Government pay

Arnold Kling and Megan McArdle on government pay.

These studies all miss the point badly.

There are two defining characteristics of federal government pay: 1) the pay structure is very flat compared to the private sector and 2) lots of the compensation is deferred or tied up in benefits.

Talking about the pay of the “average” government worker doesn’t mean anything. When Tim Geithner gets a new job after leaving Treasury, he’ll undoubtedly make a lot more money. On the other hand, the federal government is filled with secretaries that make 10 times more than they could make in the private sector.

(We got a new secretary a few months ago. She wasn’t new to the job, she was just new to our group. I asked her to schedule a meeting with three people. After failing miserably, she started crying. As far as I know, no one in the office has asked her to do anything since. She couldn’t even if they did. I’m pretty sure she makes infinitely more than she’d make in the private sector. Really, her job is best understood as welfare).

Federal agencies are also required to have tons of make-work jobs. For example, HR departments don’t really do traditional HR work – they mostly enforce hiring regulations. If I want to hire someone, I generally have to perform most of the traditional HR functions (write the job description, review resumes, interview candidates, etc.). The HR department just makes sure I give appropriate preferences to veterans and other groups, but mostly veterans these days.

There are entire departments devoted to diversity and inclusion. I have no idea what they do other than provide “jobs” to diverse people.

Because the pay structure is relatively flat, these people make good money. Secretaries with (at most) a high school education can make $60,000. The highest paid employees never make much more than $200,000, and everyone else fits in between. It therefore follows that lots of people can leave and make more money, while others are way overpaid.

It’s very difficult to compare government salaries to private sector ones. What’s it worth to have near total job security, for example? Government employees still get pensions, so what’s it worth to get so much back-end compensation? For some people that’s worth a lot, for others’ not so much. Most numbers I’ve seen put the value of government benefits at about 30% of the total compensation, but lots of people have no interest in deferring that much compensation.

My guess is that about 2/3 of government employees would make much, much less in the private sector (frankly, even in government, their jobs could be eliminated without much – if any – loss), while the other 1/3 could more – in some cases a lot more.

In the last 18 months, I’ve turned down two jobs offers that would have significantly raised my salary, because the other benefits of government employment are too appealing (what’s it worth to sit down with your family at dinner every night, for example?).


84 Responses to Government pay

  1. asdf says:

    That sounds about right. Salary wise government employment is great for the bottom 80% bad for the top 20%.

    Personally I hated the pension because unless you work there for a long time it doesn’t vest. It becomes like chain around your neck (I’m so close to the pension vesting, I guess I’ll stay in the government).

    All that said working for the government is the most soul damaging thing one can do. I consider my year with the government the worst professional year of my life. It negatively impacted me in so many ways. I may have come out on the other end of that year making 20% more then I went in, but I would trade it all to have avoided that whole year.

    • zhai2nan2 says:

      >working for the government is the most soul damaging thing one can do. I consider my year with the government the worst professional year of my life.

      I don’t expect anyone to trust occultist’s unproven claims, but here’s a claim about government work that was once made by some nameless occultist.

      Claim: When humans do things for themselves, it strengthens the willpower and makes the person more of an integrated whole. When humans can order servants to do things for them, there is a subtle rot of the willpower.

      Obviously, bureaucracies, especially government bureaucracies, encourage this kind of rot, starting at the “head of the fish” and proceeding down the line.

      The endless secrecy and solemnity of bureaucracy are also soul-destroying.

  2. How does the widespread use of ‘contract’ work in government fit into this equation? My sense is that a shocking/underappreciated % of actual government work is done by ‘contractors’ rather than the actual government employees.

    Of course, you still need government employees to ‘project-manage’ the contracts, make sure they are handed out ‘fairly’ and with a view to ‘diversity, etc.

    • Foseti says:

      Contractors do a lot of a certain kind of work. I think the best way to describe it is support work that you can’t really fake. For example, tons of the IT work is done by contractors.

      They also do a lot of the one-off project work. If you have lots of extra work for a relatively short time, it’s much cheaper to hire contractors than additional permanent employees that you can’t fire when the projects are over.

      • Dave says:

        Where I work, competent government people can double their salary by going contractor. There is grade inflation, such that if you are not 13 by 10 years you are a nobody.

        Most of the good work is done by a good civilian or two leading a team of good contractors. Idiots rise to mangement.

