The Price of Public Safety

There is nothing wrong with paying a premium to public safety personnel because of the risks they take. And while it is true there are other career choices that are riskier than public safety jobs, and while it is also true that on average, public safety personnel in California – according to CalPERS own actuarial data – have life expectancies that are virtually the same as the rest of us, it is still appropriate to pay public safety personnel a premium. After all, we never know when these people may stand on the front lines when something extraordinary happens – such as what occurred in New York City on Sept. 11th, 2001. People who work in public safety live with this knowledge every day, and they should be compensated appropriately for that.

The question is how much of a premium is appropriate, and how much of a premium can we afford as a society? Should a fire fighter make more than a medical doctor? Should a police officer make more than an engineer?

In order to get an idea of what public safety employees in California actually make, I obtained a roster that showed the total compensation paid to each employee of a Southern California city. Out of respect for the employees noted on this roster, I won’t identify the city, much less reveal the names of these individuals. And it is fair to state this city probably has a median income somewhat higher than the average for California. It [...] Read More

The Razor’s Edge – Inflation vs. Deflation

Deficit spending has been touted as a potential driver of inflation, because only with devalued (inflated) currency can we hope to erode the real value of our mounting levels of government debt. Continuing to print U.S. dollars, it is claimed, can only lead to too many dollars in the system, and hence a devalued dollar. We should be so lucky.

A few years ago, in Sept. 2007, in a post entitled “Inflation vs. Deflation,” I cited a recent (at the time) quote from Paul Kasriel, an economist with The Northern Trust Co. in Chicago. He explained the danger of deflation quite well, describing what happened in Japan:

“Japan experienced a deflation in recent years because the bursting of its asset-price bubble in the early 1990s created huge losses in its banking system. The Japanese banks had financed the asset-price bubble. When it burst, the debtors could not keep current on their loans to the banks and therefore were forced to turn back the collateral to the banks. The market value of the collateral, of course, was less than the amount of the loans outstanding, thereby inflicting huge losses of capital to the Japanese banks. With the decline in bank capital, the Japanese banks could not extend new credit to the private sector even though the Bank of Japan was offering credit to the banks at very low nominal rates of interest.”

Another way to put this is as follows: Liquidity is a function of two [...] Read More

The Conspiracy of Cowardice

One may search for the answer to the Republican riddle across America – how to attract all those suddenly disaffected independents and moderate Democrats. After all, the political pendulum only seems to be impelled by repellent forces, never by attractive ones. And what might attract anyone to the Republicans, simply because the Democrats have become repellent?

Closer to home, in lovely California, a state so beautiful that even native sons who ought to know better can’t seem to leave, the Republican failure is easy to grasp. Republicans, nationally and in California, never fought more than half the war – they did, at the least, a defensible job fighting taxes, but never effectively fought spending. The result is deficits – and borrowing is spending, as underwater homeowners along with bankrupt municipal governments are painfully discovering.

A tragic example of just how far from leadership, legitimate populism, or genuine convictions the conservative leadership in California has sunk is the plight of the public sector union reform initiative that still needs signatures to qualify for California’s November 2010 ballot.

There is not one conservative political insider who doesn’t believe the “Voluntary Political Contribution Initiative” is a long overdue reform to California’s political system. Nobody. This initiative will dramatically curtail the ability of California’s public sector unions to use member dues to engage in political activity. Currently California’s public sector unions collect nearly 1.0 billion dollars per year in member dues, and they use a significant percentage of [...] Read More