Beaches, Sunshine, and Public-Sector Pay: Theory and Evidence on Amenities and Rent Extraction by Government Workers

Jan K. Brueckner, David Neumark

NBER Working Paper No. 16797
Issued in February 2011, Revised in May 2012
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

The absence of a competitive market may enable public-sector workers to extract rents from taxpayers in the form of high pay, especially when public-sector workers are unionized. On the other hand, this rent extraction may be suppressed by the ability of taxpayers to vote with their feet, leaving jurisdictions where public-sector workers extract high rents. However, although migration of taxpayers may limit rent-seeking, public-sector workers may be able to extract higher rents in regions where high amenities mute the migration response. We develop a theoretical model that predicts such a link between public-sector wage differentials and local amenities, and we test the model's predictions by analyzing variation in these wage differentials and amenities across states. We find that public-sector wage differentials are, in fact, larger in the presence of high amenities, with the effect stronger for unionized public-sector workers who are likely better able to exercise political power in extracting rents. The implication is that the mobility of taxpayers is insufficient to prevent rent-seeking behavior of public-sector workers from leading to higher public-sector pay.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16797

Brueckner, Jan, and David Neumark, “Beaches, Sunshine, and Public-Sector Pay: Theory and Evidence on Amenities and Rent Extraction by Government Workers,” forthcoming in American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. citation courtesy of

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