A couple of followups on yesterday’s post about Wisconsin:
1) Several commenters have pointed out that the conflict in Wisconsin is not (directly) about wages, benefits or working conditions, but rather about collective bargaining. This seems to me to be a distinction without a difference; nobody would care about collective bargaining unless they expected it to affect wages, benefits, and/or working conditions. The point stands that workers who are very upset about losing their collective bargaining rights must expect to use those rights to achieve above-market compensation.
Futhermore, isn’t the idea in private business that if you want the best and the brightest, you pay them well? Don’t we want our Government programs run effectively and efficiently? Seems to work in the private sector, so why can’t this apply to public sector as well?
To which I replied:
The problem with this is that every “best and brightest” who is hired by the public sector is unavailable to the private sector, so it’s not at all clear that we WANT the best and brightest in the public sector. To take an extreme case, I don’t want the best Silicon Valley engineers tempted to work as high school teachers; I’d rather have them pushing the limits of technology. From the point of view of economic efficiency, this is the one and only reason why public sector employees ought NOT be overpaid. (It’s also a reason why private sector employees ought not be overpaid, but there’s generally less threat of that happening because of the private-sector profit motive.) It’s the one and only reason not to overpay public employees — but it is a good and sufficient reason.
I want to emphasize this. The main reason to hold down public salaries/benefits is not to save money for the taxpayers. I have no a priori reason to care any more (or less) about the taxpayers than I do about the public employees themselves. Instead, the main reason to hold down public salaries/benefits is to avoid drawing the “best and the brightest” away from more productive careers into public service.