Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Myth of Public Service

Note: I haven't posted for a while, so I apologize. All I can say is it's for a good reason. I've been spending most of my free time working on a novel. It's called "Campusland" and it's a satirical dive into one year at a modern American campus. More details and maybe some excerpts to follow!

Recently, a college classmate of mine posted something on our class's Facebook page. It was a ranking of U.S. colleges by the percentage of grads going into public service. She was very proud as our school was in the top 10.

Here are the top schools by this metric:

1. William and Mary                      32%
2. George Washington                  31
3. Univ. of Chicago                        30
4. Brandeis                                    28
5. Brown                                        27
6. Univ. of Rochester                     26
7. Yale                                           26
8. Emory                                        25 
9. Washington Univ. St. Louis        25
10. Georgetown                             24

Against my better judgment, I couldn't let this pass. I posted a comment to the effect that I'd like to see our school at the bottom of this list, pointing out that "public service" means "government."

My views were not well received.

But, seriously, whose going to make our country great, people in the private sector, ones who take risks, create new products and companies and jobs, or someone going to work for the Education Department or the IRS?

What also sticks in my craw is the implicit message that those choosing public service are somehow making a sacrifice and should be admired for it. What baloney. According to the government's own figures (the CBO), college grads in the federal government earn 5% more than their private sector counterparts. But that's only the beginning. If you include benefits, annual comp for federal employees is a staggering 52% higher. 


It doesn't end there. Government workers have near bullet proof job security, immune to economic cycles and structural shifts in the economy. They also have staggeringly generous defined benefit retirement packages into which they have to contribute little. On the other hand, most people in the private sector have to save for their own retirements. 

When thinking through any course of reasoning, a useful exercise is to take an argument to its extreme. In this case, what if 100% of college grads went to work for the government. Who, exactly, would pay their salaries?

So, college grads, go feed at the public teat if you must, but don't expect my admiration.