On Wisconsin

Dave Killion — February 23, 2011

One of the burdens of being a good libertarian is having to read progressive and conservative thinkers. It’s not that they never say anything right… it’s that they seldom say anything right. Still, it’s important to subject one’s self to other viewpoints, if only to avoid indulging in confirmation bias. It also helps to sharpen one’s arguments, and there is the occasional wheat to be found in the chafe. Which brings me to Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, who seldom produces wheat, but is valuable because he reminds me how difficult it can be to sort through the chafe.

On February 19th, in response to the civil-service uprising in Wisconsin, Klein asked, “Are Wisconsin’s state and local workers overpaid?” In response, he cites an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute to claim that they are not. According to Klein, the study purports to control for “…¬†experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship and disability… ” , which seems to me to be pretty thorough. The problem is, that still might not be thorough enough, as the Reason Foundation’s David Godow points out.

My conclusion? Statistical analysis is hard! Furthermore, I don’t think the comparison benefits these particular civil servants. If they are over compensated, the public is right to be upset. If they are under compensated, why are they they working so hard to protect an institution that has served them so badly? Why don’t they move into the private sector? Is it possible that they don’t have to work so hard as their private sector counterparts, or that they’re not as productive? That public sector workers, on the whole, just aren’t as good as private sector workers? I know it’s an ugly thing to say, but it still might be true.

Happily for libertarians, because the moral position is clear, the statistical comparison isn’t relevant. Workers may form associations if they wish, but employers have no obligation to negotiate with them. Workers may strike, and employers may fire them for doing so. And the problem is not that public sector workers are over compensated or under compensated… the problem is ¬†that people shouldn’t be forced to compensate public sector workers provided by coercive monopoly government.


David C says

Great post Dave. I fully agree that we need to subject ourselves to the writings of conservatives and progressives as hard as it is.

— February 23, 2011

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