By Gil Weinreich
More than two decades ago, I actually held a government job for a period of three years. It was a good job – I learned a lot and got to do interesting work, for which I remain grateful to this day. But I was thinking about this experience as I read some of the comments to my podcast on the growth of U.S. debt yesterday, which brought to the surface some of the usual grouchiness of taxpayers upset that the government exceeds its bounds when it comes to spending.
Specifically, it occurred to me that my job in retrospect didn’t seem all that necessary. Ironically, I was considered an “essential” employee, meaning that when the government shut down because of extreme weather, I still had to report to work. Once, when it took me hours to slog through the snow (D.C. was not known for the efficiency of its snow removal back in the ’90s, and perhaps today too), I was embarrassed to walk into the office so late yet shocked to learn I was the first one to report in on the new shift. I was an international newswriter (i.e., for broadcasts aimed at overseas listeners), so by the above logic, the entire agency and its thousand or so employees weren’t needed. To add insult to taxpayer injury, my pay and benefits were far superior to comparable non-governmental jobs just down the road from our offices, though ironically morale was thought to be much better in these other positions. For that reason, the most professionally ambitious staffers often left, despite the pay differential.
The reason I bring this is up is because I happened to come across a fresh-out proposal to fix Washington’s spending problem. These sorts of proposals abound, but what is attractive about this one is that it is simple to grasp. Frankly, the name says it all: “The 15 Percent Solution: Defining The Affordable Level of Government.” The author, Wayne Winegarden of the free-market-oriented Pacific Research Institute, calculates that the U.S. could return to the 3-4% annual GDP growth routine in days of yore (i.e., before the past two decades) by targeting spending of 15% of national income rather than the current 24% level. Indeed, he targets 25% as a reasonable figure for all governmental spending – that is, including state and local spending; today, combined governmental spending reaches 39.1% of national income.