In a recent conversation with my predecessor, former Denton Publications’ Publisher Bill Denton, we compared the differences of operating a private sector company in his era (1960 through the late ’80s) compared to today. Small business was once thought of as the backbone of the country. Nothing could compare to hanging out your own shingle, creating a product or providing a unique and valuable service. One poured their heart, cash, time and that of their family’s, while taking great risk on the American free enterprise system as a way of creating a better life for themselves and generations to come.
But that dream may be slipping away. Small businesses now employ 44 percent of the private sector jobs, but over the past couple of decades, they have generated 65 percent of all new jobs. According to the Brookings Institution, the number of startups have fallen more than 23 percent from its height in 2006. In recent years, business bankruptcy rates more than doubled, most of which were small businesses, defined as companies employing less then 500 people.
Between 1950 and 1980, the average compensation in the public and private sectors moved in lockstep. But after 1980, public sector compensation growth began to outpace private sector compensation growth, and by the mid-1990s public sector workers had a substantial pay advantage. In the boom years of the late-1990s, private sector workers closed the gap a bit, but public sector pay moved ahead again in the 2000s.
Today, with benefits, job security and the opportunities for advancement, government has become the clear choice when seeking a career. From personal experience over the years, we lose more employees to government jobs than to other private sector employers and when given the choice between what we can afford to pay, plus benefits and days off, a private sector job pales in comparison to working in the public sector.
Clearly when you see the kind of money that gets poured into the political system, the over-bloated spending, the reckless regard for the people’s money and the power of the government to have its way over the private sector, who wouldn’t opt for a government position if given a choice?
The only long-term glimmer of hope I see for the private sector is the American entrepreneurial spirit. We hear firsthand from former employees that working for the government is drone-like work. The passion for the work itself is all too often overwhelmed by the sheer volume, lack of creativity and individual initiative. When the end of the day comes, the work is dropped like a hot potato and the rush for the door is the fastest move of the day by most of their co-workers. Perhaps this is why we see these lavish government conferences with team building exercises featuring line dancing and movie re-enactments to address what’s been reported as poor morale issues in the public sector. Individualism and creativity still beats in the American spirit, and that can’t be purchased with a government paycheck or benefits, at least not yet anyway.
At the end of the day the biggest concern for this private sector employer is will our powerful government continue to use its leverage to stifle private enterprise while forcing it to pay for the ever-growing cost of government?
Throughout mankind the tug of war has always been who can best solve the problems facing society, government or private enterprise? While governments continue to solve society’s shortcomings, it’s always been private ingenuity that has created new technology to advance society. Let’s hope for the sake of future generations that we keep that thought in mind and maintain a proper balance between private and public. We need both, but each has its place in our free society — neither should ever be placed in a subservient role nor an overly dominate role. Both groups should be valued for the role they play in advancing the nation.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.