Archived Posts August 2006 - Page 6 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

According to figures recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, federal workers receive on average about double what private sector workers make: $106,579 vs. $53,289. These numbers are based on total compensation.

A study done by the Cato Institute (PDF here of 2004 figures), under the direction of Chris Edwards, shows that for 2005, “If you consider wages without benefits, the average federal civilian worker earned $71,114, 62 percent more than the average private-sector worker, who made $43,917.”

In his WaPo op-ed, Christ Edwards points to a number of reasons for this disparity. He says that there are a number of contributing factors. “Federal pay schedules increase every year regardless of how well the economy is doing. Thus in recession years, private pay stagnates while government pay continues to rise. Another factor is the steadily increasing ‘locality’ payments given to federal workers in higher-cost cities,” he says.

Edwards continues, “Rapid growth in federal pay also results from regular promotions that move workers into higher salary brackets regardless of performance and from redefining jobs upward into higher pay ranges. The federal workforce has become increasingly top-heavy.” In addition, “The structure of that workforce has also changed over time. There are fewer low-pay typists and more high-pay computer experts in the government today than there were a generation ago.”

A WSJ op-ed also notes that “many federal employees are in white collar occupations that often command high pay,” so that may account for a small part of the disparity.

The WSJ states that “one market test is the voluntary quit rate of these workers, and data for recent years show that rate for federal employees is only one-fourth that in private sector occupations. High-paying federal jobs are so coveted that they are now like rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan: Once you’ve got one, you hold on to it for life.”

It seems to me that there is something deeper behind a number of these phenomena. Edwards hints at this element when he notes, “Federal workers’ unions try to convince Congress that their members suffer from a ‘pay gap’ with the private sector.”

Labor union membership in the private sector has declined steadily and stands at about 8%. By contrast, in the government sector labor union membership stands at around 37%.

This is itself a huge disparity, and one that I would think has large effects on issues of pay, benefits, and job security. Thus, I think there has to be a link between the rates of union membership and compensation between the public and private sectors.

As Dr. Charles Baird notes in a radio interview (mp3), “In the government sector there is no declining unionism, none at all.” And given how good the compensation and security of the jobs in the government sector are, why should there be?

More at Chris Edwards’ related post on Cato@Liberty.

Seth Godin, a marketing guru, passes along this nugget:

One mistake marketers make is a little like the goldfish that never notices the water in his tank. Our environment is changing. Always. Incrementally. Too slowly to notice, sometimes. But it changes. What we care about and talk about and react to changes every day. Starbucks couldn’t have launched in 1970. We weren’t ready.

Of course, sometimes the reason that our perspective on an issue changes is because the thing itself has changed, perhaps imperceptibly. In other cases, it’s because our perceptive apparatus has been modified in some way.

It is a case of the latter, an improvement in scientific precision, which now seemingly shows that diesel-powered locomotives aren’t as clean as we thought they were. In a piece in today’s WaPo, Juliet Eilperin writes, “For years, government scientists who measure air pollution assumed that diesel locomotive engines were relatively clean and emitted far less health-threatening emissions than diesel trucks or other vehicles.”

She continues, “But not long ago, those scientists made a startling discovery: Because they had used faulty estimates of the amount of fuel consumed by diesel trains, they grossly understated the amount of pollution generated annually. After revising their calculations, they concluded that the annual emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog, and fine particulate matter, or soot, would be by 2030 nearly twice what they originally assumed.”

(Note: Washington Post environment writer Juliet Eilperin will host an online discussion today at 11 a.m. ET about the environmental effects of smog and air pollution here. You can submit a question or comment ahead of time here.)

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams is asking, “Was the BP pipeline problem preventable?” It seems that BP has allegedly been giving required maintenance to the pipeline short shrift: “Allegations about BP’s maintenance practices have been so persistent that a criminal investigation now is under way into whether BP has for years deliberately shortchanged maintenance and falsified records to cover it up.”

BP shut down the Prudhoe Bay oil field earlier this week, after a “spill” resulting from “unexpected corrosion.” While BP shuts down the field to repair 16 miles of pipeline, there are concerns that about 400,000 barrels per day will be taken out of production, and will deprive West Coast refineries of a quarter of their supply. BP has pledged in Alaska to “make sure North Pole Refinery does not run short of crude oil.”

Since the year 2000, British Petroleum (BP) has attempted to rebrand itself as an innovator in the pursuit of alternative energies, using the tagline, “Beyond Petroleum” (here’s a link to BP’s Alaska Corrosion Response page). I think it’s safe to say that most of us assumed that when BP was going “beyond petroleum,” that didn’t include dereliction of required basic maintenance for the current petroleum infrastructure.

