Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine are beating a dead horse in their attempts to demonstrate that public employees don’t work as hard as their private counterparts:
What we found was that during a typical workweek, private-sector employees work about 41.4 hours. Federal workers, by contrast, put in 38.7 hours, and state and local government employees work 38.1 hours. In a calendar year, private-sector employees work the equivalent of 3.8 more 40-hour workweeks than federal employees and 4.7 more weeks than state and local government workers. Put another way, private employees spend around an extra month working each year compared with public employees. If the public sector worked that additional month, governments could theoretically save around $130 billion in annual labor costs without reducing services.
We’ve excluded teachers from the full-year comparison because of their naturally shorter work year. But could public-private differences in work time be due to other occupational differences between the sectors? Large differences in work hours actually persist even when comparing workers with similar jobs and similar skills in each sector.
Based on the most detailed and objective data set available, the private sector really does work more than the public sector. This fact may hold different lessons for different people, but our own take is simple: Before we ask private-sector employees to work more to support government, government itself should work as much as the private sector.
They will never convince anyone who’s not already predisposed to agree with them of it. I can already hear the thousands of anguished cries about overworked civil servants.
Let me propose a simple example from physics. Work is measured by the distance moved in the direction of the application of force. If there’s no movement, there’s no work. It’s too easy to confuse being busy with working.
Endless meetings at which nothing is accomplished, endless filling out of forms that nobody will ever look at, and endless reports that no one will ever read are not work. They can keep you very busy, however. This is not a problem unique to government. I have yet to encounter any large organization in which there aren’t any number of people who are very busy and undoubtedly consider themselves overworked who are not actually working in the sense of producing motion. It’s true of companies, governments, not-for-profits, you name it.