Friday, 25 January 2008

The demise of the Head Bureaucrat

Paul Walker quotes two observations on the resignation of uber-Bureaucrat Mark Prebble.  My own, for what it's worth, would be "One down.  Three-hundred thousand to go." And: "It's never a bad day when another bureaucrat clears his desk."  Paul's are more thoughtful. 

The first, to paraphrase, is "Health reasons. Yeah, right."  Neither you, nor I, nor his employers believe he's resigning for his health, not unless being the chosen scapegoat for the politicised public service has become life-threatening as well as career-threatening.

Prebble's resignation seems an appropriate time to examine something else: why bureaucrats get paid so damn much to do so little.  Apparently they're paid up to twenty percent on average more than people doing real jobs. Writes John Gibson in the National Business Review, (reporting on research into why public servants in New Zealand get paid 20 per cent more than similar workers in the private sector): 

   My research shows that this pay gap is not due to obvious differences in job conditions, such as stress, whether jobs require physical labour, how interesting the work is or the scope for improving ones skills.
   But the source of this pay gap has become apparent in recent months. It's the "bite your lip and be the fall guy" premium.
As Paul Walker suggests, twenty percent obviously wasn't enough to keep Prebble.  Like everyone else, I now look forward now to reading what stories he can tell in his memoirs.


  1. There may be a good side to the fact that bureaucrats get paid so damn much to do so little, inefficiency can be good! This from an address, Economic Freedom, Human Freedom, Political Freedom, given by Milton Friedman, at the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies in 1991.

    "The United States today is more than 50% socialist in terms of the fraction of our resources that are controlled by the government. Fortunately, socialism is so inefficient that it does not control 50% of our lives. Fortunately, most of that is wasted. People worry about government waste; I don't. I just shudder at what would happen to freedom in this country if the government were efficient in spending our money."

  2. Oh, indeed. I'd rather most were paid fifty percent more to do one-hundred percent less.

  3. (Tongue slightly in cheek)

    1. You pay these salaries because you *can*, not something the private sector can do without subsidies.

    2. Who else is going to employ those with a degree in basket weaving? Or social policy or whatever.

    3. Public servants are hard to sack, and one way to meet the diversity targets is simply to over employ to get the correct mix.

    4. If a policy isn't popular, you don't have the proper number of "communicators".

    5. The actual number of people in the trading departments has fallen. This allows you to employ more people in the social depts.

    6. What do you think "sustainability" means?


  4. Health problems?

    I imagine there was something sticking in his throat.

    I assume his successor will adhere to Helengrad's "obedience over talent" policy.

  5. JC : Who else is going to employ those with a degree in basket weaving...

    Isn't that what Dr Cindy Kiro's PhD in (ie, basket weaving) ?


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.