Recently I took a Globe & Mail columnist to task for arguing that Ontario’s public school teachers are overpaid. As a humble blogger I hardly expect a response from such a great luminary as Margaret Wente, but I do want to return to the topic anyways, because a couple of people raised some important points. In particular, one of my correspondents suggested that if a public-sector employee earns more than an equivalent worker in the private sector, then the public-sector is overpaid. Seems straightforward. Right?
Well, maybe. One of the most disturbing developments in recent Canadian history is how mean we’ve become — let’s make this point #1. Cheerfully guided by right-wing politicians, including the current Prime Minister, we’ve become an unhappy, resentful mob, easily whipped into a foaming rage because we feel that no one deserves to get more government largesse than we do. I want to emphasize that point. As much as people groan about civil servants being overpaid, I doubt many have ever or would ever tell their employer, when offered a raise, “I think you’re paying me too much for my job. I think it would be better for all concerned if you docked my pay by 15%.” It’s a lot easier to make these judgements when someone else’s paycheque is on the line, isn’t it?
Now, then. Here are some widely held proposals on how to ensure that public-sector employees are earning a fair wage. But I think very few people are actually firmly committed to any of them. I believe that many people just want public-sector employees to be paid as little as possible, certainly no more than they get paid themselves, and people are willing to grab at whatever intellectual argument seems to support that position in any given case, no matter how inconsistent with their other beliefs it might be. Quite frankly, I have no idea whether a public-sector wage is fair, just as I have no idea whether a private-sector one is fair. But people who do have such ideas ought to make sure they’re at least being consistent and ethical.Tweet