for fun
March 23rd, 2012

For Fun Put a Brick on Your Back

Posted by: Michael Terry

If you want to have some real fun, put several cinder blocks in a back pack and go for a hike.  That’s not a bad analogy for your having to bear the burden of government and its overhead.

It is admittedly not that simple.  We need public health employees.  I don’t know if the CDC needs 15,000 people . . . that seems like quite a few, does it not?  And yes, corporations would dump carcinogens into streams unless some authority stopped them . . . we know that from holier-than-thou General Electric:

From 1947 to 1977, GE dumped as many as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson, turning a 197-mile stretch of the river into the nation's largest Superfund site. Even today, PCBs still leak into the river from GE's Hudson Falls plant. Under Superfund law, polluters are responsible for cleaning up the messes they make. Yet for years, GE fought the development of a cleanup plan with every tool it could buy, lobbying Congress, attacking the Superfund law in court, and launching a media blitz to spread disinformation about the usefulness of the cleanup, claiming that dredging the river would actually stir up PCBs.

- the Natural Resources Defense Council

We need police and firemen.  We need teachers.  We need people to install and repair sidewalks, fix streetlights, run libraries and, yes, collect and deposit taxes. 

I get tired of idiots - like Texas Governor Perry who want to get rid of the Departments of Commerce and Education and – what the hell is the other one . . . State?  Defense?  No, that’s not it . . . Oh yeah, Energy.  Well, Commerce has the Census Bureau and the National Weather Service, though I’m not sure how many people we need at the National Weather Service.  So do they really need all 4,800 people that I pay for?  Commerce also has Patents and Trademarks, by the way, which employs around 10,500 people.  And this is, of course, just federal government, by the way.

I asked people this question:  “How much better is your life for the existence of government and governments?”  “How much better is your life for the size and scope of current government?”

So much of what government does seems invisible . . . indirect.  That is a truth and a problem.  It is not a benefit.

Most folks look at government expenditures as a percent of GDP, but I go back to the cinder block analogy.  

In 1952, there were 7.5 million total government workers to serve 155 million Americans, or 20.7 government employees for each American.  In 1962, each government worker in the U.S. managed to take care of 22.6 citizens.  That is, each American had to carry only a piece of brick in his backpack.

By 1972, there was one government employee for every 15.4 Americans, falling – getting worse by our measure – to 14.4 in 1982, 13.9 in 1992 and 13.6 in 2002.

Over the post-war years, there was a 52% increase in the relative number of government employees that each American has to pay for.  Part of that, of course, is that we are asking for . . . or rather getting . . . more in services.  Like OSHA, EEOC, EPA and lots of other letters.  That’s not, as I said before, entirely bad.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe.  If Obama is re-elected in November that light just might be an oncoming train.  But stats indicate that between 2002 and 2012 there was a meaningful change in the direction of numbers of government employees per person.  

That is, there are actually fewer government employees per capita.  The number for 2012 might come in at 14.5 or better.  That’s a combination of a population increase from 2002 to 2012 from 285 million to 310 million and a flat number of total government employees at 21 million.  There are some indications that it might be even better than that.

There are obvious problems with this simple analysis, chief among them being that the large parts of government expense are not payroll, but transfer payments.  And outlays for Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare put a lie to the headcount numbers.  But cities, states, counties and even the federal government are doing something at least to control total headcount.  And that’s good news.

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