Detroit may mark the Beginning of the End of Generational Theft by Public Sector Unions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 4th, 2013

Week in Review

So who’s to blame for Detroit?  The greedy.  The greed of the public sector.  Who stole as much as they thought possible from future generations.  Laughing all the way to the bank.  But never did they think that their greed would eclipse the paying-ability of those they were stealing from.  Future taxpayers.  Which is what happened in Detroit.  And will probably happen elsewhere throughout the nation (see The Unsteady States of America posted 7/27/2013 on the Economist).

Nearly half of Detroit’s liabilities stem from promises of pensions and health care to its workers when they retire. American states and cities typically offer their employees defined-benefit pensions based on years of service and final salary. These are supposed to be covered by funds set aside for the purpose. By the states’ own estimates, their pension pots are only 73% funded. That is bad enough, but nearly all states apply an optimistic discount rate to their obligations, making the liabilities seem smaller than they are. If a more sober one is applied, the true ratio is a terrifying 48% (see article). And many states are much worse. The hole in Illinois’s pension pot is equivalent to 241% of its annual tax revenues: for Connecticut, the figure is 190%; for Kentucky, 141%; for New Jersey, 137%.

By one recent estimate, the total pension gap for the states is $2.7 trillion, or 17% of GDP. That understates the mess, because it omits both the unfunded pension figure for cities and the health-care promises made to retired government workers of all sorts. In Detroit’s case, the bill for their medical benefits ($5.7 billion) was even larger than its pension hole ($3.5 billion).

Some of this is the unfortunate side-effect of a happy trend: Americans are living longer, even in Detroit, so promises to pensioners are costlier to keep. But the problem is also political. Governors and mayors have long offered fat pensions to public servants, thus buying votes today and sending the bill to future taxpayers. They have also allowed some startling abuses. Some bureaucrats are promoted just before retirement or allowed to rack up lots of overtime, raising their final-salary pension for the rest of their lives. Or their unions win annual cost-of-living adjustments far above inflation. A watchdog in Rhode Island calculated that a retired local fire chief would be pulling in $800,000 a year if he lived to 100, for example. More than 20,000 retired public servants in California receive pensions of over $100,000.

This is an important point.  People say that we must honor these lavish pension and retiree health care benefits because they made a deal.  A contract with the city.  Or the state.  But did they?  No.  The public sector unions and the cities and states colluded together to steal money from future generations.  Who were not a party to those agreements.  This amounts to generational theft.  And the generous size of those benefits just makes that theft worse.  Transforming the public sector into an aristocracy.  That cares little for the future taxpayers that they will be bled dry to pay for their long and comfortable retirements.

Detroit is just the first domino to fall.  This generational theft is just unsustainable.  Something has to be done.  But what?

Public employees should retire later. States should accelerate the shift to defined-contribution pension schemes, where what you get out depends on what you put in. (These are the norm in the private sector.) Benefits already accrued should be honoured, but future accruals should be curtailed, where legally possible. The earlier you grapple with the problem, the easier it will be to fix. Nebraska, which stopped offering final-salary pensions to new hires in 1967, is sitting pretty.

In other words our public servants should not live a better life than their masters.  Those people paying the bill.  There should be no aristocracy in the United States.  People in the public sector shouldn’t be able to retire young and live a long life in retirement while someone else is paying the bill.  The taxpayer.  People who have to work until they drop dead to save for their own retirement.  That just isn’t right.  If our servants in the public sector want that long and comfortable retirement then they must do what people in the private sector do.  Save for it.  Make sacrifices.  And live more frugally.  Because there shouldn’t be two Americas.  Where one enslaves the other.  While setting up a string of municipal and state bankruptcies because of their greed that threatens the financial wellbeing of the nation.

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Canadian Public Sector Workers average 18.2 Paid Sick Days a Year

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2013

Week in Review

Nations around the world are suffering financial crises due to the costs of their public sectors.  Which they pay for by taxing the private sector.  Even though people in the private sector don’t enjoy anywhere near the generous benefits the public sector enjoys (see Government to target public service’s sick days in next round of bargaining by BILL CURRY posted 6/10/2013 on The Globe and Mail).

The Conservative government is putting public-service unions on notice that sick days will be targeted in the next round of collective bargaining.

