Piling on the federal pay freeze

I have no insight to add to Jon’s and Mark‘s posts.  But I think Obama’s cheap-shot stunt is so despicable, and so stupid, that I want to register my view, just to up the blogosphere indignation index.  Disgusting, cowardly, clueless, and bad tactics.  How could a West Wing full of grownups allow a Democrat, even a Democrat who has established his regrettable  instinct to punt on first down, to do such a thing?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

19 thoughts on “Piling on the federal pay freeze”

  1. My first reaction to the federal pay freeze story was "feh." My second was a little kinder: this could be meant as a bait, to see just how willing the GOP is to get into the suicide-by-a-thousand-cuts game. My first reaction, however, is a return to my first. I don't think that Obama's a "moral cretin" or particularly cowardly, but this sounds like a hip-shooting move by a guy who just ain't good at it.

  2. Federal pay is set by Congress. All that Obama is doing is making a proposal to Congress. I assume that, because it comes from Obama, virtually all Republicans will oppose it and the Senate will filibuster it.

  3. I'm sorry I don't understand how this particular political gesture rates so much indignation, from the denizens of RBC.

    How bad it is, as political tactics, depends a bit on what you think Obama's Grand Strategy is, and I have a very dim view of Obama's political function: I think he is trying to prevent revolution, confirming the plutocrats in control. I guess one could see him as another weak and failed liberal, in the corporate centrist tradition. But, isn't that the same thing?

    What you are supposed to get out of Obama's Presidency, if you are on the Left, is that America is experiencing an inevitable decline, which must be managed, or "it could be worse". His Administration is modeling the "politically possible" that squishy moderates are always so eager to embrace. He's bowing to reality. There really is no other choice. The vast transfers of wealth and income upward are due to trends and factors beyond any President's control.

    This is a President without any prosecutorial gene, leading in the aftermath of economic and foreign policy crises featuring endemic lawlessness, and what provokes "moral cretin" and other expressions of moral outrage is a pay freeze for federal workers?

    I'm sorry. Did you just come in?

  4. I think the cause of the indignation is that the guesture, as empty as it is, endorses the idea that there are actually circumstances where federal spending shouldn't go up.

  5. Easy to understand the Obmamanation. The pay freeze doesn't cover step increases nor bonuses. There will suddenly be a rash of step increases and bonuses. We have seen him work before.

    Everything Obama says is a lie, to include "and", "or", and "but".

    A pay freeze for federal workers is not what we need. What we need is to get rid of entire departments and repeal entire titles. Departments of Agriculture and Education, to start with. Title 42 could go and Americans would never miss it.

  6. Whole lot of Ivory Tower goin' on here. Look, ten percent of us have been laid off. Everyone's waiting for the second shoe to fall. My city, county, and state legislators are cutting budgets. Having a job that pays less is starting to look a lot better than not having a job at all.

    As with all government executives, Obama is the boss of a workforce he not only has to manage, but has to defend against relentless attack. In this case, he's calling on workers, but more specifically unions, to do something to help. If the unions could respond by saying they would help and their workers will take a freeze or pay cut, this would be a plus in the eyes of the public.

    It doesn't make a whole lot of sense in any dimension but one- it's an obvious response to anemic budgets, or, shall we say, it appears obvious to the public. Obama, and my Governor Gregoire, are making spoiler attacks on the Republican onslaught that is poised to launch. What really needs to be done is to highlite the difference between patriotic union workers ready to do their part, and wealthy Republicans demanding a larger slice of the pie.

  7. I am calling on billionaire banksters to do something to help: commit suicide on January 2, 2011, after the estate tax is, again, in effect.

    Our economic problems are not some natural calamity, like a hurricane or a blizzard, or even a harvest failure, to which we should be asked to respond with a willingness to "contribute" or "help". "Our" government should be helping us, but, instead, its efforts are being directed to helping banksters and corporate fraudsters run the scam-economy for another couple of years.

  8. DomM: "Departments of Agriculture and Education, to start with. "

    Tell ya what – why don't you write your Federal-teat-sucking Teabaggers to do that. If'n they do, I'll vote GOP.

    serial catowner says:

    "Whole lot of Ivory Tower goin’ on here. Look, ten percent of us have been laid off. Everyone’s waiting for the second shoe to fall. My city, county, and state legislators are cutting budgets. Having a job that pays less is starting to look a lot better than not having a job at all."