Christopher Westley, writing at, says that “BP doesn’t seem like the best run oil company in recent years. This pipeline shutdown is just the latest of several missteps for this firm. It is still recovering from the largest oil spill in history in the North Slope earlier this year, as well as from a devastating refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas, last year that killed 15 employees. Many are saying the BP must actually stand for ‘Big Problem.'”

This WaPo article gives a more extended look at BP’s PR nightmare.

Update: An op-ed in the NYT by one of the ad folks behing the “beyond petroleum” tagline notes: “Think of it. Going beyond petroleum. The best and brightest, at a company that can provide practically unlimited resources, trying to find newer, smarter, cleaner ways of powering the world. Only they didn’t go beyond petroleum. They are petroleum.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 14, 2006

“Scientists have discovered a way to help stop the spread of malaria by genetically altering a bacterium that infects about 80 percent of the world’s insects. Malaria is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites and kills more than a million people every year.”

Source: “Genetically Altered Bacteria Could Block Malaria Transmission,” by Lisa Pickoff-White, The National Academies, Science in the Headlines, August 2, 2006.

HT: Zondervan “To the Point”

For more on the fight against malaria, visit Acton’s Impact campaign page.

Blog author: kwoods
Friday, August 11, 2006

We’re working through the meaning of the tenth anniversary of welfare reform, debating important ‘next phase’ issues like marriage and fatherhood and what those mean to helping people leave poverty…permanently. That debate about government’s appropriate role in addressing social need is important. At least equally important is the work or private citizens at the local level, ‘on the street’–figuratively and literally.

In February, a blog post featured A Way Out Victim Assistance program in Memphis, one of Acton’s Samaritan Award winners, which was also profiled in WORLD Magazine.

A Way Out Victim Assistance, a program of Citizens for Community Values of Memphis run by George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley, is designed “to assist any woman, regardless of race or religious preference, who desires to leave her profession in the sex for sale industry, namely topless dancers and prostitutes, to permanently escape the industry and re-enter society and the work force with a value system that promotes a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

NPR’s program Marketplace posted an interview on Tuesday about this same great program (audio here): “Citizens for Community Values started as an anti-pornography organization in 1992 and began ministering to strippers three years later. Now it helps all sex workers leave the business. Carol and George get referrals. Sometimes the girls call them directly. And sometimes they drive right up to a hooker on the street and hand her a business card, which is dangerous. Both for them and for her.”

Local help on the street truly can make a life-changing difference for another human being.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 10, 2006

“Throughout history, shortages of vital resources have driven innovation, and energy has often starred in these technological dramas. The desperate search for new sources of energy and new materials has frequently produced remarkable advances that no one could have imagined when the shortage first became evident.” So says Stephen L. Sass, a professor of materials science and engineering at Cornell, in today’s NYT op-ed, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention.”

He concludes, “If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we need to face the harsh reality of fossil fuel scarcity and begin something like a Manhattan project to develop clean, economical, and preferably sustainable new sources of energy. Just as importantly, we need to innovate on the side of conservation and efficiency.” While there is valid dispute about just which point we are at with regard to the scarcity of fossil fuels, the larger considerations stand.

I made a similar point in my most recent Acton Commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” in which I argue that “human stewardship of oil and other petroleum-based fuels entails a responsibility to use the economic opportunities they afford to find and integrate other renewable, sustainable, and cleaner sources of energy, especially represented by the promise of nuclear power, into our long-term supply.”

On a related note, check out this WaPo story, “Md. County Offers Incentives To Boost Nuclear Operation”:

There may be growing acceptance of nuclear power, owing to concerns over global warming, dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing energy costs. Some leading environmentalists are saying nuclear energy should at least be explored as a way to offset global climate change.

But Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst with Greenpeace International, said nuclear power remains unsafe and is too dependent on government subsidies. He is keeping an eye on Calvert County developments. “No ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “Until the last dog dies, Greenpeace will be anti-nuclear.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, August 10, 2006

US News and World Report has a little feature on a drapery company that has expanded into more distant markets and thereby grown. The article identifies trade agreements and technology as paving the way for such expansion by many small, local businesses.

Decreasing tariffs and regulation and improving technology—these are examples of what economists call “lowering transaction costs,” which improves efficiency and benefits producers and consumers alike.

The US News article highlights an American business, but, even more crucially, opening international markets also helps producers in the developing world.