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Dear Government,

Thank you for your recent interest in making available publicly funded research papers. There was a point in time where the best publication practice was via privately-funded publishing houses. Today, however, we must take advantage of the technology available to us and distribute all future research through publicly-funded .gov websites. It is what is best for the public.

That is all. Voice some support?

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Barack Obama:

As I said yesterday, the economic crisis we face demands that we invest immediately in a series of measures that will help save or create two and a half million jobs and put tax cuts in the pockets of the hard-pressed middle class. Many of those new jobs will come in areas such as energy independence, technology, and health care modernization that will strengthen our economy for the future.

But if we’re going to make the investments we need, we must also be willing to shed the spending we don’t. In these challenging times, when we are facing both rising deficits and a sinking economy, budget reform is not an option. It is an imperative.  We cannot sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness, or exist solely because of the power of a politician, lobbyist, or interest group.  We simply cannot afford it.

This isn’t about big government or small government. It’s about building a smarter government that focuses on what works.

Chalk me up as a smart-government liberal.  This is what Obama does.  He doesn’t concede the framings and paradigms that currently exist, he challenges them, and remakes them.  This is what makes him great.  Most Democrats would try to win the spin war to avoid the big government criticism, but Obama confronts it head on, and preemptively.

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Yglesias has me yelling “YES!” at my monitor again

The larger issue here, however, is that members of congress and high-level executive branch officials need to be paid more. These people make decent salaries — they’re not poor. But at the same time, folks like a backbench member of the House of Representatives or the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America are supposed to be important actors in American society. It’s not a good idea for them to be making orders of magnitude less money than important people in the private sector. Somewhat less, sure. But over time the relative salary of a cabinet secretary versus a corporate executive has eroded enormously for no good reason — it’s not as if the budget savings involved are large enough to make an appreciable difference.

Meanwhile, this becomes a problem when you get deeper down into the regulatory agencies. If the EPA is supposed to be able to assess the level of pollution somewhere and take a bad actor to court if he violates the law, then the EPA needs to have good scientists and good lawyers working for it. That means those people need to be paid salaries that are competitive with what people in those fields can make in the private sector. If you don’t do that, then you either get people who are incompetent or, worse, the “revolving door” phenomenon in which the real value of government work is to cash in later by defecting to the private sector in a way that corrupts the regulatory process.

I’ve been saying this for years.  Government sucks because it hires low-talent employees (generally).  In order to make government better you need to hire high-talent employees, and to do that you need to pay higher salaries.

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