Thingish Things

Age-Old Questions

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Mar• 01•11

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported today that government is inefficient, thereby ensuring its own budget line.

It found tens of billions of dollars in overlapping services – 82 federal programs to increase teacher efficacy, 80 programs to spur economic development, 15 agencies overseeing food safety, and 20 running homeless services.  The list goes on. In all, the nonpartisan GAO found between $100 and $200 billion in duplicative spending.

All these programs, I’m sure, are well meaning.  But do we need every one of them? Probably not.  Do we need any of them?  Probably.

In a recent email exchange with a close and lifelong (so far) friend on the political Left, I offered that liberals see the world for how it could be, and conservatives see the world for how it is.  I think that’s a fair assessment, and he graciously agreed.

In this GAO story, we see those two viewpoints in action: Government stepping in to make the world a better place – who doesn’t  want safe food and better teachers? – and then doing it poorly.

Conservatives will argue that the results of those efforts, as outlined by today’s GAO report, are predictable, indeed, they are inherent in government enterprise. Liberals will argue that only government has the resources to undertake these worthy and altruistic efforts; what is needed is greater efficiency of effort, not abandonment.

Collectivism is at the core of this seemingly endless argument.  Does it work?  Or, more importantly, to what degree does it fail? I think it fails to a prohibitive degree in most cases. My good friend thinks it succeeds to a degree sufficient for further nurturing.

Can a perfect balance of government ever be found?  Thus far it has not been.  It has proven as elusive as the personal diet.

This argument started long before my friend and I were born, and I don’t think either of us will settle it in our lifetimes. But if we’re lucky enough to live another 30 or 40 years, and if the republic still stands, we at least will have something to talk about.

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  1. Your Friend says:

    A very well balanced perspective on this issue. I’m sure we won’t live long enough to see a resolution, but I’m just as sure that a collectivist government is the ultimate ideal of human government. It seems like I drift further left the more I think about this. It reminds me of the disconnect between the faith of the religious right and the political principles of that same side of the aisle. The death penalty should not make sense to a Christian. Can you imagine the golden rule saying something like “kill yourself as you would kill others?”

    This always brings me back to corporate America and greed. Sticking with the religious approach (which is hard for a sinner and an unbeliever), one of my favorite JC quotes has always been “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Pretty straight forward stuff and something that, for me, argues that we should all be more concerned with the most needy among us rather than with our bank accounts (easy to say, until you have kids and start planning for a college education).

    I’m sure I’m jumping around too much here, but here’s where I go next. The protesters in Madison are right because it is not the fault of the teachers that collective bargaining provided them with a pension. It is the greed of Wall Street that sold countless mortgage-backed securities to those same pensions, securities that Wall Street knew were completely worthless. So, wealthy investors made a ton of money selling those securities to teachers who make about $60k a year and then when the securities turned out to be worth less than toilet paper, they walked away. And amid the global economic collapse that followed, the right has decided that it’s best to penalize the teachers further and take away their right to bargain as a union. Next I suppose it will be the five day work week, the eight hour day, and health insurance. Anyone willing to scrap the child labor laws? I’ve got three kids who could use a job in some sweat shop…

  2. Bill O'Reilly says:

    Funny that we started in the same place and veered in completely opposite directions.

    What’s maybe most ironic, though, is that I have have worked in government and politics for as long as you have worked in corporate America. Each is us is deeply cynical of what we know best.

    We may be in more trouble than we think!

  3. Your Friend says:

    Minor point of clarification — I’ve never worked IN corporate America, I’ve only worked FOR it. Probably the same with you and politics. Truly easy to hate our masters. Human nature.

    We’re not really so far away, we just see the place we are differently. I see that deregulation of the financial industry lead directly to Global Economic Collapse (GEC). To me, government has a role in preventing that from happening because people, left to a completely free market, will tear each other limb from limb. I always take positions to a logical, if slightly extreme, end. I’m still waiting on your answer to this — if you don’t believe in government, are you an anarchist? I do believe in a free market, just not one that crushes the frail and the weak and I defy anyone to make a salient argument proving that a completely free market will not do so. All historical evidence suggests that people (especially people organized in the form of the echo chamber of a corporate entity), ungoverned and unchecked, will take advantage in any way they can. So, where do we strike the balance and who is responsible for saying “oh, yeah, that looks balanced?”

    Hysterical rebuttal to recent D. Brooks article —

  4. Oh, I’m nothing that exotic. And besides, I’m not that talented with a spray paint can. I absolutely see functions for government. I just have more faith in my fellow man acting individually than acting collectively. I simply don’t trust committees. To borrow a WFB line: I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.

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