  3. anonymous says:

    I’m a regular white guy with a BA from a non-elite school who wants to get in on this. Hopeless?

    • Foseti says:

      At this point, the whiteness isn’t the problem. It’s nearly impossible for me to hire someone who isn’t currently in government or a veteran.

      It’s not hopeless though – as long as you’re applying to more technical positions.

      Applications that are filled out are scored (veterans automatically move to the top regardless of how unqualified they are). Basically everyone lies on their applications. So, unless you can answer all the questions appropriately, you’ve got no chance.

    • josh says:

      Get a job as a contractor for one of the smaller, less prestigious agencies. Eventually, you will be offered the chance to become a government employee.

    • JL says:

      Sign up for the reserves. Unfortunately, the best economic option for young people today.

  4. PA says:

    I deal with a number of gov agencies. Lol, I may have even dealt with you in real life, if you happen to interact with your industry partners in the private sector. Anyway, my impression is that fed agencies are staffed as follows: nearly all black low skill workers (security, secretaries, clerks), heavily Indian/Asians and white females as mid-tier employees (department managers, skilled support) and white senior tiers. A sprinkling of blacks at all levels above low skill. Almost everyone middle aged. Sound about right?

    • Foseti says:

      I deal pretty regular with industry representatives. Maybe we should devise some sort of secret signal to throw out during a meeting.

      Anyway, my experience largely matches your own. However, I don’t see many Indians or Asians. DC’s pretty black and white. It’s basically correct that it’s black low-skill workers and white skilled staff. Blacks on the skilled side are generally promoted way beyond their competencies. There are lots of smart blacks in DC (because there’s lots of blacks), but it’s really unfair to promote them so far beyond their capabilities.

      • josh says:

        I was a bureacrat for 3 years and never once worked with an Asian or Indian. Jews and blacks as far as the eye could see.

      • Foseti says:

        Some quasi-government agencies have more flexibility in hiring and they tend to be staffed heavily by Asians and Indians. But, otherwise, I agree.

      • Matthew says:

        Re: signaling. The words “mold”, “bug”, and “formal” when used in close proximity should be sufficient.

      • asdf says:

        Go to the IT department. Especially the IT department of a contractor.

      • Mark says:

        I work in accounting for the army (Defense Finance and Accounting Service) and there’s the same problem of the slightly more qualified blacks being promoted way beyond their abilities. A lot of the upper level jobs require college degrees. Whites who have those jobs often went to top tier colleges while blacks at the same level have degrees from second rate diploma mills. Since only a degree is required, this enables DFAS to meet unspoken quotas for hiring and promoting minorities. Actual exams would expose the inferiority of the black applicants trying to get promoted or hired so any kind of tests are never used.

  5. Steve Johnson says:

    “That does leave open a question: could we, or should we, pay more and improve the quality of the government workforce? All this tells us is that we are paying most government workers as much as, or more than, they’re worth. It doesn’t tell us that we might not want workers who are worth more in the private market”

    Megan is so predictably stupid it’s funny.

    In the private sector better workers are paid more than incompetent workers because better workers are more productive and are therefore worth more to businesses. In government what does it even mean to be a better worker? Producing more regulations? Producing higher quality regulations? Why would any hiring manager even care? As a result, there’s no competition for “better” government workers. Even if offering more pay attracted workers who would be better to government work why would the better workers get hired?

    Megan, however, isn’t permitted to even think about these questions because she’s employed by the Cathedral with a very specific job – she has to pretend that the Cathedral is a fundamentally sound, sane enterprise that maybe could be improved by doing a few things a bit better. She can’t think that the whole process and feedback loop in government is fundamentally broken.

    • asdf says:

      “In the private sector better workers are paid more than incompetent workers because better workers are more productive and are therefore worth more to businesses.”

      This isn’t true in the private sector either. It’s just more not true in the government. One thing I thought when I went from private to government was, “my giant megacorp seems as wildly inefficient as people claim the government is, it can’t be worse.” That wasn’t true, but the truth doesn’t speak well to any large organization public or private.

      • Steve Johnson says:

        Without being an ideologically blind libertarian we can still notice that the private sector has incentives that cause them to actually want productive workers (at least somewhat).

        The largest issue with the private sector is the principal / agent problem (possibly government zombification is a larger issue) with management enriching themselves at the expense of shareholders. The government has the same principal / agent problem with one major difference – if a private organization fails to generate income it can’t pay out to management. If a government agency does nothing correctly it will still receive the same funding as if it were operating well and it might even receive a large funding increase if it screws up badly enough.