    Heck, cat rancher, if you was all' serious and all', by tarnation you'd rustel up yourself a posse and go take out some Wall St banditos. That would darn tootin' raise some capital (as those Eastern City Slickers call bucks).

  9. As a union contract negotiator during a fiscal crisis, I learned that it is more important to a lot of people to "share the pain" rather than to accomplish any substantive improvement to the overall fiscal picture.

    Pain does seem to be the motivation in this case (because while the freeze will negatively impact the employees, it will result in little to no improvement to the deficit) and in too many cases, the general public seconds the "share the pain" motion.

    It is notable that those calling for "shared pain" are almost uniformly not in the class to which the pain will be meted out.

    Wishing pain on others as an end in itself, to make up for their own real or perceived pain, is among the basest of human impulses but without exception, those calling for such "shared pain" consider their desire to be both principled and honorable.

  10. I don't think this is about pain, as such. It's about not over-paying people.

    Look, the level of somebody's pay isn't a moral matter. It's a matter of paying them enough that they don't go away to work someplace else. If you're paying them more than that, you're paying them TOO MUCH.

    The economy is in the dumper. Unemployment is on the high side of 10%, and that's almost entirely private sector unemployment. If there's ever been a time when a rational government employee wouldn't respond to a pay cut by quitting, this is it. For various reasons pay tents to exhibit downward stickiness, but government pay damned well should not be going UP at this time!

    Not to share the pain. Because it doesn't have to go up to keep the employees on.

    Heck, even if you DO want more government, the rational thing to do at this time is cut their pay, and spend the money on something else…

  11. The public sector has taken larger hits and is being slower to recover jobs than the private sector. So the federal "freeze" is not that far out of line with state and local cuts and furloughs, etc.

    The thing that grates is hearing about "tough decisions" that elected officials are making.

    Deciding whether to pay for heat or for your prescription is a tough decision. Deciding whether to buy groceries or electricity is a tough decision. The people who just lost their unemployment benefits are the ones who have tough decisions to make, not the legislators who decided to cut them off.

  12. I think many on the left are upset precisely because this wage freeze won't accomplish much. That's what makes it a cheap shot, since it's basically meaningless while at the same time, caving in to the same phony deficit hawks who said NOTHING when the former prez passed unpaid-for tax cuts and started two stupid wars. (They didn't kick until Katrina, when there was a prospect the government might spend money on … helping people. Not a *peep* out of them until then.)(Except probably on some obscure right-wingy blog I don't read. So don't bother with the links, folks.)

    I am not mad at the president, but I understand why others are. He is turning out to possibly have a really pathological need for approval from the GOP which he will never, ever receive.

    I can't think of any other explanation for what he's doing. It's bizarre, honestly.

  13. Ed: So, what you're saying is that you don't grasp the difference between events that have already occured, "has taken", and what somebody proposes to do?

  14. It took a while to find, but I was remembering http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/09/business/econom… x=1291312852-3A+JOLDUvU2ryNJ20wzCSA

    from a couple of months ago as well. My understanding is that state and local jobs recover more slowly than in the private sector because of the lag time between growing revenues (from retail sales, some services, etc) and the hiring or recalling of public employees. Thus, my local library has again reduced its hours as of yesterday, and that may not reverse for a while.

    Some readers of this blog are well versed in labor economics and may be able to interpret these trends more clearly. I looked at the charts in the links you provided, but they appear to end in 2009, where the lag would work in the opposite direction (falling private sector employment leading to falling revenues, with reduced public payrolls not appearing until later). An amateur like me will await eagerly any input from the pros.

  15. Wow: Local governments cutting workers at "the fastest rate in 30 years". I'd be impressed with that, if the graph didn't show that pretty much ANY cut would be "the biggest" in thirty years, because local governments have been ADDING workers year in, year out, for three decades, with virtually no exceptions.

    So the public sector is finally getting to take a haircut to the private sector's decapitation. Cry me a river… they could keep this rate of job loss up for the rest of the decade, and barely equal the private sector's percentage job loss in the last couple of years.

    As I say, the indignation is at the idea that government should ever, under any circumstances, contract, instead of perpetually expanding.

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