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Oh my goodness! A public employee got a decent salary! Let’s all freak out!

News has recently broken about the Alameda, CA, County Administrator, Susan Muranishi, who will retire with $420,000 annually from her pension and benefits. While public outrage is widespread, it is, sadly, accompanied by little thought or analysis.

One of the problems plaguing our government is a form of corruption called “the revolving door”. A public official who is responsible for regulating private industries will make recommendations and enforcement decisions favorable to those industries in hopes of getting a well-paying job when they leave government service. Like all people, they want to make a lot of money, but as public employees, they are almost never paid commensurate with people in similar positions of responsibility in the industries that they regulate. Their public salaries encourage them to think about how they can make more money later.

In fact, 423 important officials in the Obama administration have used their government positions to get through that revolving door. As anyone would, they want to get out of their low-paying public service jobs as fast as they can in order to get where they can make real money.

Corporations, on the other hand, have an interest in keeping the pay of public employees low, and it isn’t necessarily about keeping their taxes low. Their interest is that if public employees are hungry, they are easier to bribe.

However, Ms. Muranishi did not have that pressure on her. She worked for 38 years in the public interest and there has never been any indication that she performed her job in other than an exemplary fashion. She managed a very large organization that is responsible for serving the needs of 1.5 million people — a tremendous responsibility. And she did it well enough that they kept her on year after year. Perhaps her $420,000 salary seems like a lot to those of us who have not escaped the oppression of the plutocrats, but it is far less than what is earned by people in similar management positions in private industry.

I say congratulations to Ms. Muranishi, and thank you for your service. I hope that you have a peaceful retirement and a good life. You deserve it!

We should pay all of our public employees, especially those who are responsible for legislation, regulation, and administration, much more than we do now. If the public wants their employees to be answerable to them instead of to corporate bribery, then the public should pay their employees like they mean it.

Establishing parity for people in government administration, enforcement, and policy-making positions is especially important now. People who have sought to further their education to attain such positions can be counted upon to want to further their careers, too, and the rewards that come with success. Personally, I see no reason to not expect that because there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. And when the rules permit corruption — as they certainly do now — then we should also expect it as people take advantage of those rules in order to increase their incomes.

And that corruption, legal though it may be, has caused and is causing great damage to our society by perverting the public will and destroying our economy.

Some will argue that raising public salaries eventually becomes unsustainable. However, we’re only talking about parity with the private marketplace, not endless increases in salaries with no ceilings. Government participates in that market every day, buying all sorts of goods and services and selling services, but we do not see the areas where government competes on either the supply or demand side suffering imbalances. Competition — when it is effective — moderates both supply and demand. Right now, however, the public sector does not compete for labor. It gets the leftovers (as in military enlistees and clerks), people who really do wish to serve, and some people whose purpose is to serve corrupt private interests while they work for the public with the intention of getting better jobs later.

Private employers, because they are a much larger buyer in the market, have labor all tied up, and the private labor market can pay as little or as much as it wants. And with public salaries so low, we see fairly low bribes going to legislators and low, and even impoverishing, paychecks going to almost everyone below the level of executive in both the public and private sectors. Companies can bribe public officials with pennies and reap huge returns for their efforts.

But if government sets parity with private employment as a goal, not only does it encourage professionals to stay in government service and encourage good people to seek those jobs, but the private market will have to compete, albeit only modestly, for all jobs based on cost-effectiveness. Private employers’ domination of the labor market would be slightly weakened, and they would be less able to abuse employees with low pay. Furthermore, bribes would have to become so large — even under our current system of legal bribery – as to be impractical (for many reasons, including the headlines that they would generate).

There is little need to worry about increasing taxes or inflation. The multiplier effect of having more government workers paid more stimulates economic activity. The competitive pressure that it would put on private employers to raise salaries would be negligible, since the private labor market is huge in comparison. And while taxes certainly would increase, those tax increases would offset any inflationary pressure, and would be offset by the multiplier.

In the end, parity between public pay and private pay is nothing but good. There are no negatives to it.

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