Monday, February 23, 2015

Public Sector Millionaires

"Life is a long succession of vested interests, though we are inclined to see everyone’s but our own," says Theodore Dalrymple in this article in which he points out that senior public servants these days are often millionaires. The difference between public service millionaires and most others is that the public servants tend to deny that they are acting entirely in their own interests, preferring to delude themselves and others that they are pursuing their careers solely for the benefit of society.

Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand where I live, now has the highest household income (at nearly $100,000) and GDP per capita ($58,000) in New Zealand. It is no coincidence that it is where most of the public servants live. I have written before about how I have noticed the decline of Wellington's private sector economic base over the past couple of decades. Suburbs that used to be filled with factories and distribution companies are now empty of all commercial activities except for 'large box' retailers and recreational businesses that serve the prosperous bureaucrats that remain.

And prosperous they most certainly are. At the highest executive levels, public servants may still earn less than those in the private sector but across the board the relationship between salaries in the public and private sectors is significantly reversed. A divisional manager in a government department with a few dozen staff is likely to receive an annual salary of $150,000 to $200,000, whereas if you take an equivalent role in the private sector - say, a manager of a regional factory for a national manufacturing company with a similar number of staff - the role would be lucky to earn $100,000 and more likely about $70,000 to $80,000. And I know who would have the most risk and stress in their job - the factory manager, who undoubtedly is continually fighting for the factory's survival against international competition.

Many public servants appear to have no idea how the tax revenues that pay for their positions are generated. That is because many of them have never had a job where they have had to pay their own salary out of the margin from selling the products and services they produce. They have no idea about the economic value that must be created to generate the profits on which the taxes are levied that pay their salaries. They don't have to compete for customers - the people public servants love to call 'customers' are not customers at all, but rather members of the public who are forced to deal with them. They have no appreciation of the plight of the business owners who, if they have a bad month of sales, aren't able to draw any income out of their businesses at all, or who have to borrow to pay provisional and terminal taxes because their revenues have dropped after one good year.

It is no surprise that public servants almost universally have left-wing political views - after all, turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas. They regard the economy as just one big money-go-round, a zero-sum game in which they are entitled to grab what they think is their fair share. Public servants invariably regard themselves as empathetic types, bestowing their largesse with other people's money on those they regard as the deserving in society, and yet in their well-off Wellington suburbs they are often as isolated from the deprived in our society as anyone. And they have no empathy at all for those in the private sector struggling on much lower incomes than themselves.

When I was growing up, our rich neighbours were those with their own businesses. Today they are public servants, and I think that is an indictment on our our society and a sign of our ultimate economic decline.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A spoilt, petty, self-pitying, meddling plonker for a king.

Prince Charles wants to be an activist king, claims a new book, Charles: The Heart of a King by Catherine Mayer. The book describes an intemperate fool whose court is so dysfunctional and riven with petty rivalries that the author compares it to Henry VIII's as described in the Hilary Mantel book Wolf Hall. 

Charles is strongly partisan in his political views and has meddled in public issues as broad as British architecture and climate change. The fact that he knows little about the topics he pronounces on does not seem to deter him. It is obvious that he has little understanding of the modern constitutional role of the monarch, which his mother has defined and so ably maintained for six decades. That role is primarily one of political neutrality. The monarch is meant to sit above the hurly-burly of political debate and only act on the advice of her ministers in whom Parliament has confidence.

I've made no secret in previous posts that I am a republican. It galls me that the role of New Zealand's head of state is handed down as an inheritance in a family that lives on the other side of the world. However, I do appreciate the superb job that Queen Elizabeth II has done in the role. She is a constant in an ever-changing world and undoubtedly a factor in maintaining the peaceful, stable, relatively prosperous, democratic nation that is New Zealand. You get the impression that she never says or does anything that is not carefully considered. 

Charles could not be more different in style to his mother and just as Queen Elizabeth has been a force for stability in her realm, Charles's ill-considered, confrontational meddling will be very destabilising. The only positive thing that is likely to come out of his reign is the end of the monarchy itself. Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror summed him up beautifully as "Spoilt, petty, self-pitying, meddling and a plonker – Prince Charles is a gift … for republicans.”

Charles is an idiot, but for a republican like me, he might prove to be a useful idiot.