The public sector ain’t what it used to be, and thank goodness.
Consider: The wire services are trying to drum up hysteria about a
shortage of public-school teachers and school principals. It turns out that
young people have developed other aspirations besides being slaves to the
government and its brainwashing schemes. They especially have no desire to
enter into the administrative bureaucracy of a decaying system. The wages
are tolerable and secure, but it’s an awful way to fritter away one’s
talents. A mind is a terrible thing to waste working for the government.
Politicians are proposing state and federal programs to boost interest
and income in these fields. But whatever they do to stop the hemorrhage out
of the public schools, it will not correct the larger problem — a problem,
anyway, from the point of view of the government. The trouble is this: not
just the public schools but all its bureaucracies are in decay, experiencing
an unprecedented brain drain to the private sector. Daily, talented people
decide that huge pensions and secure jobs don’t provide enough compensation
for being drones for Leviathan.
The New York Times ran a study on the State Department in particular,
whose Foreign Service was considered the elite bureaucracy, the one that
attracted the best and the brightest into its much-ballyhooed diplomatic
corps. The exams to get in were notoriously difficult, and being called back
for an extended interview was considered an extreme honor. No one would
think of turning down an offer.
No more. The smartest no longer bother. If an offer comes, it is often
turned down. Interviewers have noticed that the talent pool they have to
choose from grows dimmer by the day. And the people who presently work in
the bureaucracy are leaving in record numbers. As the Times puts it,
“talented diplomats are leaving for careers that they believe have more
power and prestige in the new global economy. And college graduates who used
to rush to take the Foreign Service exam no longer bother.”
The reality is that the diplomatic corps is no longer where the action
is. Hardly anyone pays attention to paper shufflers from government
agencies. To be among them is to make little or no impact on the world. And
where are the rewards? You work your way up based on connections and time
served, not creativity or genuine accomplishment. And even when you get to
the top, what are you doing? Writing memos nobody cares about, attending
endless meetings where nothing happens, and otherwise trying to make your
boss look good.
The private sector’s profit-and-loss mechanism rewards companies that
promote the best people, and punishes companies that become bureaucratized
and irrelevant to the lives of regular people. Especially in this economic
boom, companies have to be more attentive to the consumer and the
international commercial landscape than ever before.
The world of Dilbert — bureaucracy, dumb management, time wasting,
irrational strategies, and undefined missions — applies in spades to the
public sector. A Dilbertized company will be punished severely in today’s
business environment, while one that rewards its employees, serves the
public, and stays on top of daily affairs excels and attracts the best
people. How can the State Department compete in that environment? Today it
can offer none of the risk, reward, idealism, and positions of consequence
that government seemed to offer during its glory days.
Several studies have been conducted on the problem and concluded that the
State Department must change its system of recruitment and remuneration. But
this isn’t going to solve the long-term problem, which has a much deeper
root: the status and prestige of government work isn’t what it used to be.
This is something we should celebrate! If government were small and
unintrusive, as it generally was in the early 19th century, you don’t mind
if its offices are filled with highly educated people from old families with
social prestige. But when the government is bloated and most of its powers
illegitimate, and it is trying to run or bomb the world, we are far better
off having its offices populated by discards nobody else wants.
Ineffective government is always a blessing, but especially now. The less
government we get for our money, the safer are our freedoms.
The actual problem is that the world has changed dramatically from fifty
years ago, while the government has not. The central state as we know it is
a product of an ideology of central planning that has failed, and an
administrative apparatus that is completely outmoded in a world where the
market economy is the driving force.
Look at the global system of embassies and other State Department
offices. As the ultimate brick and mortar institutions, they were created
before Instant Messaging, email, and faxes. If there really is any
“diplomacy” to be conducted, the self-appointed leaders of the world would
be better off getting a solid internet connection rather than wasting tax
money building new palaces for themselves. How about using an online chat
room for the next meetings of the World Trade Organization, for example?
How can the government regain its prestige? Leslie Gelb at the Council of
Foreign Relations offers this guide to a New York Times reporter: “The State
Department will be able to attract anyone it wants when once again the
building becomes the center of making foreign policy and foreign policy
strategy,” he says. “Good people want to work at places that are at the
center of things.”
The answer, then, from the point of view of the state, is to put itself
at the center of things. And that is precisely why anyone who loves freedom
should oppose all efforts to shore up the status of life in the bureaucracy.
We should celebrate the decay of the state, and find ways to encourage this
glorious trend in which good people who want to be at the center of things
avoid anything having to do with the government.