        As a result, CEOs will want people around who can bring in revenue and complete large scale projects because they personally benefit. This trickles down to managing directors / division heads as well. All this puts injects some reality into pay. If someone has uncommon skills for getting a job done, they’ll be well compensated by people who will benefit. To a large extent executives bring in their own people wherever they go. This network of competent people makes up the value of executives.

        When you get low enough in any organization it’s inefficient and baffling. Why? Because there simply aren’t that many people who are competent at marshaling large groups of people to accomplish a given purpose. This doesn’t mean that the incentives aren’t there. You can give someone all the incentive in the world to do something but if it’s beyond their ability they’ll still fail.

        Government managers, on the other hand, don’t even have any incentives to find competent workers. Megan talks about improving the quality of the federal work force by paying them more – as if the government were correctly identifying the best workers but was getting outbid for their services. That couldn’t be further from reality.

      • James says:

        Zombie money may explain ostensible principal-agent tragedies, as well as general inefficiency. Consider the following excerpt from Anthony Sampson’s Who Runs This Place?:

        The fate of [ICI and Marconi] showed all the dangers of transferring power from industrialists to bankers. The most venerable victim was the chemical combine ICI, which had long been among Britain’s top ten. Until the 1960s it had been the centre of Britain’s scientific enterprise, first created as a merger in 1926 to compete with the German giant IG Farben. It had a massive structure of professional managers and its own mini-university of scientific researchers (of which my father was one). Its core chemical business faced much fiercer competition in the 1960s, but it developed promising new lines, including a pharmaceutical subsidiary which was much more adventurous than the others and soon became the most profitable division. ICI received its first major shock from the City in the late 1990s when the financier Lord Hanson started buying shares and threatened a takeover. The chairman Sir Denys Henderson, a persuasive Scots lawyer, was determined to forestall him, and took advice from investment bankers, including the ambitious young John Mayo from Warburgs. Henderson then split up the company, to create the new pharmaceutical giant Zeneca (see below), while his successor at ICI Ronald Hampel rationalised the old chemical business to make the most of their technology.

        Hampel found a surprising new chief executive from Unilever—Charles Miller Smith, a Scots accountant who had risen up as a financial expert. ICI was then advised by Goldman Sachs to adopt a bold new strategy: to borrow from the banks to buy the special chemical business of Unilever (which Miller Smith had been running), including foods, flavours and fragrances, and to sell off most of ICI’s traditional bulk chemicals to other companies, to avoid the cyclical downturns which had plauged chemicals in the past. The City and the fund managers were impressed, and the new acquisitions briefly prospered. But in the recession after 2000 the flavours and fragrances proved more vulnerable than bulk chemicals, and ICI contracted debts of £2.8 billion which made it technically insolvent. It was rescued only by raising new capital through an expensive rights issue. Miller Smith left ICI soon afterwards, without the customary knighthood, to become adviser to Goldman Sachs—which many ICI people blamed for the disaster, and which had earned colossal fees from it—and later chairman of the electricity company Scottish Power.

      • James says:

        An equally unnecessary tragedy was the collapse of the General Electric Company, which had been seen as one of Britain’s success stories of the 1970s and 1980s, as it survived the economic storms. GEC had first been consolidated by the master-statistician Arnold Weinstock, a former property developer, who merged it in the 1960s with two incompetent rivals, English Electric and AEI, to create a single engineering giant. He was not much interested in engineering or technology, but he kept a tight hold on costs and profits, poring over the balance sheets in his gloomy headquarters in Mayfair. He turned GEC into a model of financial control, with a huge cash-hoard that was very cautiously invested—to the chagrin of the City, which played little part in it. He dominated his board, made up largely of his friends, including the chairmen—first Lord Aldington, the Lord Prior—who kept close links with the government on which many contracts depended.

        But in 1996 Weinstock was succeeded by an equally dominating chief executive, George Simpson, another Scots accountant, who was encouraged by bankers to step up his profits by investing in the booming telecoms business. He sold off the arms factories to British Aerospace, renamed his company Marconi, and began buying up telecoms companies in America—companies which Weinstock had avoided as being unsound—”three-legged horses” he called them. Lord Simpson, as he soon became, was hailed as the new wonder-man by the City, by fund managers and by the media. He soon got rid of his more cautious colleague Derek Newland, in whom some directors had put their faith as a necessary counterweight. The chairman Lord Prior supported Simpson’s bold leadership, while the new board were mostly Simpson’s friends, who did not demur. The pace was now set by the financial director John Mayo, the same man who had earlier helped to restructure ICI. One fellow director noticed a gadget on his desk showing the instant fluctuations in the share price.

