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No More "Public Servants"?

July 3rd, 2005 | 2 min read

By Andrew Selby

On this Fourth of July weekend our great nation remembers those who fought for independence and established our venerable republic. The men who did this did, indeed, have some economic incentive, i.e. no taxation without representation and therefore lower taxes. However, they were public servants.

A public servant is one who willingly serves his or her community, region, state, or country to make life better for those who live in it. John Adams was a paradigmatic example of a public servant. He spent long stretches of time away from his family and quaint farm in Braintree, Mass. to attend long meetings of the Continental Congress in the sweltering heat of a Philadelphia summer. He was not paid for this sacrifice. Granted, he had enough money to live on with a manager and his incredible wife running the farm, but he certainly wasn't gaining personal possessions while assisting in the formation of the founding documents of the USA. (This comes from McCullough's biography of Adams.)

Do public servants like John Adams exist anymore?

I don't think so, for the most part. We, the people, have made some severe mistakes by deciding to pay high salaries and bloated pensions to those who work in civil government. For instance, a California congressman or senator who serves more than one term in Sacrament is entitled to a pension of 50% of what they were making as a congressman or senator for the rest of their lives. Public school teachers, while providing a valuable service, are reasonably compensated for their pains. You just have to put in your time and then start collecting that handsome pension. The premium benefits package is a boost, too. LA policemen, again, are doing awesome things on the streets keeping us safe, but they too are very well rewarded. Many LAPD cops make $75,000. And, after a number of years they qualify for the DROP program (deferred retirement option plan). This program means that when they "retire" on Friday, they are earning their $75k salary. On Monday, they go back to work for the same salary and collect 60% of their salary in the meantime. They can do this for up to five years before they have to retire. The math works out to the point where LAPD officers really ought to be millionaires by the time they are through.

Now I'm not saying that cops, teachers, and legislators do not do incredibly valuable and necessary things. What I am descrying is the lack of public servants in our society anymore. Government jobs do have some prestige associated with them, which provides an intangible incentive for some to take them. But increasingly a government job is the way to secure a stable job that offers a fat retirement package.

If fundage for these jobs were significantly slashed, would there be enough people willing to do this kind of work? Does our society have a sufficient amount of sacrificial people working in it who care about the civic good more than their own? I hope so, but I rather doubt it.

I know that the military is a bright spot where such people still exist. They work for pathetic wages - though I admit the GI Bill is nice - and put their lives on the line consistently (depending on the job a soldier performs). My brother is one of these and I'm very proud of him today on his birthday. My prayers are with him as he heads to Iraq to help others enjoy freedom like we enjoy it here as well as keep us safe.