Government is still not getting bigger; or Facts are Stubborn Things

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.- John Adams

In case you missed it, reports and studies from various state and federal outlets confirm that state and local governments are getting smaller, both in terms of raw numbers and as a percentage of the overall economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland reported in March on The Shrinking Government Sector. Overall, government spending has been trending down as a function of the overall economy since the 1970’s (one could extrapolate this back to the 1950’s with the same result).  State and local government spending especially decreased significantly as percentage of GDP even as the economy itself hit tough times during the Great Recession.  In other words, government spending decreased more in percentage terms than the private sector during the recession.

Also, according to the League of Minnesota Cities, local governments in Minnesota cut about 10,000 jobs in the period between fall 2008 (when the housing bubble burst) and March 2012.  And, the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) reports another 1000 government jobs lost in Minnesota for the month of April.

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence released in April its State and Local Government 2012 Trends report.  According to its survey, government respondents report the following:

51 percent (report) pay freezes, 42 percent (report) hiring freezes, and 28 percent (report) layoffs. While 46 percent of eligible employees are postponing retirement, 22 percent have accelerated their retirement plans.

Despite incessant accusations of lavish wages and benefits, study after study shows employees in management and technical fields lag behind the private sector in overall compensation while employees with less training and education may benefit slightly from public employment.

“Top concerns of the survey participants are the public perception of government workers (73 percent), with staff retention, health care costs, and managing workload close behind (70 percent). Governments able to hire have difficulty filling certain positions, including jobs in finance, management, health care, engineering, public safety and corrections, planning and building inspection, and information technology.”

My Public Sector Compensation series explains the issue at great length.  In order, here are the links to Part 1, Part 1.5, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

A pre-revolutionary John Adams said “Facts are stubborn things” when he defended British soldiers in the infamous Boston Massacre case.  As unpopular as the British were in those days leading up to the founding our country (Adams himself was no fan), Adams had essentially proven shown that the soldiers were provoked into firing their muskets at Boston civilians.  His message was that we cannot lose sight of reality regardless of its popularity.  Of course, Adams lost the case.  The jury was swayed by public opinion rather than by the facts.

We continue to hear despite obvious evidence to the contrary blanket statements such as “government has never been larger than it is now,” and “government continues to grow while the private sector is cutting back.”  We must reject these arguments without qualification so that we can have discussions that really matter.  Facts are stubborn things, indeed.  We must agree on facts before we can have meaningful policy discussions.

 “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” – Thomas Jefferson