President Obama has made a big deal out of corporate jets. Apparently they are a symbol not of success but of greed. Yet even as the private jet marked has lagged with the ongoing recession, President Obama’s own employees in his administration have significantly increased the number of limousines available for their travel.
The private jet market has historically risen in line with corporate profits, but started a steep downturn in 2008. The result was the loss of literally thousands of jobs in the factories that make private jets, with Cessna laying off almost 9000 workers alone, mostly in that notorious haunt of millionaires in Wichita, Kansas. Meanwhile, federal government departments increased the numbers of limousines bought in the first two years of the Obama administration by 73 percent, spending $1.9 billion on new cars in 2009 alone. These aren’t cheap autos, either. The most popular model is the Cadillac DTS, with the government paying about $60,000 per vehicle. Cadillac, of course, is part of the bailed-out General Motors.
This all confirms something I examine in my new book, Stealing You Blind: How Government Fatcats Are Getting Rich Off of You. When bureaucrats have taxpayer money to spend, they spend it on themselves. In Chapter Eight (“Municipal Madness”), for example, I detail how two departments (Public Works, and Transportation) of the City of Los Angeles received $111 million between them in stimulus money, and used it to ‘save or create’ just 55 jobs, nearly all of them, apparently, in the public sector.
Another example comes in the increasingly risibly-named education sphere. As we all know, vast amounts of taxpayer money have been directed towards global warming research in the past few years. This has led, as we can see from numbers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to a substantial increase in the salaries of “atmospheric, earth, marine and space science teachers” at public universities. In 2004, before the wave of public funding was unleashed following An Inconvenient Truth, such teachers were paid $53 an hour. Today they earn $70 an hour. On top of that, of course, they have tenure and enviable benefits, not to mention the shorter hours.
Indeed, government workers have made out like bandits while the rest of us eked out our living in the recession. According to USA Today, “When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000.” That was in 2009, before the President announced his much-vaunted “federal pay freeze.”
Yet, as my colleague F. Vincent Vernuccio noted at the time, a federal pay freeze is meaningless. Thanks to statute law, federal employees are still getting pay rises every year and on promotion. This holds true even at the White House, right under the President’s nose. Apologists for this behavior abound, but they fail to recognize that in the rest of the world, many people have been doing extra work for no pay increase at all. That’s what a real pay freeze looks like.
Stealing You Blind is full of examples like this. It not only looks at the outrageous salaries that federal, state, and local bureaucrats make and how the system is rigged towards them, but at how what they actually do harms us and how they fool us into thinking it’s for our own good.
I also propose some simple steps for reducing the burden of government. Step one is the abolition of entire federal departments, pour encourager les autres. Other steps include significant regulatory reform aimed at reducing the $1.75 trillion burden of regulation, and the reform of federal, state and local public employee pay and conditions. Because when you get down to it, it isn’t the corporate jet owners who are stealing us blind, but the limousine-riding, styling and profiling government bureaucrats.
Iain Murray is Vice President and head of the Center for Economic Freedom at the Competitive Enterprise Institute