'Balancing' Employment: The Way We Live Now

GEORGE F. WILL

February 25, 1993|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- At Hyde Park, where he placed a single red rose on FDR's grave, President Clinton lamented that for 12 years Republican presidents tried ''to cramp the role of government.'' His implication was that now government will be unleashed. Well.

His displeasure should have been directed also at the Founders, who designed the system of separation of powers -- of checks and balances, of limited and enumerated powers -- designed, in part, to cramp government's role. And during the 12 ''cramping'' Republican years, virtually no government programs were terminated, most grew, federal civilian employment rose (even during the darkest years of the Reagan Terror -- 1981-1989 -- it rose 216,000), and federal outlays rose from $591 billion to $1.5 trillion.

The grandiosity of Mr. Clinton's plans for government growth can be gauged by the fact that he considers this a record of a ''cramped'' role for government. And remember, government's growth and cost are vastly understated by mere budget totals.

There are also all the compliance costs of such measures as (to take just three from the Bush era) the amendments to the Clean Air Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1991 Civil Rights Act. The Clinton administration already has contributed additional compliance costs to the burden of doing business: the Family and Medical Leave Act.

A recent study by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress concluded that just since 1988, new regulations, including a 27 percent increase in the minimum wage since 1990 (with another increase planned), raised per-worker costs for small businesses at least 33 percent.

It is difficult to calculate, even to the nearest $100 billion, the annual costs of all regulations. However, $400 billion -- a sum larger than the federal deficit -- is a conservative estimate. To be sure, some social benefits do come from regulations. But who believes we would choose to purchase all those benefits if their real prices were prominently fixed to them?

And then there are the costs of the purely pernicious ''diversity'' regulations, as enforced by a government unfortunately not noticeably cramped during the 12 Republican years. In a stunning article in the February 15 issue of Forbes magazine, Peter Brimelow and Leslie Spencer report on the sacrifice of merit hiring to quotas, and other consequences of this country's exquisitely misnamed ''equal employment laws.'' The cost of all this -- a huge hidden tax -- may already have depressed the gross domestic product by four percentage points -- approximately what we spend on the entire public school system.

Today American business is infested with affirmative-action officers. These private sector bureaucrats are busy implementing racial and sexual discrimination (discriminatory laws) on behalf of various government-approved minorities (and one majority -- women) known as ''protected classes.'' The object is to produce a ''balanced'' work force.

Corporations with federal contracts of more than $50,000 -- hundreds of thousands of corporations -- must spend billions of dollars developing affirmative-action plans for achieving payrolls that reflect the composition of the qualified work force. All American employers with more than 15 employees come under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures and can be sued if their work force ''balance'' strikes someone as ''wrong.''

Messrs. Brimelow and Spencer report this hair-curling testimony from Thomas Maggiore, a Phoenix restaurateur:

''In 1987 EEOC's local field office wrote me a letter saying they had reason to believe I didn't have enough women 'food servers' and 'busers.' No woman had complained against me. So the EEOC advertised in the local paper to tell women whose job applications we had rejected -- or even women who had just thought of applying -- that they could be entitled to damages. Twenty-seven women became plaintiffs in a lawsuit against me. The EEOC interviewed me for hours to find out what kind of person I was. . . . I supplied them with hundreds of pounds of paper. I had to hire someone full-time for a year just to respond to EEOC demands.

''Six months ago I finally settled. I agreed to pay $150,000 in damages, and as jobs open up, to hire the women on the EEOC's list. . . . I have to advertise twice a year even if I have no openings, just to add possible female employees to my files. I also had to hire an EEOC-approved person to teach my staff how not to discriminate. I employ 12 food servers in these two restaurants. Gross sales, around $2 million. How much did it all cost me? Cash outlay, about $400,000.''

Mr. Maggiore's ordeal is but one of many comparable outrages that occurred during the 12 years when Republicans had government on what Mr. Clinton considers too short a leash. Imagine, if you can, how much more omnipresent, officious, intrusive, bullying and expensive government will be now that it is staffed and directed by people who, like the president, think government's role has been too ''cramped.''

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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