Why do people think government workers are stupid?

From Michael Lewis’s The Big Short:

“You know how when you walk into a post office you realize there is such a difference between a government employee and other people,” said Vinny. “The ratings agency people were all like government employees.” Collectively they had more power than anyone in the bond markets, but individually they were nobodies. “They’re underpaid,” said Eisman. “The smartest ones leave for Wall Street firms so they can help manipulate the companies they used to work for.

Where does it come from, this idea that people whose employer is the city, state, or nation are made of inferior stuff?  What is the “difference” Vinny perceives between the person helping him at the post office and the teller at his bank?  Does he really get worse service at the DMV than he gets from United Airlines?    Does he not have cable?


21 thoughts on “Why do people think government workers are stupid?

  1. Rob H. says:

    Or McDonald’s! I mean how hard is it to put a bun on a patty properly! But seriously, I think this is a major problem, and I suspect it is one of the reasons the republican voters are so quick to agree with the politicians that the government does things so inefficiently, “I mean, how slow was the last time you went to the DMV, amirite?!”. The solution would be to spend more money on customer service, but that would “increase government spending” (cue tragic music of doom). Oh well.

    Oh and I think the title of this post should be: “Why do people think government workers are *more* stupid?” because I’m sure they think that people who work at those other places are stupid, too. Or maybe more suggestively: “Why are people more bothered by government workers being just as stupid as other workers?”

  2. A very interesting question. I wonder, is this feeling US specific, or is this also the case in, say, Canada or Europe? At least part of it in the US comes from the general opprobrium against union workers. As Rob hints, there’s nothing worse than lazy union workers being paid with “my money ™”. Possibly another issue in the US is that, because you can’t get rich working for government, it’s widely perceived that government workers are unambitious, and perhaps hence stupid.

    A related question is why people focus on the ills of bureaucracy in government but not in large corporations. Do they not have to deal with their health insurer?!

  3. Dirty Davey says:

    As I have long said, when threatened by the thought of having health care decisions made by a “government bureaucrat”: given the choice between a government bureaucrat and an insurance company bureaucrat, I’ll take the civil servant anytime. At least a government bureaucrat isn’t going to increase the boss’s bonus by denying my claim.

  4. Rob H. says:

    As a Canadian (more specifically a Quebecer), I can say that there’s not really a specific hatred of government workers, but there is a general dissatisfaction with “union workers”. Though it’s not like there are mass movements of people trying to actively end unions. Having government run things is such a part of the Canadian point of view that I think there’s a large obstacle to criticizing government workers over others. I mean, you buy your electrical power from the government, your education is public, your health care is public, you even buy your liquor from the government. And overall your life is pretty good, so there’s no need to get up in arms about it. Furthermore, there isn’t really the reverence towards private corporations either. I mean, corporations are evil, no?

    I think in the US the private sector must have put a lot of effort into getting people to think they do things better. And since the only people I hear saying that private corporations are better are republican politicians, I’m going to go ahead and conjecture that the current feelings have been created by a lot of money passing from the hands of the corporations into the coffers of the republicans. Either that or the GOP simply saw an opportunity to swindle a bunch of people to get their votes. Either way, it’s a “good” play in their part: if you can make some people think that there’s something that could make their lives better (less government) and the opposition (the democrats) is standing in the way actively preventing this from happening because they have crazy ideas about helping the poor and minorities, then these people are going to hate the government, hate the democrats, hate the poor, and hate the minorities. And they will love you for fighting the good fight!

  5. juan diaz says:

    a policeman aged 46 retires after 20 years of generating income from
    the motoring public receives $54,000.00 a year pension from the public
    until he dies, as his reward.
    an elderly person at age 66 works as a greeter at walmart to help pay
    for the high cost of living which is partially caused by the tax they must
    pay for the policeman’s retirement.

  6. Typhoon Jim says:

    I suspect it is not to be found in universal debasement of pensions.

  7. […] Why do people think government workers are stupid? (quomodocumque.wordpress.com) […]

  8. Armond Aserinsky, Ph.D. says:

    That’s right, Jim. Short and sweet! We might also consider the idea that good pensions help to make up some of the difference in pay between the private and public sectors. Furthermore, using the example of the policeman which is provided above by Juan Diaz, early retirement with a large benefits and pay package makes sense for workers in dangerous and stressful jobs. People who put their lives on the line and who are in some sense never completely “off duty” cannot continue to perform in that way for thirty or forty years. (There are exceptions, of course, but policy should be based on what is generally true.)

    What I find distressing is how many people complain about sweet deals for ordinary working folks while ignoring huge pay and bennies packages for people at the top of the food chain. After all, the cost of goods and services is raised just as much whether a corporation gives a vice-president another million dollars or doles out an extra 20 thousand to 50 employees.

    Let’s all remember that it takes no courage to blame “little people” for the ills of society, but it’s scary to think about throwing rocks at the rich and powerful. As an old politician once reminded me, “People identify upward and blame downward.” He’s right, isn’t he? What is true (certainly in this country), however, doesn’t have to REMAIN true. It takes guts and energy to give up comforting illusions. Some of us are up to the challenge.

  9. Ken says:

    Government workers are, generally, exceedingly fat and lazy. I’ve worked for the State of California for three years, and I can tell you that the stereotypes of government workers are VERY accurate. It’s because the unions are so powerful that no one can ever be fired. Terrible managers that work, on average, four hours/day slow the productivity of those reare staff that actually try to do a good job. If you want to work hard and do well, you make everyone else look bad and you start to piss people off. After a while, it’s understandable why those would be hard works become as lazy as everyone else. The worst part is that most government workers act like they’re getting a raw deal and the evil Republicans are trying to rob them of their rights to a guaranteed pension benefit, something no one in the private sector receives anymore, and their rights to really great medical and dental benefits. Government workers may not be inheritently stupid, but the system breeds laziness, a poor work ethic, and a sense of entitlement. Once I get the experience that I need, I’m moving to the private sector. I can’t live with the guilt of knowing that I’m ripping off the tax payer to do work that kills jobs, and bankrupts our state.

