Friday, 18 July 2008

Say "No" to the public-service pushers!

Why do so many eager, fresh-faced intelligent young graduates take their hard-earned degrees (I'm talking here about those few who do work hard, and can parse sentences) and with the whole world as their oyster and opportunity their friend, choose instead to take up a comfortable berth in the civil service -- where instead of being productive themselves, they spend their time, energy and intelligence devising schemes that get in the way of those who are?

Why the hell do they do this?

Sure, there's money involved -- with Wellington wages in the last few years going through the roof compared to other regions, it's easy to see that. But even if you choose to ignore where that money comes from and how it's extracted from those who produced it -- even if you choose to ignore that you're a parasite on those whose productivity your own work is daily diminishing -- you must know that sort of money won't last, and even if it did, does it pay for a life of soul-destroying boredom in places where incompetence and sloth are a way of life?

What sort of person gives up a life of productivity and profit-making for a career in the bureaucracy and a gold watch on retirement, and why? Because of some sort of mission? Do they think that bureaucrats move the world by the simple expedient of getting in our way? -- which, let's face it, is all they're able to do with distinction.

It sure beats the hell out of me, and maybe some bureaucrats who've voluntarily grasped the poisoned chalice can post your own reasons in the comments, but Jeff Scialabba suggests it's because of a phony dichotomy between profits and 'public service' -- a dichotomy that a new ethic of sacrifice is encouraging, at least in the U.S. In his post The Next Hot Career Choice: Self-Immolation posted at The Undercurrent, he notes that

terms like “giving back”, “public service”, and “helping others” make self-sacrifice palatable, and sidestep the fact that careers in the public sector are predominately low-paying, emotionally straining, and offer little chance of professional advancement. Those who argue in terms of the false alternative between pursuing wealth vs. serving the community ignore the real issue: career as personal fulfillment vs. career as self-sacrificial duty.
So why would anyone advocate this false alternative? Why do university administrations and career counselors frame the issue in terms of wealth vs. service? They frame it in this way because it is precisely self-sacrifice that they want to push. The moral ideal they advocate is not to help others, but to sacrifice oneself in the helping of others.
[But] i
f the good of others is truly the public service pushers’ goal, then why do they decry business as antagonistic to their mission? As evidenced by profit-seeking businessmen throughout history, an individual’s selfish pursuit of wealth in a capitalist society raises the level of prosperity of others ... consider Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two giants of capitalism that have had a profoundly beneficial impact on the way we live. How many products and services remain in existence for you to enjoy because of the savvy investments of Mr. Buffett? How many jobs have been created? How much more productive is the world because of the growth of the personal computer, initiated and guided by Mr. Gates? How many lives have been saved by the technological advancements the computer has fostered?
Yet at what point were Gates or Buffett ever upheld as models of moral action? Despite bettering the lives of billions through the selfish, insatiable pursuit of wealth, never was so much praise reaped upon them as when they chose to give their earnings away, when they turned away from practical action undertaken for the benefit of their own lives and chose to sacrifice that wealth for the good of others...

If there is a good and valid selfish reason to pursue a career as a parasite, then it sure as hell escapes me. But to choose to be a parasite as a means of “giving back”, “public service”, and “helping others” is to stretch the English language too far, and to overlook that, as Mr Scialabba concludes "it is not kindness, not generosity, not good will towards others that the public-service pushers proselytize to students. It is sacrifice—the sacrifice of their goals, their dreams, their values. Students should answer these calls for self-sacrifice with a resounding 'No,' and should get on with the business of choosing whichever career they find most personally rewarding."


  1. I understand the hostility towards bureaucracy. But even the most radical Libertarians concede that there are legitimate roles for government in areas such as defence, maintenance of law and order and enforcement of contracts. For this to happen it requires frontline staff to do the work, as well as management and other infrastructure (admittedly this would be far smaller than at present under a Libertarian regime). So surely even a Libertarian government must have a place for at least a few bureaucrats?

  2. After I graduated with a econ/politics degree I went into the public service, but only because I really didnt know better. I now work for a large corporate. Things are not that different..

  3. Two thoughts..

    I suggest university students are the product of their university and their teachers/professors and administrators.. and they are a product of the 60s and 70s. I doubt that these are capitalist dens.

    Second, for better or worse, the Public Service of pre 1987 was involved in many more real jobs like forest, farming, electricity research and so on. There's a vast difference between a Public Servant using a chainsaw in Kaingaroa Forest, a sawyer at the Waipa sawmill, a mechanic on a forest to a bureaucrat in Wellington.

    For thousands of those public servants the State had the training programmes, the work, the bulk of the innovation and the research to make it a no brainer.

    It might have been bad to have the State in all that activity but the jobs were real, they were productive and the employees formed the backbone of the recruits to the private sector.

    The consequence of moving these industries and jobs to the private sector after 1987 was to leave a purely bureacratic rump in the PS, and over time, that rump has come to represent the qualities and ideals of it's education.


  4. Two reasons.

    1. They need to "pay the gas bill" just like everyone else does, so why not get a cushy, well-paid job with good in the public service?

    2. Blindness. Most people are willfully blind to the damage that government causes, and many labour under the mistaken impression, gained from their parents, that public service is altruistic and good for society.

  5. since noone has really had a rant, I guess I can contribute:

    It's really very simple:

    careers in the public sector are predominately low-paying, emotionally straining, and offer little chance of professional advancement

    This is rubbish. For people with degrees from socialist universities: careers in the public service are well-paying (isn't 100K for a policy analyst a good salary in NZ?), emotionally relaxing, and offers huge chances of advancement.

    you must know that sort of money won't last,

    That sort of money has lasted at least since 1990 - half the career of lots of "civil bludgers" - and even Ruth Richardson didn't cut that hard. Yeah the cleaners were outsourced, but not the "analysts", the doctors, the teachers...

    and even if it did, does it pay for a life of soul destroying boredom in places where incompetence and sloth are a way of life?

    9.30 am arrive.
    10-11am morning tea
    12-2pm lunch & gym
    3-4pm afternoon tea
    4.30 pm leave

    Why is that "soul destroying"?

    If anyone actually wanted to work, they'd be in the free part of the economy. But they don't like the idea of getting up at 6am, and working to 2am, every day of the year.

    Because they are bludging scum.

    because they bludged at kindergarten, bludged and socialist primary and socialist secondary school and socialist "university" and if they get sick then the socialist hospital or socialist GP is always there.

    they know the cost of nothing

    they literally do not know what it means to work.

    Because this is the only life they and their parents have ever known

  6. What sort of person gives up a life of productivity and profit-making for a career in the bureaucracy and a gold watch on retirement, and why?

    Ask St. Don Brash. He gave up private sector work back in the 70's to join the public service and remained there for decades. Rodney Hide has been in the public sector all his working life just about.

    Unlike John Key.

    An inconvenient truth I guess.


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