Saturday, July 18, 2009

Is Goverment The Problem, Or Salaries?

I was in a government office the other day and all the stereotypical problems were seen all around me and it made me ask myself:

Is the problem here that there is something wrong with government bureaucracy or is it that low salaries attract poor talent?

The same thing happens in the physics world right? The odds are your physics teacher in high school did not graduate with honors a top university. Those that did usually can get the higher paying jobs and so don't become high school teachers.

I'm sure people with great managerial skills don't end up in government bureaucracy jobs very often either. If you have above average talent, why work for the DMV when you can be a partner at a lucrative business firm?

Now, I'm not saying we need to pay government bureaucrats more. I'm just saying that economics is probably a greater factor leading to government inefficiency than something fundamentally wrong with government bureaucracy. True Principle: Talent, and therefore efficient people, usually follow money. Shady principle: Government is fundamentally inefficient in of itself.


  1. By the way, no offense to any high school teachers. You really do a great work and some did graduate with honers. But in physics, that is not the majority.

    I hope it is possible to speak a little realism and still have high school teachers know I think they are great. (I think government employees are great to for that matter.)

  2. Full disclosure: I didn't graduate with honors either, but I do recall staying in a Holiday Inn Express once. :)

  3. I think that much of the inefficiency in government comes from the fact that the bureaucrats are not well paid, so the best ones often leave for the private sector. But I think this actually highlights the more fundamental problem with government - it lacks the ability and motive to adapt in order to provide the lowest-cost, highest quality product. No one would dream of running a business by democracy - it would be far too inefficient. Voters are not top-notch business minds so they will never run a top-notch business.

  4. "No one would dream of running a business by democracy - it would be far too inefficient. Voters are not top-notch business minds so they will never run a top-notch business."

    I agree, which is why it in many respects is better to be a republic than a pure democracy. You pick strong leaders and they make sound business decisions. (In theory.)

    Actually this is highlighted in a show I saw recently about China. They interviewed several prominent American businessman doing business and China and did they complain about China having strong government control?

    No, they actually praised it saying the great thing about the Chinese government is that, since it isn't democratic, they can pick the most qualified expert for a government position and that China has picked people really good at working with businesses.

    This is a major challenge for democracy: How do you pick the best person for job X when the voting base really knows nothing about X. China doesn't have this problem, but they don't have the democratic freedoms we do.

  5. One guy they interviewed was funny, he said something to the effect: "Don't get me wrong I love freedom and democracy, I just also like knowing I do business in a country whose guidelines are dictated by financial experts who never have to worry about being swayed by public opinion."

  6. Great pos Joe. You might have something about money attracting talent. However, with the recent economic breakdowns and scandals and other problems, it appears that even that trend has as many exceptions as not. So, no, I would not recommend throwing money at a problem like this in the vague hope that money will attract talent. Instead, you need better way to motivate efficiency and service. Companies find this motivation by profit and competition. That doesn't work with the government. (It would be an interesting society where free market ideas were applied to government. I doubt it would work very well.) Perhaps there is another way.

  7. Thanks Bill. I think you bring up a good point in that being in a government job probably means profit and competition aren't strong motivators. You do need strong motivators to be efficient.

    Poor salaries don't inspire much competition either. Who will compete for a low paying job?


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