One of President Ronald Reagan's best enduring quotes was this: "The best minds are not in government … if any were, business would hire them away."
He was right, but these days business is finding a way to keep the best minds even when they're still in the government!
I hope you're sitting down, because I'm about to agree with the AFL-CIO. You see, Richard Trumka's union agitators actually have a point now that they've decided to make a stink over the fact that some top private firms set aside huge sums of money for executives who leave to take government positions. In short, the practice is unethical and it really puts the lie to that line about the "sacrifice of public service."
All of this became more public last week when Morgan Stanley CFO Ruth Porat decided to jump ship to Google. That story reminded everyone that she had turned down an offer in 2013 to take a top position at the U.S. Treasury, and regulatory filings show that Morgan Stanley would have eased Porat's compensation pain by giving her $7.25 million in unvested stock awards had she decided to go work for Uncle Sam. And the AFL-CIO and just about everyone else on Wall Street and in the top law firms knows Porat's story is no isolated incident. The union is pushing several shareholder initiatives to block this passage not only at Morgan Stanley, but also at Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and JPMorgan.
Reading the typical Wall Street firm literature explaining this practice is hard to do without getting nauseous. I'll spare you the experience and just tell you the line is that "firm X" highly values the idea of public service and also the notion of treating employees who seek it the chance to be rewarded fairly. Of course the truth is that these firms want to increase their influence by getting their top people into the top levels of government and they don't want them to forget where their bread is buttered while they're up there.
At least we're finding this out thanks to the fact that firms like Morgan Stanley are public companies. But we know that private entities like the top law firms, who often act like revolving doors to government agencies like the Justice Department and the SEC, are doing it too. So the next time you hear someone effusively praising a superstar private sector executive for making the financial sacrifice to go into government work, don't be so sure.
This is all part of a larger realization more Americans need to have about government workers in general. Even government workers who aren't on some kind of paid hiatus from a Wall Street bank enjoy benefits and compensation that most private sector workers could never hope to attain. When you compare all the factors, including pay, benefits, vacation time, pensions, and the priceless near-impossibility of being laid off, government work is hardly the sacrifice or noble calling politicians and statist drones in the media make it out to be. It doesn't mean there aren't great people in the public sector, but it doesn't mean they're saints either. And this transcends the left-right partisan debate in America, because both parties have been responsible for the massive explosion of government jobs in this country since the New Deal.
Government and politics are about power. And power is worth money. It must be nice that so many people in our government never have to choose between one or the other.