Andrew C. Biggs and Jason Richwine write in Monday’s Post about the public perception — backed up by figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — that public sector employees earn less than their private sector counterparts. BLS concludes this, Biggs and Richwine argue, by comparing the wrong stats. Things not taken into account, they say — such as levels of education, experience and responsibility, as well as differences in benefits — make the comparison flawed beyond usefulness. The authors call for an overhaul of the way these things are measured.

The most common counter-argument PostScript noticed was that the two authors work for well-regarded conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, respectively.


Just look at the organizations represented by the authors. They are hardly objective judges. It is part of their goals to push this nonsense.


Get back to me when you have an analysis from somewhere besides a joint American Enterprise Institute/Heritage Foundation study. The source of this work absolutely dictates its “findings.”

Interestingly, this complaint dovetails nicely with an overall reader response that intrigues PostScript.

tidelandermdva has a comment that takes a lot of unpacking:

Consider the source. Not exactly unbiased.

I wonder what these guys make, compared to the analysts at the BLS? What TV weather men make compared to the people at NOAA who provide them with their information? What market analysts make compared to the people who do the census that provides them with their data? Lots of professionals make good money basically massaging date they get from government civil servants.

Note that tidelander explicitly compares the private-sector op-ed authors with their BLS counterparts. The analysts have reached different conclusions, and tidelander is inclined to put more faith in the government’s studies, presumably because there isn’t a profit or ideological motive.

But isn’t there? And does that make their analysis purer? If private-sector analysts can be more easily fired and/or need to produce the most marketable data, does that make them more or less trustworthy? The employees at BLS, after all, are analyzing themselves. Job security might mean not having to toe the employer’s line, but it might also mean less fear of being wrong. This is a great big divide PostScript has noticed among commenters. Is the government or business inherently more trustworthy?

Along these lines, commenters were eager to point out more ways it’s hard to compare public and private sector workers.

jameschirico says federal workers are overpaid at the bottom of the pyramid and underpaid at the top:

In the real world, the cashier at WalMart makes under $10/hour, the one at the post office more than double with benefits. Comparing pay using BLS stats says payscales are higher in the private sector. Using Pew research on benefits, you find public sector workers get more in non-taxable benefits. When it comes to the top dogs in the private sector and the top dogs in the public sector, the private sector make 300 times more than the worker they employ, not 10X in the public sector.

PostScript loves the implication that government work is not of the “real world.”

FormerUpstater says it would be very difficult to find any private sector workers with the kinds of benefits government employees get:

Defined benefit pension and post retirement health and welfare says it all. Plus a 401k match. The salaries might be lower but those types of benefits after retirement are gold-plated in this day and age. Although I suspect eventually even the government will have to drop them.

Quaesitum says that lower pay compensates for a more pleasant workplace and lower stress:

In my experience, highly skilled Federal workers such as attorneys and accountants can make more money, including benefits, in the private sector than in the Federal government. For the most part, they remain Federal employees for two main reasons: job security and quality of life. A Federal worker does not, in general, have to work more than 40 hours a week, though many do voluntarily work more hours without additional compensation.

jheath53 says a lot of government work now is the management of contractors, which isn’t as in-demand in the private sector:

Over the last generation, a huge portion of the work the government does has been contracted out. The people who still work directly for the government are basically required to supervise large contracts worth millions of dollars. They would be called executive vice presidents in the private sector. And paid twice what they get from the taxpayers.

And samscram cites William Faulkner’s biggest problem with being a (Post Office) fed: having to work for EVERYONE, even the jerks:

“October, 1924

As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.

This, sir, is my resignation.

William Faulkner”