No Profit in Government?

George Meaney, legendary president of the AFL-CIO, agreed.  In 1955 he said, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”  The labor movement was about getting workers a larger share of profits they helped produce, but government workers don’t produce more profit, they only ask for money.

This quote came from a new book about Chris Christie and the footnote refers you to a think-tank article by James Sherk which avers that “government earns no profits.”  At first this seemed like a salient argument against having union representation for government workers but, after some reflection and regular attendance at Union County freeholder meetings, the idea that there is no profit in government (as practiced here) is absolutely preposterous.

There is plenty of profit to be made through government from subsidized competition against the private sector (running golf courses) to using police powers to extract tax money (red-light cameras).

Many private sector industries rely on government coercion to inflate and guarantee their profits.  The scenario is simple:

  • Convince the right politicians that taxpayers need your product
  • Get laws passed mandating it
  • Erect the laxest regulatory system possible
  • Collect some easy money

Why shouldn’t unions get in on the action?  Are they and their members less entitled than the insurance industry or lawyers peddling solar panels?

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Javagold on July 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    its called FASCISM !!!!!!!


  2. Posted by Tough Love on July 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    John, I believe you are confusing 2 distinct issues.

    George Meaney (as well as FDR) believed that the Public Sector does not produce a “profit” (as a result of their labors) which could (if such existed ) be shared between workers and the taxpayers via negotiation. Clearly this is true, which is why there is no place for Collective Bargaining in the Public Sector.

    Your gripe is the corruption and self-dealing (borderline criminal it would seem) to enrich well-connected Private Sector businesses and individual/partnerships (e.g., consultants) often via kickback in one from or another (campaign contributions, jobs for family and friends, etc.).

    While the latter problem is a legitimate concern and in the best of circumstances would be addressed by stricter laws and more rigorous prosecution of offenders, the former is an endemic distortion of the role of Public Sector employment and the workers obligations to it’s employer (the Taxpayers).


    • It is confusing and George Meaney might well have been right when he was speaking of the 1955 version of government, which I didn’t live through. But now it seems like maybe 20% of all government activity is essential and the rest is some politician’s or consultant/leech’s idea of what citizens should get (and pay for) which often winds up recompensing the guy who thought up the idea. Police should be preventing murders and rapes but in most suburban towns they’re looking to ticket drivers on cellphones. Government should be protecting the citizenry instead of preying on them.

      If the free market won’t support an activity maybe it shouldn’t exist. But if you get rid of 80% of government you get rid of 80% of the jobs and political clout of those who get to make the final decisions on what government should be doing.


      • Posted by Tough Love on July 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm

        Quoting …”it seems like maybe 20% of all government activity is essential”.

        I agree … and would be eminently pleased (via a reduced tax bill) if we shifted that OTHER 80% back to the Private Sector where necessary (or not done at all where wasteful and unnecessary) along with the workers attached thereto (with contractual severance pay and no more … and NOT enhanced pensions or buyouts, or “packages”).


  3. Posted by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on July 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm


    Imperialism has the tendency to create privileged sections also among the workers, and to detach them from the broad masses of the proletariat.

    April Thesis #5

    “the salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, not to exceed the average wage of a competent worker.”


  4. Posted by TREEeditor2 on July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    government also does not produce a product, it is only a service.It is only by incidentals that a product is given, ie solar panels. That is not part of the purpose of govt but they can easily legislate these products into existence thus giving ancilliary companys the profits. Normally these anciliary companies are “connected” such as freeholder scanlons sister getting a 3 million contract for fibreoptics or berger, birdsall and T&M getting contracts for their oversight of union county services and programs.

    In the case of birdsall thier profits they make off of the contracts, they turn around and funnel some of the profits into the union county elected offical election campaigns. its all in black and white on the ELEC website.

    Plenty of profit is found in govt but it remains within the small circle of the elected officials and those connected.


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