Though Jonathan Chait didn’t read my take on the subject before writing in the new Atlantic about the vilification of public-sector workers, he identifies the same culprits: “politicians who make promises today that place excessive demands on taxpayers in the future.”
If an elected official pays his workforce more money, he has to jack up taxes. But if he can arrange to have his workforce paid more money years down the line, when he’s not the one coming up with the cash, he can enjoy the best-of-both-worlds outcome of happy employees and happy voters.
So that is what elected officials have done across the country. They’ve given their workforce reasonably modest wages, but plied them with vast pension benefits. By the time the bill comes due, the politicians who agreed to it will be retired themselves, collecting nice pensions, and perhaps being quoted in the local media opining that the new breed of elected officials doesn’t run a tight fiscal ship, the way they did back in the good old days.
The one point with which one could reasonably quibble with Chait is that the “reasonably modest wages” part of the equation is not as clear as it was in years past. Especially in terms of the federal government, public-sector salaries look pretty nice, regardless of the disparity over benefits.