Every year the Quincy Herald-Whig publishes the salaries of all the public employees in the city including the police, firefighters, and everybody in the public school system. This allows the rest of us to feel anger about how much money some of these people make.
Why don’t we publish the salaries of the employees and managers of all the other businesses in town? That would at least offer us some kind of comparison. I suspect that we don’t do this because most people are afraid that someone would get mad if they knew how much money they make. Information about pay is one of the closest guarded secrets in the business world.
The secrecy surrounding pay levels allows us to focus on the tiny areas where there is no secrecy, such as what we pay teachers, school administrators, police and firefighters.
When a teacher keeps one child out of prison, that teacher saves the taxpayers $30,000 a year for the prison term that the child would have served. When a firefighter keeps a home from being destroyed by fire, someone has just been saved tens of thousands of dollars. When a police officer keeps us from killing each other on the highway, we save the cost of replacing our cars, not to mention our funerals. But we don’t see those good effects. Nobody gets rewarded for stopping a bad thing before it has a chance to occur.
Our public employees help us to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The reason people get upset about paying them more is because secrecy has kept us from thinking about how much we pay others in the business world.