I am a capitalist. Along with my wife and others, I run three weekly newspapers with 100 employees and a $4 million payroll. On the whole, I appreciate the efficiency and accomplishments of capitalism.
But let’s not get carried away with the benefits of free enterprise. Take a walk through the aisles of any department store and you will see tons of needless stuff that is bought and sold but adds little to our well-being. Or look at a hillside in the aftermath of coal strip mining, and you will agree that capitalism has both its pluses and minuses.
For all of the talk about the importance of small businesses in America, we do not hold a candle to the public sector. Libraries, clean water, mosquito-free urban areas, schools, fire departments, low-income housing, food programs, public health, child protection, worker safety, parks, police protection, armed services … the list of crucial work accomplished by the public sector goes on and on. For really great life-changing endeavors, the public sector rocks, as do the people that chose to work in it: school teachers, firemen, water-treatment employees, mosquito-vector control workers and animal-control officers.
What I love about the thousands of public servants that I have met over the years is how much they care. Welfare workers care about their clients, city planners care about their urban areas, transportation workers care about the quality of their roads. They hope that their efforts will make the planet a better place. We business owners often get too much credit for our efforts and, conversely, public servants do not receive enough. We would have a better community, a better life, if we spent less money on personal consumption and more on things that benefit the community as a whole: parks, libraries and other public services. Yes, we should have higher taxes and a sound safety net. Of course, the government could run more efficiently, but then again, so could most private-sector businesses.
Now we face a scary situation.
Huge, sweeping job cuts are planned at the city, county and state levels. Those who care about our community appreciate the critical contribution that those in the public sector make to our quality of life. I hope the union leadership appreciates it, too. In this economic climate, when so many private-sector employees have had wage reductions, I believe that the majority of public servants would sacrifice wage increases or even take small wage decreases in order to save their fellow workers’ jobs, and in some cases, save the programs that they believe in. The importance of saving public-sector programs and services should be a major consideration in the chess game of employer/worker negotiations.
All in all, I’d have to say I have more faith in our public servants than I do in some of my fellow capitalists. If I got to choose my next-door neighbor, I’d choose a park worker, a librarian or a city planner every time.