        But within five years the telecoms boom has collapsed, the new investments had become almost worthless, while the company had lost most of the core engineering business on which its steady profits had depended. Shareholders were ruined, the giant company turned into a dwarf, and Simpson departed with an enormous pay-off. Weinstock died not long afterwards, his heart broken—so many friends claimed—by the collapse of his legacy. The great ship had almost disappeared into the whirlpool of speculation, and the only beneficiaries were bankers and lawyers who could still profit from salvaging the wreck.

        The fiasco of Marconi became the most notorious failure of corporate accountability in Britain, raising endless questions. Why were Simpson’s rash ambitions not restrained by his fellow directors, by the pension funds which owned the company or by stockbrokers and financial journalists who advised shareholders? After talking to many participants I realised that the question recalled ‘Who killed Cock Robin?’ They could all blame each other, and they were all caught up in the same frenzy over telecoms and ‘dot-com madness’. As in so many other British fields, the responsibility could be passed round in circles. But the bankers were most easily blamed by the employees, for the company which had depended on strict accounting had been virtually taken over by financial operators with little interest in its core engineering business. As John Kay wrote in 2003: “Britain’s two leading manufacturing companies at the beginning of the nineties—ICI and GEC—were both wrecked by a process of meta fund management: the role of the corporate executive was to be the buyer and seller of a portfolio of businesses, just as the investment manager sees himself as a buyer and seller of a portfolio of stocks.”

      • James says:

        Interpretation: the financial sector is only loosely constrained by profit discipline. Their immense funding is not conditional on providing a decent service, so they can rampage through otherwise productive private industry, spreading inefficiency and mismanagement far and wide.

        Zombie money also explains why giant corporations, which tend to be inherently inefficient because of internal knowledge problems (like communist states), prosper so much at the expense of small businesses.

      • asdf says:

        A private organization can generate profits by putting externality costs onto society. The profit motive is a good but not all encompassing test of value added.

        “CEOs will want people around who can bring in revenue and complete large scale projects because they personally benefit”

        Or they could be threatened by those people as political adversaries for an ever shrinking rung of promotions in a pyramid structure. And since intimate knowledge of people’s work output is hard to come by its easier to spend a lot of time appearing to have good work output, form alliances, sabotage another guy, etc. So long as the value of effort put into politics exceeds the value of effort put into productive work you will get politics. Most of management at any large company is centered almost exclusively on political struggles.

        Let’s take a simple example from work last week. We had a quarterly “all hands” meeting where some management dude read a bunch of stuff of a power point that had zero value to anyone in the room. 100 people sat through that garbage for an hour. That’s 100 man hours of mostly high paid professionals. From the “productivity” point of view this should never happen. From the office politics watch me try to take credit for some shit for an hour BS point of view it makes perfect sense.

  6. Frost says:

    In Canada, public sector compensation is ridiculously generous. A reasonably high-performing economist will be making 80k/year in their fourth year on the job, plus benefits worth 15-20% of that, plenty of vacation time, total job security, and a stress-free 40-hour work week.

    In terms of $ + work/life balance, there is literally nothing in the private sector that compares.

    But while management tends to have workloads and quality of life similar to their private sector counterparts, most of them barely make six figures. Here are the executive classification pay scales:

    I have no idea why any competent person would stick around for longer than five years. My experiences suggest that few do.

    • Foseti says:

      Plus, they live in Ottawa, where it’s cheap to live

    • AC says:

      “total job security”

      Is it really that secure, or is that security dependent on your ability to play office politics and avoid crimethink? Not having quantifiable output seems like it’s cut both ways.

      • Foseti says:

        If you don’t play politics, you just get stuck in a crappy group doing crappy work. You really never get fired.

      • asdf says:

        What will happen is you will stop getting grade promotions and get left to rot at whatever level you achieved before falling from grace.

    • Bill says:

      In terms of $ + work/life balance, there is literally nothing in the private sector that compares.

      This. The guys I know who work for USG joke that the salary sucks but the wages are awesome. It’s a little bit of an economist inside joke: “wages = salary / hours” is an equation economists have burned into their forebrains. Normal people tend to be kind of hazy about the distinction.

