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Our Current American Political Climate: Why is Government a Four-Letter Word?

09.14.10

Why do people imagine government workers are lazy, overpaid, and unproductive drains on society?  And what positions are people imagining to personify all government workers?

Based on my own notions, I figure most people are thinking about one of two people: postal service employees, and overstaffed, nondescript office personnel in DC.

But, how many Americans employed by the government fit into these roles?

Let’s crunch some numbers:

Number of postal workers587,768 (2009)

Number of federal financial administration* employees: 107,221 (2009)

Number of full-time federal employees: 2,518,101 (2009)

(I picked “financial administration” because that seemed generic enough for the sake of this humble blog, which doesn’t claim to be an expert on these matters, simply a rough estimate for the sake of argument.)

Whipping out my abacus, it looks like those who represent the average “government worker” in the mind’s eye of many Americans account for less than 28 percent of those employed by the government.

Not remotely close to being the majority, it’s hard to argue that these people should be the face of the amorphous being that is the government worker, an arguably pointless term anyway.  If you work for a private company, are you a private worker?  Are you a free market employee?  Does that even come remotely close to defining your job, your title, your business?  Of course not.  So, why should we lump all government workers under the gigantic umbrella that is called “government.”

The truth is that government workers are health care professionals, road workers, police officers, park rangers, librarians, lawyers, judges, correctional facility officers, FBI agents, scientists, teachers, and soldiers. Just to name a few.

Are teachers overpaid?  Are our troops?  Are our doctors lazy and unproductive?  How about our lawyers or librarians?

Absolutely there are individuals who are lazy, unproductive, and overpaid, just as there are in any industry, in any office, in any company.  But, to generalize all of the vastly different positions that fall within the realm of the government as such is simply unfocused anger and resentment without any depth of thought given to the argument.

And why so much animosity toward people who work for the government?  Especially during these times of economic woe, if the government is hiring and it means that people will be working rather than collecting unemployment during the recession, how is that bad?  And before you get all Ayn Rand on me, I get that it’s better for a free market to have more able bodies employed by the private sector, but it’s not as if simply working for the government means that you’re part of the government anymore than an average Wal-Mart employee should be blamed for the inequalities and questionable practices by Sam Walton’s progeny or the workers at Barnes and Noble should catch hell for the company not adjusting their business model to succeed in the 21st century.

When government has become a four-letter word in our current political times, it’s important to stop a minute and really think about what government means and how complex of an institution it is before making snap judgments about the people who call the state their boss.  It is valuable to be critical of governmental spending, but better to do so on a case-by-case basis rather than these broad generalizations that miss the reality of the situation.

America was founded on limited government, not no government at all.  And those who work for the state are Americans, too, trying to make ends meet, and possibly even performing tasks and duties that help you and our country as a whole.

Photo courtesy of ekonon’s Flickr Photostream.

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