Dear Big Daddy,
I got a state job to get the benefits. I aced the first assignment, and now my boss gives me everything. My co-workers show up four hours a day to sell stuff on eBay. Help!
–Public sector, private desperation
One of the formative experiences of my younger days was following the McCarthy hearings. These proceedings afflicted upon our great nation some of the most ham-handed and unintentionally amusing committee chairmanship I have ever been unfortunate enough to see. Old Joe forgot rule No. 1 of a successful media politician: The booze is for after you rip the witnesses to shreds.
The boozy redbaiter also helped forge an atmosphere of fear and hostility towards our Russian neighbors. I mean, they can’t all be as bad as the ones who always show up at the Capitol, can they? When communism fell, we moved onto new xenophobias. Marauding Ivans were replaced by socialist Swedes and chain-smoking Frogs, crushing their populations under the iron fist of free health care.
Yet there is a thriving socialist democracy that is not so far away, physically or conceptually. Where is this strange and frightening land? As they said in the famous ad back in my day, you’re soaking in it. It’s a magical place, this People’s Republic of Sactown, a veritable land of milk and CalPERS. The hours are short, the vacations are long and all the compensation packages are above average.
Like many desirable countries, they’re pretty picky about which immigrants they take. So picky that some rag named the Capitol Weekly survived for 17 years just telling by people how to get in. Unlike most countries, they don’t need the best and brightest, or a cheap supply of manual labor to abuse.
Instead, our public-employment sector is like a young lady with daddy issues. She’ll pick the suitor who seems most likely to give her the attention she so desperately craves–which also happens to be the one most likely to mistreat her once they’re in the door. The exams, the endless interviews, the cavity searches, the ritual scarification–it’s all part of a system designed to choose the most desiring, if not the most desirable.
Many people work hard to get jobs that will require them to work harder still. But those jobs will usually satisfy a life’s passion–especially if that passion is to make a wheelbarrow full of money. But no one would go through that kind of hell to become an SSM1 or a C3PO or any of those other obscure classifications state workers throw around like a secret language–except that those oddly named jobs come with a lifetime’s supply of slack.
Unfortunately for you, my friend, nobody sent you the memo. Now you’re suffering a crisis of competence. As in you showed some, and you’re paying the price.
There are state workers out there who are qualified and hardworking to a fault–and I think you’re one of those unfortunate few without whom state government would not function. Since you’ve already poisoned the water where you are, my usual advice would be to try to move over to another agency where no one knows what you’re capable of. The time-honored way of doing this is to undertake an ambitious program of sloth and snafus until your boss “helps” you find a position elsewhere.
For all your talents, though, I’m not sure you’re capable of it. The fact that you’re asking my advice implies that you’re too conscientious. So I’d try another tack. Have a talk with your boss about the fact that Internet businesses run by state workers out of their cubicles are one of the cornerstones of our economy. The eBay vendors, the real-estate scams, the clandestine gerbil-fighting rings–they’re all integral to keeping the world’s fifth to seventh largest economy humming along.
Tell your boss you’ll keeping working–but you want a couple hours a day to yourself to get in on the action. You don’t actually have to start a business. As long as you produce as much as four drones (and I’m confident you can), you can sleep under your desk for a few ticks each day and your boss won’t care.
As any bureaucratic veteran knows, sometimes standing up for yourself means lying down.