      There really are people who sleep their day away at work. It is so difficult to fire them, that nobody bothers. Work gets done mostly because doing nothing is so boring. And status competition. And a remarkable fraction of USG bureaucrats actually take pride in their work even though they have no pecuniary interest in doing so.

      One downside, though, is that an awful lot of the benefits of government employment have been “capitalized into land value.” That is to say, that housing prices have been bid up so high that the actual standard of living you can eke out on your USG paycheck is a lot worse than you would think just by looking at the numbers on the check. This is not true for long-timers, of course. They bought before the big bid up.

  7. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    The HR department just makes sure I give appropriate preferences to veterans and other groups, but mostly veterans these days.

    However, the Government doesn’t want them to buy guns, so what’s the deal? Good enough to employ but not good enough to own guns.

  8. Handle says:

    There are three ways to look at the question of how much a government employee should be paid.

    1. What could the individual make if they switched to their highest paying alternative in the private sector. I think this is what you are talking about. This is really the “cost of preserving institutional capital” – that is – it’s important to keep the same people around for second-order, network / economies-of-scale, etc. reasons, and you should pay them enough to keep them from leaving to reduce turnover and increase “system expertise”. I question the value of this workforce preservation (or, in the alternative, I think government systems should be more robust to turnover and not be fragile and reliant on what’s stored only in some lifer’s head) and so I wouldn’t advocate this measure.

    2. What is the “productivity” of the job. Since this is nigh-impossible to estimate for almost any particular government position since there are no “profits” (and it’s hard enough in the private sector), it’s just going to encourage people to make shit up, and I’d reject it out of hand.

    3. Pay people the minimum the labor market requires to fill each job with sufficiently capable personnel. So long as there are no “shortages” (“we cannot find anyone in the country both able to do the job and willing to take the pay offered for it”), then, by definition, every government employee is at least getting paid enough, and most are getting paid too much.

    All in all – I’d go with 75% (3), 20% (1) and 5% (2) as the appropriate weighting of the above factors in evaluating how much any particular government worker should be paid.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      “So long as there are no “shortages” (“we cannot find anyone in the country both able to do the job and willing to take the pay offered for it”)”

      If you don’t know what the employee is supposed to accomplish (see your point 2) how can you tell if they’re capable of doing it? You can’t get around this problem.

      • Alrenous says:

        The cost is easy to calculate, it’s the benefit that’s opaque.

        Which, come to think, is the problem statement that contains the solution. Each job is like an organ in a life-form. Trying to figure out whether the heart is worth more than the liver is impossible, because they’re both critical. However, it’s easy to work out how much the labour of the whole is worth. Work out the cost of each job, add them up, and compare them to the whole benefit. If it’s higher, scrap the end goal entire, until someone thinks up a cheaper way of getting it done.

    • asdf says:

      Singapore pays gigantic IB type compensation to their civil servants and they get excellent civil service. Paying more money can help, it just doesn’t necessarily help. When Lee Kuan Yew spends money on civil servants he gets bang for his buck. When Obama spends money on civil servants do you think he gets bang for his buck? Doubt it.

      • Handle says:

        An interesting subject. I can tell you that when Obama spends money on Japanese civil servants (who work for US agencies in that country, he gets excellent civil service – leaps and bounds ahead in courtesy, competency, and efficiency of what their US counterparts do, and with less wages and benefits (though with similar job security and work rules).

        If we swapped employees with Singapore, our civil service would improve and theirs would diminish in a way, I’d guess, almost impervious to changes in pay.

      • Handle says:

        Furthermore, you could probably say the same thing as I did about the Japanese about the American civil service of 80 years ago. There’s a portion of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart which talks about the New York Police Academy class of 1940 – nearly all first rate men. A similar kind of thing happened across all agencies of local and federal government at the time, and since the progressives of the era liked standardized tests instead of preferences, the civil service actually was highly selective and full of highly capable folks. If you had those folks, or Japanese or Singaporan civil servants, you might not oppose “Big Government” either. You might trust it to do good things well.

        Except from Steve Sailer (naturally) I’ve yet to see the theory of political science elsewhere that shows that a lot of American’s attitudes about the proper role and scope and government was highly influenced by a large generation of them who grew up with good civil servants and pleasant government interactions with those bureaucrats. I’d guess some of the great shift of the late 70’s into the Reagan era was due not just to the reaction against radical cultural shifts and increased criminality (as per Irving Kristol), but also due to the natural retirement turnover and institution of racial preferences that probably quickly replaced these individuals with unmotivated, surly, self-entitled, unionized, un-fireable incompetents.

