Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Government Not a Business or an Unpopular Place to Work

George Lightbourn of the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) published an op-ed on WisOpinion today about the graying of Wisconsin's governmental workforce.

Lightbourn concludes that as retirement age hits and many government employees head for the golf courses, the biggest challenge facing the governor of Wisconsin is how to make government smaller and simultaneously more efficient in order to please the public and bring the vitality that attracts young employees.

There are a couple false assumptions with this op-ed.

One, Lightbourn consistently refers to government as a business. This is not accurate. The two have, in fact, fundamentally different purposes. Governments exist to provide for the public good--whether that's through protective services, education, health services, transportation needs, etc. Businesses, on the other hand, exist to turn a profit, pure and simple. Business products may serve a purpose in society, but they won't exist for long--needed or not--if a profit can't be made on them.

Therefore, while governments can certainly be innovative in the manner that they provide services, the determination of what services to provide will always be largely reactive to the needs and wants of the public. The same is not true for businesses, which are able and often encouraged to take risks. This is a complimentary relationship, not a synonymous one, and it demonstrates exactly why it's necessary both are strong to have a successful economy.

Two, government in Wisconsin is still a very competitive field to enter for young people. Careers in public sector fields such as police, fire, education, public policy, etc., are highly sought after by many people in my generation (I'm 27 years old). I have worked in the public sector my entire short career, and each position I've applied for has put me in competition with dozens of other applicants. In the one 0.70 FTE teaching position I had at Monona Grove High School, for example, I was one of over 200 applicants--and that was for a job that paid around $20,000 per year. Countless other people interested in public teaching careers must toil in substitute teacher land for a number of years before earning a teaching job. Professorships at public universities are even harder to come by. Speaking to friends who are looking for police jobs around here, just to name another example, life on the public protective services job market isn't any easier.

The fact is any attempt to reduce the size of government will make it do less, not work more efficiently. And if there's ever a way to push young people away from the public sector, it's by arbitrarily shrinking the size and importance of government.


Blogger Robola said...

Spot on! The false choice of higher taxes/less government needs to be dismantled.

February 28, 2006  

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