On the question of whether Federal workers are overpaid relative to private sector workers, He writes,
The Federal Salary Council, a government advisory body composed of labor experts and government-employee representatives, regularly finds that federal employees make about a third less than people doing similar work in the private sector. The conservative American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, on the other hand, have estimated that federal employees make 14 percent and 22 percent more, respectively, than comparable private-sector workers.
Pointer from Mark Thoma. My comments:
1. The empirical estimates are supposed to “control for” the many factors that could affect salaries: benefit packages, education level of workers, other measures of skill, etc. But obviously, there is no clear and unambiguous choice of how to control for these factors, or else everyone would get the same estimate. Ed Leamer hit the profession over the head with this 35 years ago.
2. Could you have predicted ahead of time which organization’s “research” would find a result favorable to Federal workers and which organization would find unfavorable results? Of course you could. So how do you sustain the belief that normative economics and positive economics are distinct from one another, that economic research cleanly separates facts from values?
3. A number of us have observed that the rate of exit from the public sector to the private sector is not terribly high, and that the ratio of applicants to vacancies in public sector jobs is not terribly low. If public sector pay were too low, you would expect government agencies to be rife with unfilled positions, due to high exit and low entry.
4. Point (3) is an example of what Noah Smith would dismiss as “casual intuition.” But in this instance, I would argue that casual intuition has a higher signal-to-noise ratio than does formal empiricism.