        At any rate, the bottom line is that, “Culture and Population Matter A LOT.” Is there a more concise synopsis of modern reactionary traditionalism.

      • IJ says:

        “When Lee Kuan Yew spends money on civil servants he gets bang for his buck.”

        He is hiring from a high-IQ population with a homogenous, conservative culture. This is like saying “Socialism works in Sweden,”

      • Foseti says:

        Actually, his population is very diverse. He just admits it and plans accordingly.

      • IJ says:

        It’s 75% Chinese and 13% Malay. Not exactly a melting pot:

  9. SOBL1 says:

    Security and comfort with government work place it in another realm compared to the private sector. I’d kill for the security and 30+ year employment my parents had at Fortune 500 companies. Those days are gone except for government employees. I do see that appeal and that intangible benefit.

    This might be why SWPLs love government and quasi-government agency work. It’s something easy, comfortable and secure.

  10. dearieme says:

    When my mother left school (about 1930) she got a job in (British) local government. She soon found that she could easily manage “a day’s work” in an hour and a half. So I was brought up to laugh at all talk of our “hard working civil servants”.

    One decently run outfit I worked for was a British university at the end of the sixties, early seventies. All the day to day admin was done by middle-aged women who usually hadn’t been to university themselves, it not being the custom when they were young. Able, sensible, well-organised individuals with their hearts in the right place, they just kept the everything on the rails. The more senior positions were mostly filled by people who had been academics but who, typically, had lost interest in research and teaching in their late forties and so moved into admin. This meant that they knew what the academics’ jobs involved, were familiar with the students’ lives, were used to working long hours, and took pride in working for that particular university. The striking comparison with the present is, of course, how small those two cadres were: it really didn’t need a lot of people to run what was, by British standards, a large university. That whole culture is now only a memory. Now, God spare us, universities are run by “professionals”, in huge numbers.

  11. Taggart says:

    The things:

    1. I have an undergrad business degree from a top tier college. I have about 8 years experience in finance (wirehouses, group protection, banking). You might imagine that negative yields and Basel III make driving revenue in banking difficult, you’d be right. I’d love to translate some of my experience to a government agency (I have work experience in a foreign government, as well as foreign study). In the plus column I’m also Hispanic. Any advice?

    2. The secretary you speak of, is she hot?

    • Taggart says:

      The = two things

    • rightsaidfred says:

      Advice: find a department/someone to which you aspire. Make some friends there, learn the culture of the agency — stress your love of public service, wanting to be on a team, etc. A lot of hiring is done from within; job specs are often written with a particular person in mind. A mentor can help guide you into a job.

      Be ready to move around the country. You can find entry in some ghetto areas, pay your dues, then move up.

      • Foseti says:

        Other than the moving around the country part (which I’m unfamiliar with) this all is solid advice. Due to veterans preferences, it’s harder these days than it was a few years ago.

  12. RS-prime says:

    > Claim: When humans do things for themselves, it strengthens the willpower and makes the person more of an integrated whole. When humans can order servants to do things for them, there is a subtle rot of the willpower. &&Obviously, bureaucracies, especially government bureaucracies, encourage this kind of rot, starting at the “head of the fish” and proceeding down the line.

    Yeah it’s when you meet adversity, resistance. And a major way to do that is taking clear responsibility or authority for shit that matters, alone, or with a few others you know well — in any case not with ‘a committee’. But especially alone or just about alone. This was early a part of Moldbug’s preaching, though he emphasized the social result, rather than the ‘feeling of power’ experienced existentially or personally by the individual.

  13. Steve Sailer says:

    I’m fascinated by the magnitude of veterans’ preferences these days. Who are you mostly hiring? Officers or enlisted? How old? Straight out of the military or what?

    • Foseti says:

      It runs the full spectrum. Just hired a guy at least 15 years older than me (he’s approximately 45).

      The preferences are so extreme now that the older guys that qualify seem to have figured it out.

      Lots of younger guys too. I think they must have some career counselors that fill out the applications (some of them aren’t sure what the jobs are or why their applications states that they have any experience).

      The jobs that I hire for tend to be officers, but plenty of enlisted men apply for other types of jobs.

