MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA — In 1997, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman
starred in a film titled “Wag the Dog.” The film portrayed
a sex scandal involving the President shortly before the election.
De Niro, a Washington spin doctor, was brought in to distract the electorate
and save the election. He hired Hoffman, a Hollywood movie producer,
to help fake a war to distract attention from the scandal.
The president’s advisors expressed initial skepticism, arguing
that the plan was too absurd and the public would not fall for it.
De Niro and Hoffman assured them the public would, saying “they
always do.” Sure enough, the president was reelected.
Today, we see the reality of “Wag the Dog” being played
out in Washington on a daily basis. The spin doctor’s assurance
the public will “fall for it” seems to be holding. Global
warming, health care, cap and trade, bank bailouts, a $14-trillion
debt, and “we can spend our way out of the recession” are
all promoted as necessary. The public is repeatedly told that if these
issues are not immediately addressed and action taken, catastrophe
is sure to follow.
On December 13, 2009, Larry Summers, the President’s top economic
advisor, informed the nation, “Everybody agrees that the recession
is over.” Although time will tell, this assertion does not match
the conclusion of most private economists.
These pronouncements are certainly reminiscent of the scenario of
the movie. Yet, another tail-wagging-the-dog scenario is being played
by our federal and local governments, possibly an even more troublesome
Jessica Klement, government affairs director for the Federal Managers
Association, told USA Today that federal employees make 26 percent
less than private sector workers for comparable jobs. The average federal
worker’s pay is now $71,206. However, the facts find the average
private sector salary to be $40,331 — or 76.6 percent less than
federal employees’ salaries.
This recession has pushed almost 7.5 million into unemployment. That
number continues to increase every month, and there is no end in sight
to layoffs. The 2 million-plus federal workforce, however, is expanding
and is receiving significant pay increases. Federal employees are not
experiencing a recession; they are experiencing unprecedented growth
and financial gains.
The tail is most certainly wagging the dog. Public servants are no
longer servants by any understanding of the term. The average federal “public
servant” earns more than those who pay that salary. While average
taxpayers suffer, federal workers prosper. Those at the top of the
federal food chain do even better.
At the beginning of this recession, only one Department of Transportation
employee was receiving a salary of $170,000 or more; 18 months later,
1,690 are. The number of federal employees receiving salaries of $100,000
or more jumped from 14 percent to 19 percent of the federal workforce
during the same period, not including overtime or bonuses.
Those in the private sector, being taxed to fund federal wages and
benefits, are receiving little or no salary increases. Between 17 percent
and 22 percent of the private workforce is unemployed, has stopped
looking for work, or is involuntarily working less than 40 hours per
week. The tail is most certainly wagging the dog.
The same is true at the state level. States large and small are paying
state workers significantly more than their comparable private sector
counterparts. For example, North Dakota’s private sector work
force has a mean annual salary and benefit package totaling $41,053
per year. State employees have an annual package totaling $51,948 —
26.5 percent more than their private sector neighbors whose taxes fund
this package. It is likely we would find the same at the city and county
When the dog finally realizes what is happening, it is likely to
begin chasing the tail.
When the tail is caught — and it will be — the consequences will
be painful for everyone.
A Voice from Fly-Over
A Voice from Fly-Over Country is copyright © 2009 by Robert
L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin
All rights reserved.
Robert L. Hale received his J.D. in law from Gonzaga University Law
School in Spokane, Washington. He is founder and director of a non-profit
public interest law firm. For more than three decades he has been involved
in drafting proposed laws and counseling elected officials in ways
to remove burdensome and unnecessary rules and regulations.
See a complete biographical sketch.
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