Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Op-Ed: Is Government Inherently Inefficient?

Created: 22 August, 2012
Updated: 13 October, 2022
6 min read


When politicians cross party lines, it is often thought that they are betraying their partisan ideologies. Yet those who unwaveringly adhere to partisan ideologies are betraying common sense. Liberals seem eager to entrust more functions to the government, citing aspirations for social betterment, while conservatives question if government is effective enough to handle such duties, citing the massive budgetary deficits. In today’s America, the issues vary vastly, while the ideologies don’t, and our problems go unsolved.

We argue about whether government can do things effectively, or whether it’s inherently flawed. We forget that the government’s capacity and suitability for solving problems depends upon the specifics of the challenge. Consider, for instance, the post office. The privatization of postal services was once a libertarian daydream. Increasingly, the numbers show us that it may be an inevitable occurrence. In 2010, the heavily subsidized USPS experienced a net loss of $8.5 billion while performing its increasingly obsolete duties. Last year, the agency had an annual loss of $5.1 billion. In 2016, the USPS expects to lose $21.3 billion a year.

Let’s examine a scenario in which a grandmother in a small town in Wyoming routinely mails cards and small items to her grandchildren. She is on a fixed income. Surely, it’s a worthwhile thing for Grandma to be able to use an affordable service to show her sentiments, but we must ask ourselves whether it makes sense for this to be done with the financially unsustainable, archaic infrastructure of the existing postal service.

FedEx and UPS have done what was once deemed impossible. With incredible fleets of planes and trucks, these companies are able to deliver any item of any reasonable size to any other part of the United States within a day. It’s a remarkable feat.

Should the US Postal Service cease to exist, does anyone really think that these companies wouldn’t have the ability or incentive to offer a low rate for smaller and less urgent mail?

If it is demonstrably unprofitable for them to service sparsely populated and rural areas, they could receive a government subsidy for doing so, and these subsidies would be insignificant compared to the present massive expense being incurred. Mobile FedEx post offices could be dispatched - with a truck coming into the Main Street of grandma’s small town once or twice a week. The private infrastructure is already here and it is functionally impressive. Livelihoods may change, but lives are not at stake. It can’t be rightly argued that this is something that only government can do effectively.

Conversely, the recent healthcare reform law will create a strange perversion of private insurance companies under intensive government orchestration. A healthcare system should acknowledge that we are all susceptible to inevitable health problems, and should consequently enact effective mechanisms of collective financing to lessen individual risk and ensure adequate care for all. Will the new legislation accomplish that, or will it prove to be woefully maladapted for the challenge at hand?

Insurance will cease to be insurance in any conventional sense. Insurance has always been somewhat fraudulent - if people’s health expenses were really covered by those monthly payments, struggling families would never have to learn the word “co-pay.” It obviously is a good thing that people with preexisting conditions will now have a means of access to medical care. However, from the insurance industry’s perspective, the guaranteed-issue provision removes the ability of agencies to determine premiums and increase profits by utilizing actuarial science. Although higher volumes of tax mandated customers and other measures are intended to compensate for that, insurance companies will nevertheless be financially motivated to deny claims wherever technically possible - something that they have a long and tragic history of doing.

How can we manage risk amongst everyone if insurance companies are taking profits out of the collective funds? It’s like putting everyone in a ship that has a gaping hole in it, and then arguing that the incoming water is essential to make the ship float better. It makes no sense. Under a truly public single-payer model, that leftover money could be reinvested into medical technology, research, and infrastructure. The expansion of Medicaid required by the healthcare reform law may seem like a more progressive step towards a viable public solution, but sadly, services for the poor tend to be poor in quality. Without bringing the middle class into the fold, there will be insufficient political pressure to ensure that Medicaid runs smoothly. Thus, this inadequate microcosm of the publicly funded model may actually stigmatize any efforts to enact it broadly and equally, to the benefit of every American.

When determining the proper means for meeting the objectives of our healthcare system and postal service, the most logical solutions come from different ends of the ideological spectrum - and we should accept that. Contemporary developments must also inform the adaptation of our systems. The internet has greatly decreased the need for postal services due to the advent of email, but by expanding the number of freelance and telecommuting jobs, the internet has greatly increased the need for universal healthcare as opposed to employer-based benefits. Our reforms should be engineered around modern realities.

It must also be conceded that the processes of government do seem in certain instances to be elongated and overly bureaucratic. However, we should examine the cause of why that is instead of merely lamenting it as an inherent and unfortunate property of the public sector. It is not simply due to the absence of an empowering profit motive. Government programs are often inefficient because government workers avoid bold decision-making in order to ensure their own career longevity. They protect themselves with committees, feasibility studies, and red tape. Perhaps they would not be as opposed to streamlining processes and implementing innovation if our culture of accountability was more measured and reasonable.

When a public figure makes a mistake, the public and the media make a grand and ostentatious trial out of it. Too often, there isn’t enough concern for actually rectifying the error and examining the context. It’s more satisfying to see the matter in Wild West terms, in which the culprit is wearing a black hat and must be hanged. This is a cable TV-encouraged mentality that leads to dramatic mea culpas, high profile resignations, and a complete lack of actual reform. If the public and the media were more willing to investigate details and allocate systemic blame instead of individualizing blame, government workers would be less fearful of trying out new ideas that could potentially improve the efficacy of federal programs.

So, how do we move forward? The blindly ideological two parties have been bankrupting America and jeopardizing the well-being of Americans. When a politician independently acknowledges this and crosses or disregards party lines, it often results in a reputation of political disloyalty, but neglecting to solve different problems differently is an act of disloyalty towards the constituency.

The American people need practical solutions, not partisan sermons. A great irony has befallen us: Our government is spending too much, yet not doing enough. We need a government that avoids fiscal redundancies and fulfills moral requirements. In the coming Presidential election, everyone should evaluate the third party options. If we want to reshape our government, we will first need to redefine ourselves as voters. If the two-party system can’t reform differing sectors appropriately, we must replace the two-party system. It is within our civic capacity to do so.