Bureaucratophobia

John Derbyshire apparently thinks everyone in D.C. works for the feds


Thomas Schaller
September 17, 2009 8:50PM (UTC)

Over at the Corner, National Review's John Derbyshire reads this news story about where wealthy yuppies -- defined as those 25-34 making $100K or more -- congregate as proof positive that public sector jobs are, well, I'm not sure what he's saying. Is he implying that  government jobs pay too much? Or that they overpay young people relative to their private sector worth? Seriously, go read the AP news story and see if you can decode why Derbyshire instructs his readers to, "Write out 100 times: THE PRIVATE SECTOR IS FOR LOSER CHUMPS. Then, go beg a bureaucrat for a job."

It's not news that the D.C. area has some of the top-earning counties -- 16 of the top 50 nationally -- in  America. But where does the article say anything about where all these yuppies work? I have no doubt that D.C. has a higher share of these wealthy yuppies working in the public sector than other metropolitan areas. Of course it does: It's home to the nation's capital. But that doesn't explain the other 34 counties on the list, and misunderstands employment in the 16 D.C.-area counties that are on the list.

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For example, Derbyshire completely ignores that there is a thriving private sector here. D.C. is a major tech area, ranked fourth nationally. Those 16 counties are also either home to or a short drive from five major-league sports teams, three major airports, numerous top-tier universities (public and private), and plenty of other industries related to entertainment or consumer products. I suppose one could always make the argument that many of these employees are living partially if indirectly off the government because some hotshot chef or Alex Ovechkin has a job in the area because all the people they feed, teach and entertain are only here in the first place because the government is located here. But the national government has to be located somewhere. And I'm happy to count employees of the executive car service that once thrived in Houston thanks to all the wealth Enron privately created as jobs created by the private sector's spillover.

As for young people actually working for a federal agency, given the federal pay schedules, most of these $100K+ yuppies are probably not "bureaucrats" whom anyone will be begging for a job. More likely these yuppies are political appointees, like a presidential speechwriter or legal counsel to the congressional leadership. Throw in party functionaries and lobbyists and public relations folks, and I'm betting that the non-bureacrat yuppies far outnumber those strictly designated as bureacrats -- and that both are outnumbered by the private sector yuppies.

Derbyshire recognizes that people working in private sector jobs are directly or indirectly dependent upon the government's largess. But these are still private sector jobs. And he glances over the fact that a lot of these people work in industries represented by any number of trade associations that pump hundreds of millions of dollars every year into political campaigns, often at disproprotionate rates into the coffers of pro-business, conservative/Republican candidates and party organizations.

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If Derbyshire is actually complaining about that -- that is, about people who complain about bureaucrats while making their livelihood thanks to them -- on second thought maybe I understand exactly what he means.


Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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