      • Handle says:

        I could fill in a lot of the gaps about how the whole “career counseling” military out-processing system works here if you’d like. On the other hand, I’m going to need a DC-area government job in about 34 months here and, naturally, hope that various preferences (I can get 10 points on my SF-15 in three different ways) help me out, so maybe I should keep my mouth shut.

      • asdf says:


        What qualifies one as a veteran? I know that seems obvious but there are lots of people that aren’t soldiers that are involved with the armed forces somehow. Is there some length of service to be considered a “veteran”.

      • Foseti says:

        I’m honestly not sure. Length of service, type if service, and some sort of disability definitely seem to factor in.

    • Foseti says:

      I should add a bit on how the process works. It’s generally governed by executive order (

      When I post a position, I get back two lists. The first is a list of applicants with status ( Essentially existing federal employees.

      The second is a list of those without status. Veterans (not everyone that’s been in the military, but a subset based on rules that I don’t really know – disability would seem to factor in, but all the veterans I’ve met on these lists seem quite able) move to the top of this list.

      I can hire from the status roster, and this roster does not give preference to veterans. Or, I can hire from the non-status roster. If I do the latter, I have to hire the veterans at the top, unless I can convince our (increasingly vet-dominated HR department) that the veterans can’t perform the absolute minimum job requirements.

      In some ways, this process is making the civil service even more rigid. Lots of people deal with this process by just hiring existing civil servants (those with status).

  14. Samson J. says:

    If things are really run by unelected, permanent bureaucrats, will the US Cathedral’s political centre shift with this massive influx of veterans? Or will the veterans be assimilated?

  15. Foseti: what kind of veterans are being hired? Is this a quiet influx of muscular right-leaning white guys, or instead an influx of the various diversities within the military, or a mix?

    And do you see this as related to the idea that the military is the one right-of-center institution that has some degree of universal respect? That is, are veterans’ preferences related to the post 9/11 rapprochement between the left and the military?

    • Foseti says:

      I haven’t seen lots of right-wing types, but I have lots of guys who are clearly right of the bureaucracy. Definitely lots of white guys.

      Good questions. I’ll be thinking more about what an influx of vets will do to the bureaucracy.

      • Candide III says:

        Based on Soviet experience, I’d hazard they will be digested. The rare indigestible ones will eventually become disgusted and leave, or get moved to window desks to nod their days away.

  16. j says:

    One aspect of government job you dont mention is the opportunity to deal with things important at junior levels. The government deals with formulating regulation, with conceiving and budgeting large projects, with national security. The hard work is outsourced and even the junior employees are invited to important meetings. After a few years you can jump to senior level private sector jobs.

    • Foseti says:

      I think that’s one of the reasons I stayed in government. As a young person, I was able to do cool work. Leaving government would have been a downgrade because no private company would have let someone so young be so involved.

      • Handle says:

        This has been of importance for me as well. There is no private sector employer in my professional who would have given me the equivalent amount of responsibility and experience right out the gate, and with a liberal willingness to allow one to learn from “on the job training” in a “lets see if they sink or swim” attitude as the government was willing to do.

        And again, how much is that worth to a young man of any talent? Recently, Bruce Charlton wrote and Mangan commented on the “Mormon patriarchal culture’s ‘structural alpha’ ” for its men. But government employment is somewhat similar. A stable, secure, well-paying, job that often gives someone the feeling (and public perception / status) that they are doing something “high level” or “important” and that gives one time for family. It’s the perfect recipe for Steve Sailer’s middle-class “Affordable Family Formation” which can encourage smart middle-class whites to have more children earlier.

      • asdf says:

        job that often gives someone the feeling (and public perception / status) that they are doing something “high level” or “important”

        The smarter and more honest you are though the more impossible this delusion will be.

      • Handle says:

        @asdf: Oh, I don’t know about that. In my experience, the smarter folks are the most able – even instinctively needing and also tending – to entertain and preserve exactly these sorts of delusions.

        At any rate, two things to consider: (1) It’s relative, not absolute, and you have to compare it to the next-best alternative, and (2) it depends greatly on your milieu and the attitudes of the folks in your scene.

        People do the things which they think will make them feel good about themselves.

      • Dave says:

        While I agree the government lets young people do “cool stuff”, and the work weeks are fairly short, the great downside is that Washington DC is so expensive. This hinders the family formulation thesis put forward by Steve.