  10. Don't need help thinking. Thanks. says:

    There’s no point in debating whether government workers are lazy, stupid, apathetic, etc. I can make that decision based on my own experience, and so can anyone else.

  11. Gord Longbanks says:

    Here’s my experience with Canada Post employees.
    I order a package from Amazon and here is what has happened on 4 separate occasions:

    (1) Very large package was left outside apartment door – WRONG apartment door. Last time I checked, no package should be left out in the open for the taking.

    (2) No phone call, no ‘Notification Card’, no package. The package was ‘successfully delivered to a community mailbox’.
    Pardon? I don’t have a community mailbox, I have an individual mail slot. Product was never found.

    (3) No phone call, no ‘Notification Card’, no package. I dropped by the local post office and sure enough, my package was waiting for me.

    (4) ‘Notification Card’ indicating pickup location – 1/2 way across town. What? Why would the employee give me a pickup card for a postal outlet on the other side of town?

    My experience has been that of lazy Canada Post employees.
    I’m convinced it’s run by morons who hire morons. I would love for the lot of them to be terminated.

  12. Vuruton says:

    because it’s based on truth, your average government worker a lazy robot moron who thinks he/she is entitled to all the wastful paid days off, pension, early retirement, lack of competition in the workplace, etc…also government workers don’t produced anything of value, they only take value from society vs private workers who create value.

  13. Jack says:

    I work for the government, and I would certainly agree govt workers are dumb. They are unable to think for themselves and just follow processes.

    When they try to fix something, they will try to make a process to fix it, then follow the process. Of course that process must fit within the other processes. Consequently, processes become convoluted, unnecessary and no longer have anything to do with the thing they’re trying to fix.

    This is compounded by the fact that govt workers typically stay in the same dept their entire careers. This fabricates an employee with a poor range of experience and out dated ways of working. As you might expect, such a person would find it difficult to find another job because of this, compounding the issue further. Needless to say, the sort of person who chooses to stay in the same job for such a long time is not a person who has a drive to develop or succeed.

  14. Chooby says:

    I’ve been a contractor in a government building for about a year now. I can’t believe some of the morons floating around here. It really has put a bad taste in my mouth. I’m forgetting any inkling of consideration I had of getting into gov’t myself… I would sneer at having to deal with these people every day. The fact that my tax dollars are going into systems like this is bristling and makes me want to find every tax loophole possible. Ask any of them what their career motivations are… they simply talk about stability, benefits and retirement package. No touch of urgency in their work. No awareness of their body and mind. Nothing about finding inefficiencies, learning new skills, becoming better people, etc.

  15. Chucko says:

    Hmm, employment stats negate the 5-10 million dollar perpetuity handed to them at retirement. Worthless parasites that make it harder for business to function are making more than the business owners that pay their wage. We have c+ at best students micromanaging business owners and job creators, a ridiculous recipe for success, a perfect condition for the government robbery of retirement plans and the renegotiable tax shelters that responsible adults take advantage of. Roth IRA or 401k for instance, throughout Europe they are being drained because the parasites contract is more important than what they promised the people they supposedly served, but in actuality have fully serviced, fleeced and taken to the cleaners

  16. Albert says:

    Dirty Davie: A government worker may not deny your insurance claim in order to increase his bosses bonus, but he will likely deny it for other reasons, like not being a big enough contributor to his boss’ political campaign, or not being one of his boss’ political constituents.

  17. gramm says:

    All this talk about lazy city workers…
    well before you talk about them , know what they do!!!! Would you like to be in a hole fixing a busted sewer line???? Or stand in traffic layin down a new street. How about being lowered into a storm hole 20-30 ft down.
    I can go on and on!!!
    Know what your talking about before someone judges what you do at work.

  18. FBC says:

    I wouldn’t compare a PO worker to a DMV employee, the DMV is notoriously lazy and it isn’t to say there aren’t a fair share of lazy city/rural carriers. I just love how people are quick to judge something they have absolutely no idea of what they are talking about.

    Tell you what, go work in your local post office for a month, I bet 8 out of 10 of the critics wouldn’t make it past the first week.

    Having said that, I have seen a fair share of uneducated folks at the post office, I would not classify them as stupid. People come from different walks of lives with different upbringings.

    Walk a mile in someone else shoes, as the saying goes…Then get back to me.

  19. Anonymous Prick says:

    Since when did being told what to do require substantial brainpower?

  20. Starfox says:

    If Person A takes the viewpoint that they work harder, needed more experience and credentials to do a similar job that Person B is doing they’ll assume Person B is dumb and lazy.

    Government employment generally has less deadlines, pressures and the qualifications aren’t always as high as someone employed in the private sector. Not to mention theres more competition in the private sector. Someone employed in the private sector will take all of this and assume workers are lazy.

  21. David M Lewis says:

    I can tell you right now. The majority off people hired for both blue collar and white collar jobs in the govt are idiots , I can train monkeys easier. If you are not in a clique, favorite, related , hired because your spouses friend kid needs a job, veterans are bypassed, experience and skill have nothing to do with upward movement, being a loss ass, snake and unprofessional supervisors that do not hire for the position and WIIL LOOK over senior knowledgeable employee for those that will kiss ass and know nothing.
    Govt is no place to work. No professionalism when reference calls are made, it is all personal ( never professional ) as they will sink your chance to leave for a job with upward movement.

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