Governments aren’t businesses; efficiency isn’t everything


I like to mock politicians in my free time, which is probably the second saddest hobby I have. So with an election cycle gearing up, I’m equal parts optimistic and excited for the high-quality material that is sure to come from campaign speeches and primary debates. But as fun as it is to watch mostly old white men try to empathize with young American minorities, I always get annoyed whenever one of them mentions government inefficiency. They groan about the bureaucracy with its long lines and high costs (which has some merit), but the way I see it the government isn’t meant to be efficient in the first place.

It seems like people forget America is a constitutional democracy, an arguably inefficient form of government since it stifles direct federal action. The Framers literally drew up a government thinking, “How can we make it harder for this country to make laws?” If we’re looking for the most efficient form of government, our answer is a dictatorship where the worst case scenario is Stalin, and there is no best case scenario. The point of democracy is to represent the will of the people which, honestly, takes a disproportionate amount of time, effort and resources to ensure everyone can vote. However, democracy still exists and is promoted because we concluded as a society that everyone deserves a say in their governance, despite the lack of pragmatism. This is why everyone is given the opportunity to vote no matter how uninformed or ignorant they are. This is why there’s a possibility of Donald Trump being our next president.

My main problem is when candidates popularize the idea that a government can be successfully managed the same way as a business. It happened back in 2012 when Mitt Romney suggested his successful business endeavors qualified him to be a similarly successful president. The comparison makes no sense. Presidents exist to promote human welfare while business leaders exist to make profit. Judging the government based on the criteria of an efficient business is like judging Bean by how clean her crate is. Bean is a dog. She has a very different set of responsibilities than we do. While businesses pursue their bottom line, the government pursues goals of social value like justice, order and equality. However, many of these social values aren’t tangible, like money, and can’t be measured to assess the efficient amount of resources to put in. For example, the United States has spent nearly $30 million to protect the 250 red wolves in existence, or $120,000 per wolf. Is that an inefficient use of taxpayer money? If so, should the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just say screw it these wolves aren’t worth more than $5 each? If these efforts were monetarily profitable, the free market should’ve already stepped in. Instead, the government is responsible for upholding them at great loss for the sake of the common good.

The way I see it the government is like a non-profit with many philanthropic causes that takes donations in the form of tax dollars from the citizens. Even if you believe the government is an extortion scheme that takes money with the threat of violence, try really hard to imagine it as a charity so my analogy here can work. The reason people donate to charities (and the reason they even exist) is because they have some value worth investing in but have been deemed unprofitable by the free market. So when the charity’s overhead (administrative costs) gets too high, people get upset. It happened to the Susan G. Komen Foundation when the president was found to be compensated $600,000 a year. The public didn’t want the virtue of philanthropy to be muddled by the profit motive, believing that the two should be mutually exclusive. Granted, my comparison is very simplified. A government’s main goal is to exist in the long-term for future posterity so there will be several situations where they need to blend virtue with profit for pragmatic reasons, but its virtue is still key. And while charities are only concerned with the problem they are trying to solve, the government is also concerned with the ethical propriety of the entire process.

It’s easy to blame the government. When people can’t control private business practices they turn on the entity they most easily can control. There are obvious ways the government can be more efficient but efficiency itself shouldn’t be the goal. Instead let it be establishing justice or securing liberty instead as it was meant to be when we decided to be a constitutional democracy.

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