Thursday, April 02, 2009

Government doesn't work

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one." -- Tom Paine
I'd like to revisit PJ O'Rourke's column yesterday that I only gave a brief mention to but that deserves further attention. In the column O'Rourke makes the point that for many public services that we end up paying twice because the government does such a poor job, thus many people pay taxes to support public schools but send their children to private schools, pay taxes for police but then pay for added private security, etc.

The real key takeaway should be that there is almost nothing the government does particularly well.

Really, stop and think about. Would you rather live in public housing or privately run housing? Be treated at a government operated hospital or a private facility? Attend a government run school or a private school? Over the past 30 years would you rather have invested your money in a 401k or Social Security? Send a package via Fedex or the US Post Office? Travel with Southwest or Amtrak?

Think of even the most fundamental functions of government such as providing security. While it is problematic to evaluate the performance of police because of no obvious direct comparison it is worth noting that private security is a $34 billion industry that employs 1.2 million people, which would seem to indicate some room for improvement. Stories of police officer abuse and incompetence are hardly unknown. Government operated prisons aren't a walk in the park either, commonly associated with mismanagement, abuse and neglect.

Even on the national security level there are obvious deficiencies. Waste and abuse in the Defense Department is endemic. While you can certainly argue that the military has succeeded in protecting the country from foreign invasion I think that any fair analysis would note that we benefit heavily from having two oceans as buffers, an underdeveloped and weak neighbor to the south and an underpopulated, pacifist neighbor to the north. Our national security apparatus didn't exactly cover itself in glory with the Dec. 7 or Sep. 11 surprise attacks on U.S. soil either.

The point here is not that the military is staffed with incompetents, should be abolished, or anything of the kind, but simply that even one of the most fundamental and core roles of government is hardly a paragon of effectiveness and effeciency.

If we struggle with even that then how can we hope to expect effective outcomes when the government gets involved in areas that it has little familiarity with such as the automobile sector or ending poverty? Why do we keep voting for more government when its inadequacies and shortcomings are so well documented, somehow hoping for a different outcome? It's the very definition of insanity.

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