“Businessmen have to provide us with goods or services we want, or they go out of business. (In that sense, the private sector is truly full of ‘public servants.’) Bureaucrats, however, just order us about, threaten us with jail if we don’t comply with their self-aggrandizing regulations and then have the gall to tell us we should be grateful to them.”
Iain Murray’s new political corruption page-turner Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You pits government workers against the people who pay their salaries. Not limiting himself to politicians and employees at the alphabet soup of “three-letter agencies,” Murray skewers the entire juggernaut government machine, from the IRS to teachers to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), decrying their egregious assaults on American wallets, freedoms and common sense.
The root of the problem? Not simply human greed, Murray argues, but a system in which success is determined by how many more taxpayer dollars you can funnel to your interests, commonly known as “increasing your budget.” Government bureaucrats strive to be relevant not by solving problems, but by creating them to require more money and manpower to fix.
A staunch ally of the private sector, Murray paints an infuriating picture of the growing salary disparity between the private sector and “public servants.” The average salary of state and local government workers is now $39.50 an hour in total compensation. The average salary of private sector workers is $29.06 per hour. The average total salary—including wages and benefits—for a federal employee is $100,178. The average private is $51,876.
But the fault of this startling difference does not lie solely with greedy, grasping political bureaucrats. Murray reserves much of his harshest vitriol for public employee unions, describing fraud, extortion and absurdity that perpetuates a cycle allowing employees to perform at levels simply unacceptable in the private sector, demanding that they be paid more for it, and funneling government funds into the pockets of union bureaucrats. For example, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) took in about $202 million in 2009 and spent $48 million on politics. It has 229 employees making more than $100,000, and the highest-paid employee earns $479,328, more than the President of the United States.
Stealing You Blind is filled with such detailed and meticulous statistics. Not relying on sound-bite generalities, Murray can hardly go a single page without including paragraphs of supporting data, and often cites his sources in the paragraph to spare the reader from digging through the appendices.
This reader-friendly approach carries through in Murray’s interpretation and explanation of the data, including startlingly simple yet potent illustrations. “One million seconds is about 11.5 days, 1 billion seconds is about 32 years while a trillion seconds is equal to 32,000 years,” he explains in a chapter about the rapidly growing debt.
Murray doesn’t bring up problems without providing solutions. He insists that the only successful way for reform is a package deal. “… government reform must be sweeping and comprehensive: sweeping so that the supporters of bureaucracy have no time to dig in; and comprehensive so that they cannot retreat to redoubts and entrench there.” His suggested reforms apply to the entire government system: eliminating entire agencies such as the Departments of Education, Labor and Energy, overhauling entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, and radically simplifying the tax code.
Murray’s inflammatory suggestions are sure to please enthusiastic supporters of limited government, but more moderate conservatives might have reason to pause at some of his assumptions and predictions. Here, he relies on generalities and assumptions, which will fly with strict constitutionalists, but pragmatists will have reason to question his proposals.