Money and More

How many Americans are the cogs of the various governemnt machines? A bunch:

More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?

[…]

The not-so Golden State now has an incredible 2.4 million government employees—twice as many as people at work in manufacturing. New Jersey has just under two-and-a-half as many government employees as manufacturers. Florida’s ratio is more than 3 to 1. So is New York’s. [emphasis added]

Not that manufacturing ratios are everything, but it is still a useful metric.

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How much does the federal government spend on fires (preventing and stopping them)? Quite a bit:

Early this week, the Forest Service announced a new fire plan. As befitting such a well-funded program, it is full of pretty photos of people putting out fires and other people setting things on fire (for hazardous fuel treatments). The only thing missing is the plan itself, for it is really just a plan to write a plan.

The real reason they spend so much money on fire is because they can. Congress has never figured out what to do about fire, so it just throws money at it. In 1908, Congress literally gave the Forest Service a blank check to put out fires. The agency could spend as much as it wanted putting fires out and Congress promised to reimburse it at the end of each fire season. In 1979, Congress repealed the blank check and tried to give the Forest Service a fixed budget, allowing it to carry over the surplus during wet years to spend in dryer years. This led the agency to actually take some steps to reduce costs.

And then we had a couple big fires and the checkbooks came out again.

In the world in which I work, we often refer to a known business illness called “analysis paralysis” which afflicts people without clear goals, deadlines and budgets. Government is particularly good at analyzing things to death, planning for every possible contingency, and then spending six times as much as originally anticipated. This does not always happen, but it occurs frequently enough to be a pattern.