All you need to know won’t fit in this post

Daniel Mitchel wrote a post a few months ago, but I just came across it recently. Although it’s old news now, it illustrates something important enough to bring up: Simplistic factoids which are replacing real news.

The post is titled “The Chart That Tells You Everything You Need to Know About Whether Public Workers Are Over-Compensated”, and refers to the following diagram:

Chart showing monthly quit rate of 1.6 for private sector and about 0.5 for gov't

This “chart” consists of two big blue rectangles. This chart tells more about what Mitchell thinks of his target audience’s mental capacity than it does about anything else. It’s just two numbers, people. Does Mitchell’s readership really need a big blue and yellow diagram to explain two numbers? Do these two numbers really tell you everything you need to know?

Here’s a few things that the chart doesn’t tell you:

1) A lot of government workers do their jobs because they want to serve the public, even when it’s a public that doesn’t appreciate what they do. Government workers place special needs children in loving homes, defend innocent people who wouldn’t otherwise get a fair trial, help people find jobs, pull people out of burning buildings, remove dangerous people from society, and carry out other vital functions. They do these jobs because it makes them feel good, even though they might make more money fighting their way up a corporate ladder.

2) Almost nobody takes a government job expecting to get rich, but many people take government jobs expecting stability. They hope to do their jobs, get fair pay and benefits, and eventually retire. This kind of person doesn’t quit one job seeking a better opportunity in another.

3) As Sam Hananel, of the Associated Press noted, “A disproportionate number of federal employees are professionals, such as managers, lawyers, engineers and scientists. Over the years, the federal government has steadily outsourced lower-paying jobs to the private sector so that blue-collar workers cooking meals or working in mailrooms now make up just 10 percent of federal employees.”

4) Some private sector jobs really suck. Crazy, abusive bosses and business models that make a point of treating workers poorly because they want high turnover affect the size of the big blue box, but shouldn’t be counted as the standard against what any job should be measured.

You can agree with me or disagree. You can even bring up facts that you feel contradict mine. But at least admit that an intelligent person doesn’t need a bar graph to compare two numbers and, more importantly, two numbers isn’t all the information you need to know if you want to understand the appropriate compensation for government workers.

It would be nice if all of our questions could be answered with a “yes” or a “no”, or if policies could be substantiated with three-word-chants, or if everything we need to know about a subject could be illustrated with two pretty blue boxes on a yellow background. But some things can’t be properly understood without knowing the details. That’s why Herman Cain’s pledge not to sign any bill longer than three pages is an outrageous celebration of simple-mindedness.

All I need to know about astrology might be summed up in a little chart, because I don’t do anything that requires any knowledge of astrology. But if I was planning on making decisions based on the stars, I would read up on the subject. If you’re actually going to vote, or support political causes, you need to know more than what’s being told to you by people who don’t respect your intelligence. Don’t trust anyone who shows you a simple diagram and tells you that it’s all you need to know.

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