The Public Sector and the Tax Base

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 3rd, 2013

Economics 101

All Government Bureaucracies Grow Bigger and Pay their People Very Well

Big cities throughout the United States are suffering financially.  They are drowning under the costs of their public sector employees.  For when the Great Recession hit tax revenues fell.  People lost jobs and paid less income taxes.  People out of work spent less in the local stores causing a fall in sales taxes.  People drove less and paid less gas taxes.  Home values plummeted, reducing property taxes.  Tax revenue fell at all levels of government.  Leaving the big cities unable to pay their bills.  With less help from the governments above them.  While their infrastructures crumbled.  And they struggled to furnish basic city services.

Governments don’t make anything.  They just have people doing things.  So there are little economies of scale.  Just a lot of people.  The public sector includes every worker in the city paid by tax revenue.  The mayor, city council, school teachers, police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors, boiler operators, electricians, janitors, building inspectors, meter readers, bus drivers, etc.   And all the civil servants and bureaucrats that push paper.  Requiring a huge payroll.  And lots of benefits.  In a large city with a population of 1.5 million those costs can look like this:

Public Sector Costs 1

All government bureaucracies have two things in common.  They always grow bigger.  And pay their people very well.  So the above table has three columns.  Showing the growth of the public sector.  (Assuming a constant population to simplify our math).  From 1% of the city population to 2% then to 3%.  So the number of city employees goes from 15,000 to 30,000 to 45,000.  By the time you add in pay, holiday pay, vacation pay, sick days and health insurance the active employee costs are huge.  Going from $1 billion to $2 billion to $3 billion.  Today it is not uncommon for a big city with a population of 1.5 million to have 45,000 public sector workers.  So we will build on that figure.  And add in retiree costs.

As City’s Population Declines so does its Tax Base

Another big perk of working in the public sector are the great pensions.  Something that has long since disappeared in the private sector.  While most of us have to put money away in a 401(k) public sector workers can count on a generous pension during a long retirement.  Perhaps getting as much as 80% of their base pay.  Plus they keep their health insurance.  Which is unlike the health insurance most of us get in the private sector.  For it covers everything.  With few co-pays.  And only the best name-brand pharmaceutical prescriptions.  This is why people want to work in the public sector.  And why they want to retire from the public sector.  Because no one else pays as well.

Public Sector Costs 2

Public sector workers retire long before their counterparts in the private sector.  Allowing them to live a long retirement.  And because they live so long into retirement the city ends up paying for almost as many retirees as they do active workers.  Putting great cost pressures on these cities as more of their workers retire.  Within as few as 2 decades the cost of retired workers can go from $648 million to $1.9 billion.   When we add this cost to the cost of their active workers we get the total cost of the public sector.

Public Sector Costs 3

As time passes and more people retire from the public sector we can see how the cost of the public sector (active and retired) rises from $3.7 billion to $4.4 billion to $5 billion.  Which, of course, the people living in the city have to pay.  The taxpayers.  They pay income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and a variety of other taxes and fees.  Who by the time the number of retirees reach 40,500 must pay $3,336 per year.  Or $278 per month.  Or $64.15 per week.  Or $9.16 each day.  Just to get a true feel of how much this is do the following exercise.  Each day take a $10 bill out of your wallet or purse and throw it away.  This will approximate the cost of the public sector you pay for.  Until the people start leaving the city.  And as the population declines so does the tax base.  Requiring each person to pay a larger share of the public sector cost.

To pay for an Expanding Government you need a Growing Population

If a city starts losing population it doesn’t reduce the need to pay the bloated public sector.  Both active and retired.  So the fewer people remaining in the city have to pay a larger share of the public sector cost.  Because the public sector union isn’t going to allow the city to lay off any workers.  So it’s up to the taxpayers.  But as the population shrinks it becomes more painful to do.

Public Sector Costs 4

By the time the population falls to 500,000 the amount of taxes a person must pay to support the public sector amounts to a house payment.  Or $192.46 per week.  Or $27.49 each day.  Can you imagine taking three $10 bills out of your wallet or purse every day just to throw them away?  Probably not.  Because no one would.  Cities just can’t keep increasing the tax burden on their people.  For there is a limit.  And when a city reaches it they start borrowing.  Which is how cities go into debt.  And flirt with bankruptcy.  Because of these bloated public sectors.  That grew when the cities grew.  But they didn’t shrink as their populations shrank.

We have ignored corporations in our exercise.  Which increase the tax base.  But we have also excluded additional costs.  Buildings, vehicles, equipment, housing assistance, food assistance, fuel for city vehicles, car insurance, property insurance, liability insurance, lawsuits, etc.  If we factor these things in the numbers will only look worse.  As the cost of the active and retired workers increases there’s less money to pay for the basic city services.  So they deteriorate.  Which when added to the higher taxes chase even more people out of the city.  Reducing the tax base further.  Leaving even less money for the basic city services.

When the population declines so does the city.  As the public sector workers consume a greater percentage of the shrinking tax base cities suffer increasing urban decay.  As there is little money for anything but the public sector workers and their benefits.  For when it comes to paying for government population is key.  You need a growing population to pay for expanding government.  To spread the costs of a bloated public sector over as many people as possible.  And you can’t do that with a declining population.  Which is why big cities flirt with bankruptcy during bad economic times.  For they can pay for their bloated public sectors only during the best of economic times.  And only during the best of economic times.

