Thursday, February 17, 2011

In defense of public employees

In December, our fearless leaders in Washington decided that asking 4.6% more of those making more than $200,000 annually ($250,000 for a couple) was simply too much to ask. It would "cost jobs" and "wreck the struggling economy." The argument I guess was that with that extra 4% in your bank account you'd go out and hire someone or something rather than buy a 55" flatscreen. And all this despite the fact that anyone making more than $200,000 actually has a job. A good one too!

Don't even get me started on Wall Street and capital gains.

No, we're now being told the only way out of our debt predicament is to slash spending. And who better to vilify and target for cuts than those fat cat public employees and their swanky pensions! After all, we all know government is never the answer and anyone employed by federal, state or local government is lazy, unskilled and doing little more than sucking us dry with their fat paychecks and country club memberships!

Of course, when you call public employees "government bureaucrats" everyone magically gets images of postal service and DMV employees in their heads. However, I will say in defense of the postal service and the DMV that anyone who's ever been knows two things: A, those places are necessary and B, they're totally soul-destroying. Clearly no one dreams of working there and I'm certain they're not paid handsomely for the privilege. I'm also fairly certain that outside of the Postmaster General, no one's breaking the bank with their pensions from those gigs.

But think for a second about your family and your friends. Think about who they work for.

In all likelihood, you'll find you know several public employees. Maybe you're even related to one. And chances are, they're not stupid or lazy or driving a massive Cadillac or any of the other stereotypes put on them. Maybe they're in the armed forces or education or parks and recreation or road maintenance or land management or a legislator or legislative staff or a park ranger or a firefighter or a cop or a paramedic or any of the other countless professions where passionate and driven people work every day. Yes, they work for money. But they also work for us. They work for our protection, for our betterment, for our enrichment.

My mother spent her career in public service as a librarian for the Texas State Library, as the bill clerk for the Texas State Senate and finally as a librarian for the Austin Independent School District. And she's the smartest woman I've ever met. My father worked as a lawyer who for the Texas Railroad Commission early in his career before leaving for 20+ years in the private sector before finishing his career with the Texas State Comptroller's office. I've never met someone who worked harder or more diligently than than he does. No one would ever label them as anything approaching entitled and they sure as hell aren't lazy.

They simply applied their talents toward doing the things that needed doing. And they were good at it.

Obviously, there are places and instances where unions or whatever have negotiated deals that are unsustainable and I'm all for streamlining things of course. Those are legitimate problems and worth fixing. But the vast majority of public employees aren't enjoying some sweetheart union deal that lets them work for 20 years and then retire (that would be the private auto industry). But to single out teachers—teachers!—as being either too expensive or somehow expendable is frankly unforgivable. I always ask, what kind of future are we envisioning in which well-educated people won't be necessary? If anything, the exact opposite is true.

The truth is, when teachers and firefighters and government employees of all stripes are being singled out as the place to balance our books it simply shows where our values are now. Those who have arguably benefitted the most from the things government provides for us (well-educated employees, interstate highways, safe communities, etc.) are returning the favor by taking our cash and giving a hearty "fuck you" to those who make it possible. The stock market just cruised past 12,000 and corporate profits shattered records this past year but here we are, sacking teachers and cops. Welcome to America, 2011.

I could blame the tea party or the republicans (both are overwhelmingly responsible for it) but the truth is we're simply not in this together anymore. It's us versus them. It's the people who feel like they work for their salaries versus the other people who also work for their salaries. It's just that those salaries are ultimately paid for by the other group's tax dollars so like some kind of twisted reality show we get to say "you're fired" to people we think we don't know. In other words, the "me" generation has grown up and they don't give a fuck about anyone but other white people like them,

So in the end, you're either getting that tax break or you're getting fucked. Or worse, you're too stupid to think for yourself and are likely actively working to kill your own job by listening to the Koch brothers and Dick Armey. In which case, you're literally getting what you deserve.

So here it is, my honest advice: Get rich and get into a gated community with good private schools as fast as you can because if the middle class isn't gone it's at least putting on its shoes. And if you've ever been to Mexico, you can see where this is heading.

Margaritas for everyone. Well, most of us.


Blogger Sherry said...

Ok, tears all around! I could protest your very generous accolades about your parents, but instead I'll just soak them in and appreciate our great kid! You're so right that your dad is the most honorable and unabashed person (especially for a lawyer!!) ever. Actually, so many of your maternal forefathers were public servants, so on their behalf I thank you for your kind words.

10:44 PM  

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