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?


10 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.

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