“…Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles…”
Without explanation, that quote may seem like the ramp-up to a joke. It might be part of a Jay Leno monolog. Or you could follow it up with the famous Jerry Seinfeld “…not that there’s anything wrong with that” line.
But that analysis actually appeared in last Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. In an editorial entitled “We’ve Become A Nation Of Takers, Not Makers,” Senior Economics Writer Stephen Moore noted that among a large portion of America’s college students and recent graduates, government employment is viewed as superior to private sector enterprise because of the “near lifetime security” that government agencies offer their workers.
“When 23-year-olds aren't willing to take career risks” Moore noted, “we have a real problem on our hands…”
To help make the case of our “real problem,” Moore noted that there are presently more Americans working for their government than there are Americans working in the private sector construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities industries combined. And when you compile this bit of information with the reality that government agencies don’t produce wealth at all – they merely “collect” portions of the wealth that is produced in the private sector as tax revenue and then spend it to produce government services – then, yes, one can see a bit more clearly why Moore concludes that we have moved decisively from a “nation of makers to a nation of takers.”
The “takers” and “makers” analysis is powerful, and hopefully makes sense to lots of Americans. One doesn’t have to think too deeply to understand that if an insufficient number of us are “making” things and producing economic value, and too many of us are merely “taking” and consuming the insufficient amount of “things” that are made, well, then, eventually a nation runs out of things to “take.”
Yet understanding the vicious cycle that keeps our nation on this very destructive path is quite challenging for some. It requires one to understand some very basic things about economics, yes, but also requires one to care enough to understand a few things about our nation’s politics – and “politics” and “economics” are two subjects that many Americans find distasteful.
But consider this: many of the politicians that set policy regarding government employment have a personal self-interest in continuing the trend of creating more government employee “takers” – even if to do so is, in the long run, bad for the country. Mayors, County Supervisors, Governors – and yes even our President – can generally count on grass-roots volunteerism, campaign contributions, and votes from large blocks of government employees, as long as they protect and enhance the ranks of government employment and shelter government workers from the ups and downs that the private sector experiences.
President Barack Obama leads the way with this destructive and self-serving politics. He has made it a central theme of his presidency to speak often of the need for “shared sacifice,” noting that we all must be willing to “give a little” in order for our nation to fully recover from the “great recession.”
Yet when the government of Wisconsin sought to let their state employees “share” in the sacrifice, President Obama intervened and insisted that government employees were being “maligned.” In reality, state taxpayers in Wisconsin pay nearly 100% of the costs of government employee retirement pensions, and well over 90% of government employee’s healthcare insurance costs. The uproar in that state was never about Wisconsin indiscriminately firing government workers or cutting the workers’ benefits, but about the necessity of government employees taking more financial responsibility for their own retirement and healthcare.
But President Obama will have nothing to do with government employees being made to sacrifice. The more lavish their employment, the more they will vote for Mr. Obama and his party. And so our President, instead, maligned the Government officials of Wisconsin that were trying to save their state from insolvency.
A similar situation is unfolding in California. Governor Jerry Brown presides over the absolute worst statewide fiscal mess in the history of our country. He prides himself in “cutting government spending” his first ninety days in office, yet most of the “cuts” came from the elimination of taxpayer funded mobile telephone and vehicle privileges for government workers (most of us in the private sector don’t get “free” mobile phones and cars anyway, but this had apparently become the norm for a good many California state employees).
But Governor Brown absolutely must cut state spending further, and to do so requires that he reduce California employee retirement and healthcare benefits. Yet government employee labor unions bankrolled Brown’s campaign last year, and they now “own” him. Thus, Governor Brown has chosen to treat his fiscal mess as a “revenue” issue, rather than a “spending” issue, and is now pursuing a “raise taxes on the rich” solution.
Will America reverse course, and move away from being a nation of mere takers? We must first reject the self-serving politicians who are the greatest benefactors of the “taking.”
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.