Thursday, January 22, 2009

Growing the Productive Class

I'm sure this went mostly unnoticed among all the pageantry and celebration on Tuesday, but this headline made my skin crawl: There are now more people employed in government than in manufacturing and construction (hat tip: Instapundit).

This cannot stand, if we as a nation expect to continue standing. Why? Because government doesn't actually produce anything. It certainly doesn't produce wealth, no matter how much politicians may blather to the contrary, and on many occasions, it actually gets in the way of those who do produce wealth. It may provide things (national security and so on), but it produces nothing, and there's no reason it should be allow to grow.

A commenter at SayUncle says it best:
Here’s a simple lesson. Production increases wealth. That is the only thing that does. Service economies don’t increase wealth, government doesn’t produce anything.

Whatever government causes to be produced when they purchase a good or a service is wealth neutral. That’s right, no change in the nation’s wealth, just a redistribution of the already existing wealth. What they give to one, they have taken from another, or a host of others.

Wealth is produced and increased when a good is manufactured, fabricated or grown that exceeds in value the sum of its parts. Nothing else creates wealth. A nation without a strong manufacturing base, strong agricultural base, and the ability to combine components of lesser value into components of greater value than the cost of its parts cannot sustain a static population. It has no chance to provide the conditions necessary for economic security for a growing population.
In this current economic climate, we can't even afford the government we have, much less the government that some people in Washington would like to bring in. President Obama said this week that some "difficult choices" will have to be made to help fix our economy, though I'm not sure the best choices are the same ones that the Washington folks have in mind.

The best choice means acknowledging this idea: It's time to grow the productive class in America. And the only real way to do so is to shrink the government. Starve it, even. There are parts of the government that are crucial to our well-being, such as the military (which may or may not be included in the linked graph), but as for all the little bureaucracies? Not so much. We need to knock the unproductive class out of the way of the productive class, and we need to do it now.

It was announced a few weeks ago that the president has chosen a "chief performance officer" to "scour this budget, line by line, eliminating what we don't need, or what doesn't work, and improving the things that do." That officer, Nancy Killefer, should be plenty busy, because there are plenty of things that we don't need, and all the little bureaucracies that were formed to solve a single problem--sometimes decades ago--and have now become "problems in search of a solution" should be the first things on the chopping block.

I've railed against bureaucrats before; they tend to be untalented, uninspired people who are paid not to think, putting processes above people and generally gumming up the works for everyone. These are the kinds of people who need to be unemployed, not people who actually do something. And while, at first glance, adding to the unemployment rolls may seem like a bad idea, eliminating as many government as possible is a great idea. Send 'em all back to school (at their own expense) to learn how to actually Do Something. And for those who are found to have no discernible talent, well...McDonald's needs workers, too.

And here's how to keep this idea going in the future: I've said before that there need to be not only term limits for members of Congress, but also their attendant bureaucracies. Ideally, nobody (save for the military and pseudo-governmental corporations such as the Post Office) should spend an entire career in government. In the best possible scenario, people wouldn't start out in government either, but would cut their professional teeth in the productive sector, then come in for a few years and lend the talents they have acquired in that sector to government (which is sorely in need of such talents) and then return to the productive sector for the duration of their career. Indeed, it would become a source of shame to be a career bureaucrat, because such a thing would indicate that the person doesn't have the talent or desire to participate in the productive class. And the more of these people who are around, the more the productive class suffers for it.

None of this will happen in the current climate in Washington, but it's definitely the direction in which our nation needs to go in order to truly prosper. Hopefully, someone down the road will have the courage to see this problem as it really is and make the tough choices necessary to implement the solutions stated above.

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