PLUNDER! - gt House
gt House

Bureaucracy v. Liberty

How public employee unions
are raiding treasuries
controlling our lives
and bankrupting the nation

by Steven Greenhut

PLUNDER! elicited an unusual reaction from this reader. I kept wishing it would end because it was too much to take. A scary book.

Time was, government work paid poorly, with the benefits exceeding those of real jobs. Now, bureaucrats regard themselves as public servants, with special privileges, higher pay and unbelievable benefits, starting at the top. When a senator says he's been in public service all his life, I hear “I was too lazy or stupid to get a job.” Or both.

If you are unacquainted with bureaucratic abuses, or curious about those “unfunded liabilities” they keep mentioning, read this book.

The libertarian author advocates smaller government, which seems unlikely after reading Plunder!

book cover

In a typically pithy summation, Greenhut writes, “…private sector workers must toil longer to shore up their eroding retirement funds, so too must they work extra to make good on the unsustainable promises elected officials have made to government workers. Only the best for our rulers!”

Often, managers share the same pay system as their employees. Greenhut asks, “Can you imagine how nice it would be to negotiate with a boss who would receive any percentage gain that you received?” No conflict of interest there.

While politicians with oversight may not have their pay tied to workers’, they are showered with contributions from unions to discourage fair bargaining. The only party missing from contract negotiations is the public, who will receive the bill.

With California term limits, politicians advance to other offices. The debts they incurred live after them.

The ship of state is heading towards an iceberg, of which pay and retirement extravagances are only the tip. I marked numerous passages in this book which are infuriating me as I review them.

“The only thing that saves us from bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.”
— Eugene McCarthy, US Senator, presidential candidate and poet

Public employees persuade legislators to give them shorter work days because their jobs are stressful. Then they work overtime at time-and-a-half.

Others retire on Disability, collecting a lifelong pension, while taking another job, although supposedly too disabled to work. Try that in the private sector and government bureaucrats will be on you like whipped cream on a Charlie Sheen hooker.

Consider this privilege. One out of every 22 California drivers have special plates that protect their addresses from toll and parking-enforcement agencies. These are government employees and their cronies. The rationale is that criminals might track them to their homes. The result is lots of lost revenue. Government workers may pay taxes, but can skate on other obligations.

When things go awry, police investigate their own malfeasance. Citizens who file complaints don’t even have the right to learn what happened, which is just as well. Rather than being disciplined, officers who have transgressed get high-visibility promotions. Greenhut observes that, “This has happened so often that I’m almost cynical enough to believe that police agencies do it on purpose, to prove to the public that they are accountable to no one.”

Which brings up sovereign immunity, whereby you cannot sue government officials for damages caused while “on the job.” According to Jarret Wollstein: “This doctrine is a relic of ancient times, when the king or sovereign held absolute power and was above the law. Today, not only is sovereign immunity still the law of the land, it’s been extended to virtually all government agents…”

Deteriorating services
In March 2009, Tom McClintock recalled one generation ago, when “California was spending far less than it is today, our taxes were far lower than they are today, and yet we had the finest highway system in the world, we had the finest public school system in the country, we were producing electricity and water so cheaply that many communities didn’t bother to measure the stuff. And the only thing that has changed between those days and these days is public policy.”

In addition to what Greenhut calls “absurdly generous compensation packages,” there are unnecessary programs and laws that hurt development. Infrastructure spending was about 20% in California under Pat Brown, around 3% today. Those potholes are no mystery.

Nor are the deteriorating schools.

“When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
— Albert Shanker, AFT president (at the time)

Libertarians believe public schools are a problematic monopoly, indoctrinating students in the nanny-state mentality while failing to teach them basic skills. Unions prevent administrators from hiring the best teachers, and removing the worst, even when the administrators care.

Families try to settle in the best school district they can afford yet, as the author observes, “people misunderstand how mediocre their schools really are, even if they are great in comparison to other school districts.” Then again, the wealthy do not send their children to public schools. President Obama is a big proponent of public schools — for your children, not his.

Recapping: “The unions, and their Democratic allies in particular, claim to speak for the downtrodden and the children, but they have created a system that is operated primarily for the teachers themselves, and educational progress suffers.”

Schools, public safety and government services are at the mercy of unions, who claim the problem is that taxes are too low. “After all, why should any of our masters suffer the slightest bit, when the serfs can just work a little bit harder and longer to assure their continued comfort?”

Unions like SEIU and AFSCME remind citizens that government workers pay taxes, too. Only their higher taxes are offset by fantastic benefits, while private-sector workers pay higher taxes for poorer services and receive lower wages and benefits.

Privileged Class
Greenhut shows how federal workers game the political process to earn double the pay of ordinary Americans, with retirement and retiree health-care plans that are many times more generous than what other Americans have. “They are a special class. We have created a two-tier society, of the haves and the have-nots. The haves are powerful Americans who work for government and the have-nots are everyone else.”

It is argued (by their unions) that federal workers deserve higher pay than their counterparts in private industry because they are more highly skilled. Really? If so, they are excellent at concealing it. Maybe they don’t want us common folk to be dazzled by their brilliance. At least that has been my experience dealing with bureaucratic imbeciles.

I have one bone to pick about the book. I consider sweetheart contracts government blunders. You cannot blame the unions who, after all, represent their members, as Albert Shanker so eloquently pointed out, any more than you can blame the garbage collection companies for getting special protections.

Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) thought it would be terrible for government workers to have unions, and he wasn’t the most visionary of individuals.

Governments control more and more of our lives, thanks to big-government politicians, assisted by the bureaucrats, even without unions. Civil Service protections are better than anything available in private industry, so union contracts offer double protection, as the author illustrates. Ultimately, voters are to blame for reelecting career politicians.

Plunder! is an excellent book, filled with specific information on how Big Government fails as consistently as it expands. Big government is not just an impediment to progress, it is dangerous. gt 2011

A slightly longer version of this article appears at my other site, if this was too short for you.

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