In Jim Cook's Archive

This Is A Recording

The other day I had reason to call a government agency. On the first dial I got a machine that gave me a choice of recorded options, none of which I wanted. I kept calling trying to get a human to answer. Finally, after much dialing I got the name of the person I needed. I called his number and got a recorded message that promised to call me if I left my number. That was a week ago and I still haven’t heard back.

I shudder to think what happens when we turn more and more of our economy over to the government. Newly elected politicians always think they’re the anointed ones that can make the government more effective and efficient. However, nobody can. That’s because the government has no bottom line. Since they don’t operate under a profit or loss system, they have no objective standard to measure results. Their yardstick for success is their own opinion. They often measure effectiveness by how much money they spend. Inevitably they lobby for more funding; there is no incentive for cost cutting or sound financial management among bureaucrats.

Government doesn’t rely on merit the way business does. They tend to measure employees by credentials and educational degrees. Merit takes a back seat to not rocking the boat. The government hires and promotes people based on race and gender rather than ability and talent. Such policies can overlook the deserving and reward the incompetent. The work ethic suffers when a good effort and a poor effort are treated the same. Employees who can’t cut it are rarely laid off or fired.

Bureaucratic management has more rules and regulations than does private business because the law imposes restrictions on arbitrary government authority. There is little room for flexibility or independent thinking. Common sense is sacrificed to follow the letter of the law. These rigid policies destroy innovation and creativity. Despite tremendous overkill in staffing at every level the government can’t get out of its own way.

All too often political influence affects the quality of work that government does. Special interest groups and lobbyists tug the government in all directions at once. The bigger the government with all its regulations and hoops to jump through the greater the chance of corruption. Government always bites off more than it can chew. Instead of doing a good job on a few things it does a bad job at a lot of things.

We’ve all experienced the ineptitude of government. If you want to see the greatness of free markets and capitalism all you need do is turn and look around you. If you want to see the effectiveness of government all you need do is pick up the phone and dial them. If you get a real person to answer please let me know how you did it.

(Most of these arguments were originally made in the excellent book, “Bureaucracy,” by Ludwig Von Mises.)

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