Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More On Public-Sector Workers

The other day I wrote a post about compensation levels of state and local public-sector workers and I caught a lot of flak for it. No, I'm not going to apologize for my post. I am, however, going to clarify the point I was trying to make in the post, because the post seemed to have two messages in it. Also, somewhere in the comments the argument got lost and turned into a discussion about the costs and benefits of public-sector unionization and collective bargaining on the effectiveness of government. 

Anyways, the main point of the post was whether or not public sector workers are overpaid. The second point was whether they were the cause of state budget deficits as a result of being overpaid. Well, I cited studies (here, here and here) that indicated that there was no evidence that state and local employees were overpaid. You can argue that other studies say otherwise, I suppose, but the ones I cited seemed to be pretty carefully done. Anyways, Republican governors like Scott Walker have turned this into a debate as to whether public sector unions are a major cause of state budget deficits. I argue that they are not. Instead, I asserted that the recession was; you can clearly see that there doesn't seem to be a strong link between collective bargaining rights and budget crises on a state-by-state basis. It's probably the recession (and all that comes with it, like depressed housing prices), or rising health care costs.

That being said, I wouldn't mind having a conversation about whether collective bargaining makes states better or worse off. It is not an easy thing to prove one way or another, since there are always about a  million variables you'd have to take into account. I'm not going to throw my weight one way or another, because I honestly haven't done enough research yet. I will say that there are corrupt unions and there are unions that genuinely try to make work better for their members. Demonizing or exalting all of them doesn't do anyone any good. The degree to which they affect the efficiency of state governments is probably devilishly hard to determine, but here's a bit of food for thought if any of  you are curious:

Here's the Pew Center's state-by-state government report card. It has some nice graphics and maps that break down each state government's performance in various areas. And here's a map showing the specific collective bargaining rights of public sector workers on a state-by-state basis. Again, there are many more factors than just unionization, but still. Food for thought and all.

P.S. Thanks to all commenters for the discussion on my last post about this subject. It helps keep me honest, because God knows I can get ideological sometimes.