Treasury Board president Tony Clement said the government wants to move away from the current rules, where workers can use up to 15 paid sick days and five family days a year, in addition to vacation time.

The Minister stopped short of accusing public servants of abusing the system, but questioned why the federal absentee rate is higher than that of other governments and the private sector, where he said the average number of sick days is 6.7.

“Look, I think that the great majority of public servants are, when they take time off, they are sick. But there’s no question that the rate of sick leave, when you’re looking at 18.2 days as an average in a year, is well beyond not only private sector norms but other public-sector norms,” Mr. Clement said Monday at a news conference on Parliament Hill…

Union leaders also took issue with comparisons of public- and private-sector absenteeism, arguing the private sector does not document sick days in the same way as governments do…

“Mental illness, stress, anxiety, depression were not admitted to or acknowledged,” he said. “Cancer was much less treatable than it is today. So the workplace has changed dramatically in the past 40 years, but the disability management system has not. Employees are getting lost or forgotten in the system.”

Yes, we admit and acknowledge those illnesses more today than we used to.  And we do treat cancer more than we once did.  However, these illnesses do not affect the public sector differently than they affect the private sector.  So if the private sector is averaging 8.7 sick days there is no reason why the public sector should be averaging 18.2 sick days.  On top of 5 family days.  Holidays.  And vacation time.

One of the arguments for a single-payer health care system in the United States is that people will be healthier.  With access to health care doctors will catch disease early and stop it in its tracks.  Now either the Canadians are milking the system or a single-payer health care system doesn’t make people healthier.

If the organization a person works for can get by for a month (after you add together all that paid time off) without that person being there chances are that they can get by the other 11 months of the year without that person being there.  Which is why you don’t see 18.2 sick says in the private sector.  Because it’s too great a cost burden to pay people for not working.  As private sector employers can’t just raise their prices to cover this cost.  Whereas the government can raise taxes.  Or print money.

But there even is a limit for government, too.  As we can see by the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis.  And the need to cut back on generous sick pay in Canada.  Higher taxes reduce economic activity.  Which reduces government revenues.  Which they make up with borrowing.  Until they suffer a sovereign debt crisis.  Like in the Eurozone.  Where a country is so deep in debt that no one wants to loan them anymore.  For it is unlikely that a nation so deep in debt will ever repay that debt.  Which is why these generous public sector benefits are simply not sustainable.  When you can no longer tax or borrow you have but one option left.  You have to cut costs.  And the public sector will have to live more like the private sector.  Less exalted and privileged.  As public servants should.

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Our Public Servants Receive 3.4 times the Salary of us Average Americans

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 19th, 2011

Week in Review

Gabrielle Giffords, the representative shot last January, is trying to put her life back together.  She begins about where she left off.  Working on an issue she felt was important back then.  And still is today (see Giffords’ office urges supercommittee to give Congress a pay cut by Beth Marlowe posted 11/18/2011 on The Washington Post).

In a letter to the debt-reduction supercommittee organized by Giffords’ Washington office, 25 lawmakers urged the supercommittee to cut lawmakers’ salaries to reduce the federal deficit…

Slashing lawmaker salaries was one of the last major issues Giffords advocated before she was shot in the head at a January 2011 constituent event. Only days before the shooting, Giffords had proposed legislation to cut the salaries of senators and representatives by five percent…

The five percent pay cut that Giffords advocated would add up to $50 million in savings over ten years, according to Thursday’s letter, which also notes that U.S. lawmakesr receive salaries that are 3.4 times higher than the average full-time wage for an American worker.

The 5% cut doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things.  But it is a move in the right direction.  These are our public servants.  They shouldn’t live better than us.  Their bosses.  Yet they do.  Receiving 3.4 times the salary of us average Americans.  Their bosses.

Something is definitely wrong with this picture.  That’s our tax money they’re paying themselves with.  And they’re rather generous with our money.  Not to mention all the perks and benefits they get for just being a Congress person.  The health care for life.  The fat pensions.  Living like royalty.  For life.  And all you have to do is win one election.  Talk about winning the lottery of life.

While we, their bosses, struggle to make ends meet.  We keep paying our underwater mortgages.  And our student loans.  Yet no one protests Congress people.  They protest bankers.  And business owners.  Who work for a living.

Go figure.

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