How Many Electricians Does It Take to Screw In a Light Bulb?

Or rather, how much time and how many electricians should it take to screw in a light bulb?  The truth is that you really don't need one at all, but I suppose that if you happen to have a sparky or two hanging around, then you would really need just one.  And it would take only a few moments to complete.  However, if we're talking about a local government agency contracting to have this task performed, then the answer to the first question may come as bit of a shock to the taxpayer.

As a young electrical contractor, I was first introduced into the surreal world of government work back in 1999.  Let's just say it was for a California South Bay Area county.

My company was asked to provide a proposal for the hourly labor rate that we would charge to perform several miscellaneous "Y2K" electrical projects at various county-owned buildings prior to the end of the year.  We ended up winning the contract, which definitely made my guys happy because they were able to cash in on the prevailing wage rates (the equivalent of union wages) that we were required to pay them.  I found the arrangement attractive as well because we had to supply only the manpower, while the county provided all of the necessary direction for the men.  Seemed like a win/win.

Most of the assignments were fairly straightforward troubleshooting or repair types of projects, and according to the guys, there was absolutely no pressure to work at lightning speed.  They definitely enjoyed the higher wages they were earning -- for a while. 

At the end of the workday one afternoon, I spoke with the guys and received some negative feedback about what they had been asked to do on that particular day.  I was really surprised by their moods, given the amount of money they were making.

It turns out that the two of them were assigned the task of replacing a single light bulb -- unbelievably, they were asked by their temporary boss at the county to make the assignment last the entire day.  Granted, it was a large metal-halide, or high-pressure-sodium, lamp that was fairly high off the ground, but it still should have taken one man no more than about twenty minutes to complete the task.

Construction is a fast-paced environment, and my team was used to being as productive as possible (I lose my business and they lose their jobs if we're not productive), so they were naturally extremely uncomfortable with being asked to be so unproductive.  Because they felt so uncomfortable with their assignment, they did attempt to find some additional things to do in order to keep themselves busy, like inspecting existing electrical, cleaning, sweeping, etc.  I did make sure that they were kept busy for the remainder of the contract.

I'm not sure how much you'd be willing to pay an electrician to change just one lamp, but I'm sure you would absolutely blow a fuse if you were asked to pay (as taxpayers did) the almost $1,100 that the county paid my company to replace just one light bulb on that day.  The county did in fact "party like it's 1999," but it did so on the taxpayer's dime. 

While not all of the tasks were as blatantly wasteful as the one given on that day, it seems as though my company was hired to help dispose of some "surplus" cash that the county was given for those "Y2K" projects.  Basically it's the same concept as one of those "use it or lose it" year-end monetary bonfires we've all heard about. 

Anyone who's ever had the "luxury" of running a (non-crony) business understands that this kind of treatment of capital is 180 degrees out of phase from how the free market works -- and the free market does work!  This is just another example of the costly consequences of people having the freedom to play around with other people's money while being safely insulated from those pesky free-market forces.   

If President Obama was even remotely serious about job-creation, he would quit with the childish "Occupy Wall Street" mentality and embrace the one thing that the government is capable of doing to help the creation of jobs (in the private sector), which is to just get out of the way of the job-creators and start unscrewing the inhibitory taxes, regulations, spending, and unnecessary waste that are currently impeding any real economic recovery.

Instead, our president keeps trying to answer another question: how many tax dollars does it take to create a job?  Unfortunately for the taxpayer, the answer will never be a static number, as the question is based upon the false pretense that government stimulus money is able to provide any meaningful job growth.

Scott blogs at