On another thread, Robert writes:
People who are paid a market wage are (naturally) somewhat resentful of people who can deploy political power to extract an above-market wage, at the expense of the people being paid market wages.
If that’s so, isn’t it odd that the only income group that favors Walker’s plan to eliminate public unions’ bargaining rights are the rich? Why are the rich, in particular, so resentful? According to Gallop:
* Among those who make less than $24,000 annually, 74 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 14 percent who favor it.
* Among those who make $24,000 to $59,000, 63 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 33 percent who favor it.
* Among those who make $60,000 to $89,000, 53 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 41 percent who favor it.
* Among those who make $90,000 and up, 50 percent favor the proposal, versus 47 percent who oppose it.
Another major predictor of support for Walker’s anti-union plan is political party; Republicans favor it, Democrats and Independents oppose it. So why are Republicans, in particular, so resentful?
I don’t think the actual pattern of resentment — in which working-class people are the least likely to agree with Walker’s anti-union plan, and anti-union sentiment seems pretty partisan1 — is a good match for Robert’s theory of what’s going on.
Plus, Robert assumes — without any links or facts to justify this — that public sector workers are overpaid. But using a bog-standard2 method of measurement, public employees are actually underpaid compared to private sector workers (see here, here, and here, for example).
Unsuprisingly, conservatives have responded to the evidence by bringing in new and innovative measurements, different from how economists have measured these things for decades, and — what a coincidence! — these new measurements just happen to show that public sector workers are overpaid.
For example, conservatives now hype unadjusted wage averages (apparently if a government lawyer gets paid more than a private sector ticket-taker, that’s an injustice?), or suggest we shouldn’t bother looking at how otherwise similar workers are paid, and instead only consider quit rates.
But none of these alternative measures are convincing. You can’t just compare raw average wages, for example, unless you think it’s unjust for a private sector ticket-taker to be paid less than an Attorney General. For quit rates to be an accurate measure, we’d need to separate the wage effect on quit rates from selection effects (public sector jobs may attract people who are less money-driven, more risk-adverse, etc) and from different career path effects (different kinds of promotion ladders, pensions vs 401ks, etc). Quit paths are advertised as a way of avoiding the apple/orange problem, but really they just bring up different apple/orange problems.
I think the evidence is stronger on the “they’re underpaid” side, especially for government workers with higher degrees. Comparing similar workers isn’t a perfect method, but it’s the best method economists have yet come up with.
That said, the best measure we have still has some uncertainty. Because no economic measure can 100% avoid the apples-to-oranges problem. So if conservatives want to argue that we don’t know for sure that public sector workers are underpaid, I’d have to agree with them.
But of course, that’s not what conservatives are doing. For the most part, conservatives are doing what Robert did — assuming that government workers are overpaid, without stating any evidence. Color me unconvinced.