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Letter: The Showroom

The recent rancor, ballyhoo, and donnybrook over the enormous salaries of school superintendents, police chiefs, fire commissioners, and other upper echelon civil servants  (and a few lower echelon ones as well) is best understood when we consider that these people are essentially support staff. What do I mean?

Imagine frequenting a BMW dealership. The floors are buffed, the carpeting clean, the windows smudge-free, the air conditioning working in the summer, the heating on in the winter, the showroom well-lighted, the lawn mowed, the hedges trimmed, the snow shoveled, and the plumbing in the building in working order. How does this happen? Because there’s a janitor on staff. He provides a vital service to BMW in making the dealership a clean, pleasant, and safe place for customers for which he receives a good salary and benefits package. As important as the showroom janitor is, however, as vital as his service might be, BMW doesn’t pay him more than the dealership’s general manager and doesn’t staff its showroom almost entirely with janitors. The reason for this is simple: the purpose of the BMW showroom is to sell German-made cars, not employ janitors. Moreover, janitors do not generate BMW’s profits. That comes from the sale of automobiles.

Over the years, the salaries of superintendents, chiefs, commissioners, and other public sector functionaries has dramatically increased while, considering the increased cost of living, the incomes of the taxpayers paying those salaries has declined. We have become a BMW dealership that hires fewer and fewer salesmen, sells fewer and fewer cars, but continues to employ more and more janitors at ever-increasing salaries.

Paul Manton