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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Police and Thieves

I was thinking that my posts have been far too serious in the recent past. Tax, benefits, public art: a right litany of worthy topics. Just the sort of stuff a retired civil servant would write about. Why can't he lighten up? write about the joys of retirement, the constant surprise of still being alive after all these years. I was planning to do that very thing - to wax lyrical about the cats and the joys associated with a life shared with furry, four legged felines.

Except I started to think that maybe I was rather too enamoured with these critters. So instead.....I'll refer you to an article in today's New York Times. I know it's incredible worthy. This columnist suggests that the malaise that affects much of the US is the diverting of resources -more specifically tax payers money - from productive areas of the economy to other non productive ( dead weight) areas. The columnist David Brooks cites the inability of New Jersey to fund the construction of a tunnel to New York. He harks back to an earlier time when money was just as tight but huge infrastructure schemes went ahead. But then public servants didn't tie up revenues like they do today.

His list is pretty depressing: for someone like me. A servant of the state. Because public servants are draining the county dry. In New Jersey state employees' benefits are 41% more valuable than those of the average employee in Fortune 500 companies. Californian police receive pensions which are 90% of their salaries from the age of 50.

I could go on. I don't necessary agree with Mr Brooks analysis, but that's not the point. It's basically the same argument we are hearing in the UK. Our public sector is bloated, overpaid and squeezing the life out of the hard working citizens. 

Lord Turner, looking for a job now the Financial Services Agency is to be no more, has recently expanded on his thinking about people doing socially useless jobs ( is he not conflicted?). You may recall that in 2009 he  condemned some financial innovation as "socially useless", questioning whether "the world would have been better off without any credit default swaps".  Now he has gone further saying that many of the top earners do nothing to increase the wealth of nation. In a series of lectures at the London School of Economics he muses on the value of many of the most highly paid jobs in society. In his view all they do is distribute wealth; they don't create it or improve the quality of life. He thought that divorce lawyers really weren't doing our economy much use. All they did was help move money from one group to another - without generating any additional wealth. Other examples were those in marketing whose job was to persuade you to switch from one product to another.

At at time when a lot of people will be concerned about having a job at all, whether in the public sector or elsewhere, it's good to know that patricians like Lord Adair can take in the broader perspective.

My next blog will be about our rapidly increasing collection of  pussies. Something that is hugely socially useless. Promise.

4 comments:

thedailyg said...

Most private sector labour is useless: it generates frivolous desires and expends natural resources in order to move money (which has no innate value) from consumers to owners.

If we only made and did what was good and useful we would have a very short working day, and the way society is organised (i.e. along lines of power and dominion) cannot cope with that. The public sector may be bloated (though try telling that to the low-level workers who make up the bulk of it - they are not rich like the managers) but at least it has the theoretical potential to carry out public works for their own sake and not just to sleaze a buck.

The free-marketeers (all for one and one for oneself!) never explain what is this magical process by which private business 'produces' wealth in a way that public business somehow cannot. If the government digs out some coal, the coal is newly-available wealth just the same as if Tata Steel digs it out. The single most relevant difference is that Tata Steel will insist on extracting more value from you than you will get for the coal - that is what profit is.

thedailyg said...

I know you will think 'ah more right-on lefty sentiments from G' but you know, I am always interested to know if someone thinks I've made some error in reasoning. This singling out of the public sector as the source of our trouble just makes no sense to me. That Lord Whatsisface speculating on what's genuinely wealth-creating - I doubt he has really thought about this stuff deeply; he would end up finding his own position untenable.

I don't see how divorce-lawyers can be singled out either - they are one piece of a bureaucratic puzzle: dismantle/change the whole thing or accept its neccesary working parts in all their inefficiency. We drive cars even though they waste much of the energy they use: we accept the loss in order to get large gains in ability and convenience.

thedailyg said...

Was some service-error so may be a duplicate comment:

I know you will think 'ah more right-on lefty sentiments from G' but you know, I am always interested to know if someone thinks I've made some error in reasoning. This singling out of the public sector as the source of our trouble just makes no sense to me. That Lord Whatsisface speculating on what's genuinely wealth-creating - I doubt he has really thought about this stuff deeply; he would end up finding his own position untenable.

I don't see how divorce-lawyers can be singled out either - they are one piece of a bureaucratic puzzle: dismantle/change the whole thing or accept its neccesary working parts in all their inefficiency. We drive cars even though they waste much of the energy they use: we accept the loss in order to get large gains in ability and convenience.

Barry Coidan said...

Not sure I fully agree!!! and I'm reluctant to illustrate the horrors of state controlled economies.

I like Neil Kinnock's summation of the follow of the left at the 1985 Labour Conference:

"I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council! – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers."