Leaving Government Service
Column by Jim Davies.
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Alex Knight's recent fine column The Post Office that Government Built relates the sad case of one of its 600,000 employees who faces a bleak future as that structure is poised for collapse. It might be useful to compare such cases with the similar ones that will take place when government servants quit voluntarily, having learned what freedom and government are about; my 2007 offering Twenty Twenty Two described an example.
As Alex pointed out, the USPS is doomed because it has been sustained for at least a century and a half only by a government-granted monopoly, recently over just first-class mail, and by taxpayer bailouts; in 2009, it had a $9 billion loss and for 2010 it was $8.5 billion. Since the 1990s, the coup de grace has been delivered by the Internet. Email is infinitely cheaper and many thousands of times faster than snail mail.
How exactly the collapse will go down is uncertain, but I'm aware of one country where retail post offices ceased to exist altogether more than a decade ago. Mail delivery and collection continues, but stamps can be bought, and parcels weighed and mailed, in grocery stores. Rates are higher than in the US, and labor is shifted onto the customer, but residual demand for physical mail is serviced without loss. Perhaps something similar will take place here. We can expect several hundred thousand layoffs.
Those of us wishing to terminate the State are encouraging government employees to quit – for that is the only known way to cause government to vanish. So let's compare the two cases: voluntary Leavers like that, and involuntary Layoffs like those from the USPS.
Numbers: Layoffs will happen only when the government entity is desperate, having no alternative but to downsize or dissolve. While the USPS is obviously poised to do that soon, I can't think of other cases likely to arise before the initiative passes anyway to Leavers in the 2020s as suggested in my Transition to Liberty. Therefore, Layoffs may not number as many as one million in total, whereas Leavers will number around 40 million. Hence, distressing as it is to individuals like Susan (below), Layoffs are relatively trivial.
Upheaval is enormous in the case of involuntary termination. Alex mentioned the case of a postmistress he knows (though with politically correct terminology, I believe the USPS calls them “postmasters” regardless of gender) whose age is around 60, whose Office will soon close, making her redundant. Let's call her “Susan.” She's been told the promised pension will not be paid, and that although she's always been forced to make Social Security “contributions,” that won't be paid either, because her pension scheme contracted out of it. She has family dependents and there's still a mortgage to pay, and several inquiries have so far revealed no job offer elsewhere, or probability of any. Just possibly she may have overstated the dilemma (I suspect, for example, that she may end up with a Social Security pension), but otherwise she will be up a creek without a paddle. Although I suppose she is on the extreme edge of misfortune (most Layoffs will be of younger and hence more resilient people), the level of distress will obviously be high.
Susan, and all in her position, contributed to their own predicament. She continued to work for an organization she knew quite well could exist only with forcible government support. She knew quite well that thanks to relentless union pressure, she was earning substantially more than her job was worth in the open job market. She evidently made no provision for her own future, even though that excess pay furnished ample means to do so – for example, by buying an ounce of gold every month for 30 or 40 years. So does Susan now deserve our sympathy?
Solutions: I suggest neither sympathy nor vengefulness should enter into the matter. Hundreds of thousands like Susan will soon be hunting for work, and if you or I have work available, they will make up a supply that is well motivated to accept low pay, for the use of limited skills. Self interest therefore says to try to make a deal. If Susan should prove unable to reinvent herself as an independent businesswoman working under contracts, the more affluent among us may have need of a low-cost housekeeper, for example. And if she's married, her husband might do a nice job as butler, chauffeur, gardener, or all three. Government labor regulations will certainly get in the way, but where there's a law, there's often a way around it.
Later – next decade – that number will be magnified, by millions of voluntary Leavers; and by that time all market anarchists reading this ought to be active in the White Market and therefore well placed to contract with them to exchange some kind of goods or labor; it will be a vast and lucrative market, initially skewed somewhat in buyers' favor. Not all of those 40 million will actually want a job; as I saw it in Transition, several million of them will be mothers who quit their office jobs so as to home-school their children. That's “work” all right, but the reward comes not in the form of a pay packet but in the pleasure of having well-educated kids. Income tax will by that time be uncollectible, so the loss of the second paycheck will be offset by a couple's saved taxes. Meanwhile, the vacated office jobs will provide openings for some of the other Leavers.
Another delightful consequence of this unprecedented shift in society that I anticipate will be that the concept of a “job,” in which Company A employs Worker B, will diminish a lot. In its place, more and more people will become entrepreneurs, perhaps with a few friends. This is a huge change for anyone, but I've done it myself and it's not as hard as it seems. The main problem I found is the difficulty of imagining what business to create; life in a big firm does not fit one well for that. Another is the significant number of charlatans out there who will take money, promise a fabulous business opportunity, but fail to deliver. There's plenty of that around already – and the “charlatans” are often dupes themselves, and are not being deliberately deceptive. So there are hurdles to overcome, for sure – but the end result will be a society with far more small enterprises and fewer vast conglomerates. Nothing against the latter, but intuitively, I think that alone will be a healthy change.
The Avalanche of Leavers has begun already as a trickle, but will not be generally noticed for another decade – current numbers are far too small. Those unfamiliar with how it works may wish to study the first few paragraphs of Twenty Twenty Two -- the simple key is that each person eager to live in a free society studies and graduates from a freedom school, then resigns from any government job held, while recruiting one friend a year to enroll and do likewise. There is no charge and the workload involved is trivial. Anyone who cannot handle it hardly deserves to live in a free society. Nothing more is needed, and nothing less will do.
A useful adjunct or “front end” to the school is the little website TinyURL.com/QuitGov where there's a Q&A page. If you're new to this project, you may well be asking similar questions – so why not take a look, and ponder the answers proposed? Then in case you come across any government employees, it might be neat to hand them that URL. Needing a new T-shirt, I even had one made up with this message on the front. So could you.