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Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
” … you have to avoid austerity when you’re in a serious recession. You must not cut public debt. If you do, you end up with a worse debt/GDP ratio and further economic deterioration.” – Robert Reich, former secretary of labor (his emphasis).
Like so many savants of the left, Robert Reich now teaches at a University of California campus – in his case, Berkeley. He imparted the above in an interview for Cal’s alumni magazine, demonstrating the determined obtuseness of big-government economists.
You’ll find parallel thinking in President Obama’s now infamous call for more public sector spending and hiring because “the private sector is doing fine.”
And in both you find the echo of John Maynard Keynes’ most famous quote: “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” Never mind that Keynes was talking about government intervention to halt inflation. The quote is taken today as endorsement of a “spend-now-worry-later” fiscal policy.
It’s a school of thought that also sees public debt as no problem if the gross domestic product is large enough. (This is the theory Reich and Obama learned at Madame Zara’s School of Economics and Palmistry.)
Reich and Obama fail to recognize two glaring facts. One is that “the long run” has arrived. The second is that government employees – municipal, county, state, federal – generally don’t work as hard or produce as much as private sector workers.
I gained an inkling of this truth in 1966, when my wife and I were VISTA volunteers. We had driven from New York City to Washington, D.C., to discuss a transfer to Texas, and the bureaucrat who greeted us suggested we attend a meeting he had scheduled.
This was a gathering of about 20 federal employees. Its purpose seemed to be the assessment of their commitment to the greater good. Bingo! Forty man-hours wasted, not to mention the time spent afterward discussing the merits and demerits of various colleagues. Today, there would have been at least 40 employees in the meeting and 120 hours wasted.
The process is called “team building.”
At the late, great Sacramento Union, team-building consisted of coordinating our work to produce the best product we could. Never were we directed to spend a day or two at a pricey resort writing a mission statement.
About 30 years ago, flattered to be recruited (and offered higher pay), I left the Union to take a press agent’s job in California’s state bureaucracy. I had observed with concern the waste and inefficiency of the newspaper business. I was not prepared for the magnitude of waste and inefficiency of government.
There were people in my agency who did nothing – literally no thing – for their pay. There were people who did a little something from time to time, people who tried to look like they were doing something, people who felt guilty about doing nothing and people who were willing to do something if called upon. The latter cashed their monthly paychecks in the recumbent hope that someday they might be asked to perform a useful function.
There were people in this agency and in other agencies whose jobs were to keep an eye on things for the speaker of the state Assembly, or the president pro tempore of the state Senate, or for the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means. There were people whose sole occupation was to count the days until their comfortable retirement.
“Deadlines” for many were regarded as merely advisory. My agency produced a quarterly news letter, eight standard pages in size. When I arrived, it was two quarters behind schedule. Imagine: eight pages of work, with a deadline every three months, falling six months behind.
All this doubtless will bring howls from government workers who actually give a days’ work for a days’ pay. I don’t deny their existence, but only public employee union bosses could pretend the public payrolls were not laden with dead wood. Only entrenched bureaucrats could regard “team-building” recreations as other than time wasters. (Need we recall the GSA’s Las Vegas debacle?)
Obama likes to equate public spending with “teachers, firefighters and police,” but the truth is the great bulk of federal and state employees – as well as a goodly proportion at the municipal and county level – do not produce anything of discernible value.
Reich has not tumbled to the fact that waste is not production, and spending on waste does not drive the economy, but drags it down. He declares in the alumni magazine that “as long as we spend less than the economy can potentially support, we’ll remain in recession.” He’s really saying, “As long as we spend money for nothing, the economy will recover.”
There was more wisdom in the old Billy Preston hit: “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin.'”