are the facts. But unfortunately, they aren’t persuasive to the dyed in the wool Government hater. The Fox News crowd would surely add that law firm salaries should dwarf those in the Government because law firm attorneys work appreciably harder than their federal counterparts. From what I’ve seen, however, that is bunk. Junior associates may be expected to kill themselves, but I suspect that federal litigators work similar hours to those in the private sector. As for the credentials of those in the public and private sectors, I would again argue that they are comparable. Certainly, any differences pale in comparison to the differences in pay – we in the federal government are working comparably hard for MUCH less money. At least I can say that’s the case for my own office and for many others I’ve observed.

From where I’m sitting, there are plenty of folks who could easily afford to “take one for the team” and pitch in on the effort to shrink the National Debt. People who earn over $300,000 … or for that matter $300 million, immediately come to mind. And what about those farmers who are receiving many millions of dollars in federal agricultural subsidies? Can’t they afford to pitch in? Why then is the National Debt Commission throwing the federal workers under the bus?

We all know the answer. There’s a tidal wave of rhetoric flowing from the hinterland these days and it is directed to those people who are seen, bucolically speaking, as “sucking on the federal tit.” I can just hear the demagogues unload their bile: “Welfare queens, your time is up! Government workers, you too! It’s time for a little pay cut. And if you don’t like it and feel like quitting, don’t let the door hit your fat ass on the way out.”

This is today’s America. It wasn’t yesterday’s and it won’t be tomorrow’s, but it is the mood of the moment. These attitudes are cyclical, and right now the Government worker is not an object of respect. Well that’s fine, I suppose. Disrespect us if you must. But don’t insult our intelligence -- and remove your own credibility – with arguments that show no basic grasp of economics.

As for the folks on the National Commission, if you’re going to freeze our salaries for the next few years, are you prepared to advocate that we get raises of 10% or 15% the next time the economy enters a boom cycle? I’m still waiting for an answer. I didn’t read anything about that in your report.


YoungMan said...

Turnabout sucks doesnt it Danny Boby!


Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be a'breathin'
Like the stillness in the wind
Before the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in

And the sea will split
And the ship will hit
And the shoreline sands will be a'shakin'
And the tide will sound
And the waves will pound
And the morning will be breakin'

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls will be a'smilin'
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand
The hour that the ship comes in

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they're spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And be buried at the bottom of the ocean

A song will lift,
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts out to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in

And the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a'touchin'
And the ship's wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin'

Oh the foe will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'
And they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And they'll know that it's for real
The hour when the ship comes in

And they'll raise their hands
Sayin' "We'll meet all your demands"
And we'll shout from the bow "Your days are numbered"
And like the pharoah's triumph
They'll be drownded in the tide
Like Goliath they'll be conquered

We've taken our country back and your music with it :)-

Nagarjuna said...

Hi Daniel,
Excellent post, as usual. I linked to it on Facebook and immediately received the following comment: "The problem is not the amount of money federal workers make but the sheer number of unnecessary federal workers we have. The answer is to eliminate positions and even departments at the federal level to shrink the government."

Do you agree with the commenter? This was my response:

"You may well be correct, Lucas. But which departments and workers would you cut, why, and how much would your proposed cuts truly impact the problem?"

Daniel Spiro said...


I've always loved The TImes They Are a Changing and just about every song on it. I have no intention to associate Bob Dylan with right wing ideas, but thanks for the reminder about a great song.

Daniel Spiro said...


I would go as far as to say that it should be easier for public schools and government managers to get rid of deadwood. That could go a ways to make the government more efficient.

As for eliminating departments, I don't know of any department that I would eliminate but I can't say I've analyzed each and every office in the federal government.

YoungMan said...

Actually Nagarjuna the problem with our Government is that all the public sector unions are Madame Pelosi and Barack Obama's biggest backers. The AFSCME, SEIU, NEA, AFT, along with the police fire and coreectional unions are the Democratic Party and they are the most reactionary and regressive elements in the country. Their leader Madame Pelosi has said entitlement reform is dead on arrival.

The reaction you hear from the bucolic hinterlands is revulsion that government employees are paid 2x what the private sector employee gets paid and it is virtually impossible to fire poor performers. The Democratic party has become the protector of their privlege coming up with other ways to regulate and tax the productive elements of society to further vest that gap.......Obamacare is merely the latest manifestation of Government Union crowdout...;but then again we have our first President who never made a public sector dime (no wonder Danny still worships him).

We're gonna have to roll it back.werere tired of getting nothing for something..Dan may have to work 120 hours a heart bleeds.

YoungMan said...

Hey Dan

Whatever happened to the Mediocremobile? Did it throw a valve?

Taking our political gulf out of this, it sounds like your post this week is a displaced manifestation of your disgust in having to drive it so long :)

Guess that's why I'm having such fun with this one....

Daniel Spiro said...


The Mediocremobile -- aka a 1976 Dodge Dart -- broke down eons ago. It has been replaced by other American cars and then later by Hondas. Nothing fancy, though.

By the way, who is going to win the Stanford-Cal game? I'm a little worried about this one.