Envy is a celebrity deadly sin, many philosophers think it’s the worst. Joseph Epstein writes in Envy, “Envy clouds thought, clobbers generosity, precludes any hope of serenity, and ends in shriveling the heart.”
Jealous is intensely felt, you are jealous of what someone has. Envy is cold and sneaky, you are envious for who someone is, not just for what they have. Jealousy about the pensions of government workers spurs you to fight for your own pensions. Envy would spur you to spitefully lobby to cut their pensions. A dose of jealousy helps you; envy hurts all.
The envy machine is cranked up.
Illinois State Senator Chris Lauzen says government benefits are unsustainable and unfair to taxpayers who earn less than civil servants. “People will become angrier and angrier when they learn the difference between their pay and benefits and what we give to public employees.”
Historian Kevin Phillips’ argues in The Arrogant Capitol that the path of a great civilization’s downfall is paved with a growing gap between citizens and the public employees. And, it is true, the raw data show that civil servants have better pensions and health care than the private sector workers: total compensation for state and local workers was $39.25 an hour — $11.90 more than in private business.
The comparisons are confusing because government workers have more education than the average private-sector worker and public workers have better benefits and lower salaries — not better in both.
The salaries of state-employed professionals lag behind private sector peers when comparisons are made correctly.
According to a study by the teacher’s union — I know the sponsors wanted this outcome, but facts are facts: Private-sector salaries exceed state employee salaries in 20 of the 24 job classifications in which comparisons were made. Geologists — they work for oil companies in the private sector — are paid almost twice what government geologists are paid (they challenge oil companies) and chemists who work for the private sector earn 52 percent more. Across all 24 classifications, private-sector salaries are, on average, 26 percent higher than those of state employees.
But the perception is out there, public employees are better off than the taxpayers.
Public employees have a couple of choices: Accept pressures for cutbacks in their medical and pensions or help taxpayers get better pensions and medical beenfits. So now is the time for a little jealousy, a lot of solidarity, but no envy.