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Monday, April 05, 2010

Meanwhile in the Fourth Branch of Government...

The executive, the legislative, the judicial and the bureaucratic:

Top bureaucrats told the Commons government operations committee Monday that departments have to keep on recruiting new employees to "renew" an aging workforce that is more than five years older than its counterparts in the private sector.

"We are continuing to hire," said Daphne Meredith, the government's new chief human resources officer at Treasury Board.

"Just because there's an operating freeze doesn't mean we will stop hiring. In fact, it is absolutely important that we continue to hire. We can't renew the public service if we don't hire, especially with the attrition going on."

MPs duly played the outraged taxpayer routine.

Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay questioned how the bureaucrats could give such "rosy" projections and "glowing" accounts of hiring new people when departments will have to cut jobs and spending.

She argued the government can't manage a freeze without cutting jobs and spending, especially with expected rates of economic and population growth and inflation.

Oh, silly parliamentarian, freezes are for ordinary people. These are civil servants. They're different from you and me, they work for the government. Public Sector employment has certainly grown under Tory rule, something which even the Stock admits. The simple fact is that the cabinet, the talking heads we elect every few years, have little practical control over the bureaucratic system. A typical minister holds his, or her, portfolio for about eighteen months, barring any unforeseen disasters - drunk driving spouses, intemperate undergraduate letters to the editor being discovered, moat cleanings at public expense. 

Facing the minister at departmental meetings is a deputy minister with, on average, decades of experience dealing with elected officials and the office politics of the bureaucracy. In other words, the poor politico is utterly outclassed. Even when a savvy and strong willed minister is appointed - who have been as rare as hen's teeth in recent years - he is faced with impossible political conundrums. Every dollar a government department spends has a vested interest group attached to it. The benefits of government spending are often targeted, but their costs are diffused. A million here, a billion there, the impact on the ordinary taxpayer is miniscule in the particular. The vested group has only to raise sufficient stink as to harm the image of the government. 

Minister so and so cuts spending to desperately desperate men, women, children or animals. The political benefit of restraint is virtually nonexistent, few are those who cheer a government which cuts spending, but the downside is enormous. A few ill-timed and ill placed cuts can ruin a promising political career. However increasing spending - money for nothing - is sure to win votes. It is a cliche as old as it is true that people always complain about government spending, until they receive their first government check. Nothing so corrupting as being on the government dole. The rationalizations are legion. Other people are welfare bums. I'm getting my just reward. The problem isn't the politicians, not even the unloved bureaucrat, it is the system itself and the mentality which underpins it. The state, observed Frederic Bastiat, is the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. Until the critical mass of the electorate understands that government magnanimity is as fictional as Santa Claus, the state will keep growing regardless of the colour code of the party in power.

Posted by Richard Anderson on April 5, 2010 | Permalink

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