Road To Serfdom Paved With Politicians

OCT. 22, 2010

Here we are in another election cycle, bombarded by political advertising and politicians, offering claims of selfless “public service.”

How did politicians and government employees hijack the concept of “public service”?

When Hillary Clinton was running for president, voters heard her tout the many years of “public service” she had devoted during her life … as if she’s been volunteering her time all of these years. I’m sure that all of the state dinners and charity galas she attended as the first lady of Arkansas or secretary of state, were just like serving gruel to the homeless at Thanksgiving.

Clinton is no different than most big-government employees – always seeking a better-paying, bigger power job in government, instead of the private sector. The private sector is only where career politicians seem to go once they are either termed out, or forced out of government “service.” And then it’s usually to set up a “consulting firm” to lobby former colleagues in the state legislature, Congress or U.S. Senate.

The myth of “public service” is just that – a myth.

There is a misconception about what is regularly referred to as “public service,” and it turns out that most of it is not worthy of praise anyway. The latest spate of discoveries of abuses by officials in California cities is only the tip of the iceberg. Government abuses have been chronicled for decades. But with the fox guarding the hen house and writing the laws, the chance of prosecution or change is slim to none.

And it’s all done under the banner of “public service.”

When paid by the government for performing a particular job, it is not accurate to call it “public service.” And it is especially distasteful that public service is constantly used as a legitimate and positive contrast to making money in the private sector — hardly a free-market principle.

Politicians and bureaucrats are mostly self-seekers. Using a “public service” description is also incorrect, in that the assumption is made that elected and appointed people know what’s in the best “public interest.” Yet, there are many best interests, and many of them are conflicting. Neither government employees nor politicians have any special insight – they just have access.

What usually attracts people to “public service” is the access, and not a sense of doing something for the greater good. Jobs high up on the government ladder wield a great deal of power. In particular, government employees who have been hired and not elected, and cannot be termed out of office, very often, create quite a sizable fiefdom during their years of employment.

Economist Freidrich Hayek warned of the “danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning,” and argued “the abandonment of individualism, liberalism, and freedom inevitably leads to socialist or fascist oppression and tyranny and the serfdom of the individual.”

2010 exemplifies Hayek’s warning.

During an election cycle, this all leads to a very natural assumption that there really are some dastardly negative motives on the part of the many politicians, government job-holders, and especially those who have been in government employment for many years.

I recently stumbled on a blog in which its author questioned, “Why else a decent person would want to hold the power to take away the liberty (and income) of citizens?”

In the “Why the Worst Get on Top” chapter in The Road to Serfdom, Hayek writes, “It is the belief that the most repellent features of the totalitarian regimes are due to the historical accident that they were established by groups of black guards and thugs … Why should it not be possible that the same sort of system, if it be necessary to achieve important ends, be run by decent people for the good of the community as a whole? … [Yet] There are strong reasons for believing that what to us appear the worst features of the existing totalitarian systems are not accidental by-products but phenomena which totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce.”

The concept of “public service” is debunked because the concentrated power in government attracts people who seem to have little concern with taking advantage of the common man, as well as the weakest in society, and use the benefits personally, rather than those who would not. Others may enter government employment merely looking for any job, but often get swept into the power trip that emanates from control over the public.

I find that the current use of “public service” rankles most people, and has really just become obnoxious campaign rhetoric.

However, we have discovered that when “public servants” aren’t increasing our taxes, they are dictating the rules we must live under: No smoking in public parks, no transfats in restaurant food or toys in a Happy Meal, water your lawn only on odd days, use drugs and go to jail, recycle, reuse, keep your utilities usage down, turn off lights, ration water, scale down, drive a hybrid, and definitely don’t make too much money. “Public servants” have become control freaks over the lives of private citizens. And it’s only getting worse.

The big question is why we are accepting this?

In Sacramento where I live, Roger Dickinson has been a Sacramento County Supervisor since January 1994. His Assembly campaign Web site boasts his many years of public service, and not so subtly – “Roger Dickinson: A Lifetime of Public Service to Sacramento.”

Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown touts “the lifetime of public service he has given the people of the state.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer touts her public service on her Web site: “Throughout her career in public service, Senator Boxer has been a vocal advocate for policies to help give Latinos a fair opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Congressman Dan Lungren’s Web site states, “The events of 9-11 prompted Dan’s return to public service.”

Never is public service described as actual volunteer work to those less fortunate, or for purposes of improving the community in which we live.

Instead, anytime someone is encouraged or is encouraging others to “serve the public,” it always involves working for the government. And anytime a politician or someone running for political office emphasizes their record of community involvement, it is always somehow attached to working in a government job.

Whose rights and liberties are trampled when the public good is at stake with a politician?

Long ago, I realized that overworked “public servants” were making amazing salaries, and getting even bigger benefits. While I pursued private sector jobs, I had friends taking state exams for job placement. And I couldn’t figure it out. Usually, the friend(s) had parents who worked for the state, who had shared the secret handshake about the extraordinary state benefits. The specific “job” wasn’t as important as getting into the system.

Lurita Doan writes about federal government issues. In a Townhall.com column Doan, recently wrote, “Public employees are some of the best-compensated, most enriched workers in America, and federal workers are eligible for generous, annual cash bonuses, sometimes as large as $70,000.00. The federal standard, 40 hour, work week is far less than the longer hours worked by those in the private sector. Furthermore, federal workers have the strongest job security and are rarely laid off, or removed for poor performance.”

Doan said that only a handful of federal employees, are dedicated public servants who “form a thin crust of excellence that disguises a brutal truth. Many federal workers wallow in a mire of mediocrity, and engage in costly, counterproductive bureaucratic activity that does little to advance the nation’s economic growth.”

The folks cleaning up the trash alongside of the freeway as penance for a DUI perform more of a public service than any politician or well-compensated “public servant.”

Long-time, entrenched politicians are not agents of change that will do any good for the private citizens of California. Remember when voting next month.

– Katy Grimes

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