  17. asdf says:

    In my experience the sweet spot for self delusion is the second sigma. Which is most government bureaucrats. Jehu’s tyranny of the glib.

    That isn’t to say super smart people don’t say and do evil. It’s just that there is usually some part of them that knows its evil, but they do it anyway and suppress that part.

    • Handle says:

      Maybe that’s what makes them so susceptible to the 3+ sigma spinsters who tell them the lies they want to hear by constructing grand, 2-sigma-impenetrable theories for why the evil is actually the good, and vice versa.

      • M. M. says:

        I’m no native English speaker–care to explain that 2/3 Sigma stuff? What I googled on the subject didn’t seem to relate.

      • jonno says:

        Sigma is short for standard deviation. Standard deviation on an IQ test is about 12-15. So a 1 sigma person has an IQ of about 115, which is felt to be minimum college potential. 2 sigma is about 125-130, which is about mimium to be be sucessful in “Real” graduate level work. 3+ is about 140+, and is usually the realm of high grade engineers, mathmeticians, and, unfortunately these days, investment bankers.

      • M. M. says:

        thanks, jonno, happens I already knew that :-), but I couldn’t relate it to the thread, particularly the talk about “3+ sigma spinsters” sent me in the wrong direction. I got it that social sciences quacks were meant producing the ideological superstructure for rent extraction, but I tended to rank them intellectually with the bureaucrats, senior bureaucrats maybe–but then what do I know, I don’t mingle that much with either of those.

  18. asdf says:

    Is losing ones job a big worry for a lot of people?

    I’ve lived through a really shitty economy in my 20s. I’ve worked at two companies that did layoffs while i was there that saw people in my department get sacked. Nevertheless I haven’t been without work since freshmen year of college.

    Almost all corporate jobs are the same. And if you get fired you will end up with one just like your last one paying about the same. If you live in a big city this may mean you don’t even have to move. And that even assumes you get fired, which rarely happens.

    In my experience people spend a lot of time worrying about their jobs when they are all pretty interchangeable. Unless you are living paycheck to paycheck (and why would a white collar worker ever need to do that) any short unemployment isn’t the end of the world.

    I’ve watched the most incompetent people I know fail and and fired upwards too many times to think any of the BS worrying matters. “Job security” isn’t worth what people think its worth.

    • sardonic_sob says:

      Yes, yes it is.

      Hypercompetent people are rarely out of work for long. You may very well be hypercompetent. However, there is a big jump between hypercompetent and merely competent. Our economy is not friendly to the merely competent right now (arguably, absent large-scale shifts, it never will be again.) People who are perfectly decent and who provide an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay yet do not have skills which are in demand or general hypercompetence which just makes them useful to have around in almost any situation can have and are having massive difficulties in replacing lost employment.

  19. james wilson says:

    The extreme veteran preference is very interesting. I wonder if this is a clever program to neutralize what Big Sis types regard as a natural threat to their power?

    • Bill says:

      More likely, it is a way of raising military pay without seeming to. We had big problems attracting enough people while the Iraq war was hot. Also, this particular benefit seems likely to be disproportionately attractive to high IQ, low impulsivity people (you got to understand it, and you got to be motivated by benefits 5 or 10 years in the future). Military is surprisingly sophisticated about personnel management.

  20. […] Wise words from Foseti about public vs. private employment. […]

  21. Handle says:

    New Moldbug His way of saying, “Merry Xmas everybody.”

  22. Shawn says:

    I tried for a long time to get a job in the fed government and gradually became aware of how strong the vet preference is. I applied for maybe 200 fed jobs. I do know some fed government employees who got in after being in the Peace Corps. I’m guessing Americorp people receive similar preferences. I recently got out of mba school and I got a call back from the Dept of Ag for an internship. I turned it down because of the 2 hour drive (maybe a mistake). Anyways, I was old that they were looking to hire the intern as a regular employee upon graduation.

    Anyways, I eventually found a job at a large city within my state and feel rather lucky. This was after a couple failed interviews with state government. I just want to point out that you don’t have to be a vet for city or state jobs, you just need education plus experience, and ideally some experience should be from volunteering/internship (I volunteered for another city for 1 hour every 2 weeks for about six months and it looked good.)

    My question to foseti, how are city or state employees considered in your hiring process?

    (I am typing on my phone so my grammar may be a little off.)

  23. […] This study is going around. I still prefer what I said here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: