Do You Really Want the Government in Charge of More Things?
Recall, if you will, the many positive experiences you’ve had interacting with a government agency or employee…go ahead, I’ll wait.
If your experiences are anything like my own, positive experiences have been few and far between. Whether it was at a local office, like the DMV or the tax office or a national agency, such as the IRS (Please don’t audit me) or the SSA, most of us have had far more negative experiences than positive. This doesn’t mean the people working there are bad people. People of all sorts line up to do these different jobs and they have both good days and bad days, but my encounters with Government agencies of all sorts have been almost universally frustrating.
These jobs are done by people who have little incentive to do their jobs better. In a kind of what came first, the chicken or the egg dichotomy, expectations for excellence or even competence remain low all around. No one looks forward to a visit to these offices. People dread dealing with any of these agencies. A phone call to try and get help is put off over and over again. Generally, the only thing positive you hear about dealing with the government involves things not going quite as bad as you thought they might.
All of this makes it particularly shocking that many people seem to be in favor of expanding the federal government, putting them in charge of more things all the time. In much the same model of the agencies mentioned above, this would mean that for more and more of the things you need to do in life, you would be dealing with people who have little motivation for doing their job well. Instead, you would have more red tape, more regulations and more jobs created for public bureaucrats to do a job that didn’t exist before.
Unlikely many Americans, I have had the opportunity to live outside of the United States and to see what another country’s systems look like. Even more unusually, I actually had the opportunity to live in a country that went in the opposite direction. While living in a Central Asian country, I was able to experience the privatization of several industries where they were taken out of government control and given to the open market. Here I’ll share a few of those experiences.
Example 1: Home phone and internet — When I arrived in Istanbul in 2000, the government was in the process of allowing a for profit phone company to be setup, which would take the place of the archaic government owned and operated telecom system. Soon after signing a contract and moving into our apartment, we applied for both our home phone and internet. The phone company was slow as molasses and when you looked inside the switch box at the entrance of my apartment, it didn’t give you a lot of hope for things to ever be resolved correctly.
Eight months later, we finally had a working phone line. I was told this was typical. I later learned that it was possible to bribe someone and they would hook it up for you sooner, but the person who recommended this to me also said that it was possible they would shut it off again if they came and found it had been done illegally. There also seemed to be a way to bribe someone from the telecom if you could find the right person to talk to. The internet was with a newer/less archaic branch of the government (cable tv/internet), so it only took 4 months for our 256k down/64k up “broadband” to be installed.
Less than a year after my telephone was switched on, the private company took over the telephone company and within a short time, they added ADSL service. Less than a year after I had tried to sign up for my own telephone line, I was able to go in and sign up for someone else to have a line. The process was easy and very straight forward, even for me as a foreigner, and within 2 weeks, they had a working telephone. Within a few years, there were multiple competitors in the home internet game and it was possible to choose from a variety of companies and technologies, all of which would have your home internet working within 48 hours.
Example 2: Car registration — having a car in a megacity like Istanbul is a mixed blessing. The flexibility it provides is contrasted with the challenge of navigating horrible traffic congestion and limited parking. Every 1–3 years, you also had to deal with the dreaded car registration bureau. This basically involved driving into a giant parking lot and figuring out where to go amongst a sea of cars with no signs or directions. You would ask people when you could and line up behind people who you hoped were in the right line. You would have to go into a building with your car papers and hope they didn’t flag you for having a surprise unpaid parking ticket or traffic violation, which was always a risk in the big city. This took hours and in the end you were at the mercy of the inspection agent, hoping he would pass your vehicle. I used to take my young toddlers with me as they were often quicker to get you through if you had a child with you. (Don’t judge)
In recent years, a private company was contracted by the government to run the car inspections. Now, there is a professional website that you make appointments at for your car inspection at a variety of locations around the city. The site checks to see if you have any tax/fine debt and informs you before you can make the appointment. It gives you a full list of all the things you will need to turn in when you get there. When you arrive there is a numbered system. They check to make sure you have all the appropriate paperwork, then give you a number. You then wait in your car until your number shows on a screen and line up in the appropriate place. Usually very busy, but now possible to get in and out in an hour.
Example 3 — health care. This country is unusual in that they have both a private and public health care system. The public system is “free”, but that is too high a cost to pay for most who can afford to pay anything. Public hospitals are poorly outfitted and overcrowded and the wait for most procedures can stretch into the months. The private health care system is big business and they not only cater to those who can afford it locally, but practice health care tourism by running well regarded, successful medical facilities. Many people pay for private insurance even though they have access to free care through the public system. The difference in experience between a visit to the public clinic and a private hospital is so shocking, it is difficult to believe they are in the same country.
These examples are just a few of the ones I experienced. My general observations were that the government run entities had no incentive to improve their operations, do their jobs well or provide any customer care or compassion. The jobs were bad jobs and it led to bad attitudes with the people that you engaged with. Money was not invested, but instead put into the pockets of everyone who existed along the way. Some offices I visited had anywhere between 5–13 different people who had to check a different part of your document, with the obvious goal of creating more government jobs, rather than a better, more efficient system.
I have now lived in a total of 3 different countries, and I have visited more than a dozen more. In all of my experiences and travels, I can’t think of a single thing that would make me think it is a good idea to have the government be in charge of more segments of society, and yet the push to turn over more and more to the government has never been stronger. If you have a differing opinion, I invite you to share it in the comments or with a response. However, if you don’t, please join me in speaking out against government expansion. Despite what I lived through, history has shown that when government is expanded, it rarely shrinks again.