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Bad Keynesian Policies cause influx of Romanian and Bulgarian Migration into Germany

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 10th, 2013

Week in Review

It is interesting that countries that get into trouble using Keynesian economic policies tend to go to countries that relied on Keynesian policies less for help.  States with high government spending and bloated public sectors turn to countries with less government spending and less bloated public sectors for help.  Yet Keynesian economic policies are still the dominant polices of many nations.  Including the US, the UK, China, countries within the Eurozone, Bulgaria and Romania (see German warning over Romanian and Bulgarian migration by Rosa Silverman posted 2/6/2013 on The Telegraph).

German cities have warned that an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian economic migrants will cost them dear and put the “social peace” at risk…

Berlin, Hamburg, Dortmund and Hanover have seen a six-fold increase in economic migration from the two countries since 2006, which they say has left them struggling to cope…

The warning comes amid fears in Britain that tens of thousands more Romanians and Bulgarians will come here each year after formal restrictions on the numbers of low-skilled workers from the two countries end next year.

A report by the campaign group Migration Watch UK warned last month that up to 70,000 migrants could arrive annually from then.

Of course the question that just begs to be asked is why are Romanians and Bulgarians leaving their countries in the first place?  The Cold War is over.  The communists are gone.  These are beautiful countries.  Blessed with farm land.  And natural resources.  With some great people.  And a lot of history.  So why leave?  Because they caught the Keynesian contagion during the Nineties.  Their central banks kept interest rates artificially low to stimulate economic activity.  Which they did.  But a lot of that economic activity was artificial.  A bubble.  Times were good.  They expanded government employment.  And government pay and benefits.  And then the 2007-2008 financial crisis came along.  Bursting that bubble.  Leaving these nations with budget deficits.

Both nations were on track to join the Eurozone.  Working hard to meet the Maastricht criteria.  Conditional for entry into the common currency of the Eurozone.  After the financial collapse meeting the Maastricht criteria became more difficult.  As the fall in economic activity and the rise in the unemployment rates of these countries caused tax revenue to fall.  Creating deficits that approached or exceeded those permitted under the Maastricht criteria.  And the Keynesian cure for a recession, easy credit and more government spending, just made those deficits worse.  And it caused inflation to rise to or above that permissible under the Maastricht criteria.  They had to borrow money to meet their spending obligations.   And a condition of those loans was to bring their spending down to acceptable levels.  Like that to meet the Maastricht criteria.

Long story short the damage these Keynesian policies caused required very painful austerity to fix.  High unemployment and austerity makes people want to leave home for sunnier economic climes.  As Germany has been the bedrock of the Eurozone because of their more responsible governing and restraint in government spending these people went to Germany.  And to the UK.  Who didn’t join the Eurozone.  And aren’t mired in the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  Though they are implementing a little austerity of their own to bring down their budget deficits.

High government spending and large deficits cause trouble.  The U.S. has numbers worse than both Bulgaria and Romania.  Which means there is trouble ahead.  But unlike other nations the United States’ population won’t be able to travel to sunnier economic climes.  For no country will be able to absorb that amount of migration.  Not even Germany.  Or the UK.  Combined.

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Bloated Public Sectors Responsible for the Eurozone Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 1st, 2012

Week in Review

The Eurozone was Europe’s answer to the United States of America.  One large, single-currency, free-trade zone.  And it worked.  For awhile.  During good economic times.  Like most things work during economic times.  Like it does in business.  A business could have a lot of cost problems and inefficiencies.  But if sales are good people don’t tend to see them.  Because healthy sales revenue can fix any problem.  It’s when you don’t have healthy sales revenue that high costs and inefficiencies hurt a business.  And the cost cutting, nay, the cost slashing begins.  Which is what has happened in the Eurozone.  Only they haven’t started the cost slashing yet (see The Eurozone Crisis For Dummies by Simone Foxman posted 12/30/2011 on Business Insider).

Since joining the euro back in 1999, the governments of Greece and Portugal (among other offenders) have gotten used to spending a LOT of money. When times were good, it wasn’t a problem — banks and other investors were willing to lend them money on the cheap and their public sectors became bloated.

When the financial crisis hit, however, problems came to a head. Debt levels in Portugal, Italy, and Greece became unsustainable, and taxes in a contracting economy are no longer enough to pay the bills.

Greece, Portugal, and Ireland are still struggling to bring their public debt under control, after receiving billions of euros in bailout aid from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank (the so-called troika). Some of this aid was provided through a temporary Special Purpose Vehicle called the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

For a complete summary of the Eurozone crisis follow the above link to the full article.

Some say Europe’s spending is the problem.  Others say it’s the austerity they’re pushing onto the high-debt states that has taken a non-problem and created a crisis.  Some blame outside economic factors such as the American subprime mortgage crisis that ruined a good thing.  To point the finger of blame you need to look at when the crisis became a crisis.  And when was that?  When these countries could no longer pay the bills for their bloated public sectors.  Regardless of what caused it.  It happened.  And when it did they showed us that they could only support their government spending during exceptional economic times.  Which can mean but one thing.  They were spending too much.

When a business finds itself in this predicament the long knives come out and they start slashing costs.  And the businesses that weren’t spending too irresponsibly usually survive.  Those who spent too much or don’t slash enough don’t.  And that’s where the Eurozone is right now.  But they have a peculiar problem.  They may have a currency union but they are still independent nations.  Rich with history and tradition.  And set in their welfare-state ways.  These great social democracies of Europe.  The Eurozone as a whole can only hope the problem states do the right thing and cut back their spending.  Which they haven’t yet.  And appear to be doing only with the utmost reluctance.  Which explains the ongoing crisis.

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