Some of My Favorite Public Servants

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Recently by Anthony Gregory: The Right To Lie to the Cops

     

There are no federal holidays for them. They have no national lobbying power. When they fall in the line of duty, no public hosannas are sung to their sacrifices. Yet without these brave men and women, modern civilization as we know it would collapse.

I'm talking about America's neglected public servants. None of them are paid out of government coffers. No taxpayers must be looted on their behalf. They make their money through peaceful exchange alone. And it is an obscenity, but their status as voluntary sector workers renders them forgotten in all their public service.

Taxi Drivers

When you are in an unfamiliar city, cabbies are lifesavers. They often work more than 12-hour days just to get by. Encumbered by the licensing and cartelization that infect almost all taxi industry, these heroes put in the extra effort just to move people safely from point A to point B. Business travel, vacationing, and carefree nights on the town are made possible by these heroes.

With the DUI police state more draconian than ever, it is all the more important that people who wish to paint the town red can get home safely. Taxi drivers make it possible. When you do not want to rely on public transportation to catch a crucial flight, the cabbie will serve you well.

Surely limousine drivers, private shuttle operators, and all private sector workers in transporting the public must be hailed as well. But there is something particularly sad about the taxi driver's hard work so rarely being acknowledged. These folks give up most of their lives, driving around constantly — a very risky business — and many barely scrape by. They rely largely on the generosity of tips, throwing themselves to the mercy of their customers as do few others in the service industry. Strike up a political conversation with one, and you will find a more libertarian fellow than on average. Most of them know the government is a racket and the market is what makes the world go around. Tip them well.

Convenience Store Workers and Gas Station Attendants

Children find it fun to ridicule the guy behind the counter with the Slurpee machine, cigarettes, and beef jerky. Ethnic jokes targeted at this group are among the last kinds tolerated. But even as people grow up, they rarely seem to fully grasp how wrong they were to say a bad word about these keepers of the peace.

Convenience store clerk risks it all, often late at night and in sketchy neighborhoods, to provide the essentials of life for those who need them in a pinch. They provide sustenance. Gas attendants also offer fuel. These are the heirs of the great tradition of the general store, although in ways their line of work is even more gallant. They bring light and a beacon of civilization to the darkness of the urban night. Far more than police, these defenders of security risk their lives to connect us to the matrix of human interaction at all hours. They are frequently robbed even as they make it less likely the rest of us will be attacked. Some ungrateful folks find the prices at these establishments to be steep. But they are a bargain.

Private Security

Private security personnel are libertarian heroes, especially when compared to their public sector counterparts. Generally, the worst that private guards do is work with government police, mostly because the state's laws force their hand.

Yet there is a fundamental distinction. Almost everything private security does is to protect property rights and social peace. They work in a civil manner to combat shoplifting, a crime that eats at the profits of businesses so severely that just a little more could always destroy the victimized business, which in retail so often relies on the smallest of margins to operate. Private security benefits all the customers who seek nothing but friendly exchange. A positive spillover effect is felt on the whole vicinity surrounding the places that hire them. By preserving law and order in their establishment, they are authentic guardians of the general welfare.

Yet they are derided and ostracized and lampooned everywhere. They are scorned as "rent-a-cops," as though they are somehow inferior to the tax leeches that taze suspects to death and drag innocent folks into cages. It is a wonderful fact that private security outnumbers government cops in America and throughout the world. True freedom and safety will come when the only armed guards are hired by businesses with an interest in treating customers with respect, and by other private individuals and voluntarily constituted institutions.

The Unsung Heroes

All throughout the economy, people serve the public through hard work. Yes, they are usually paid, as are government employees, but for some reason this is not held against altruistic state workers the way it is against the selfish individuals of the private workforce. Yes, public servants of the kind I admire do not always serve all segments of society equally — but neither does anyone in the government. The main differences are, as a general rule: private servants to the public benefit all of humankind on balance, they do not take from some so that they can do good by others, and their work is often riskier, and much more helpful, than what we can expect from those getting a government paycheck.

There are plenty of heroes I have left out, from everyone on a hotel staff that makes visitors, guests, and even many who are just walking through feel as welcome as possible to those who build, sell and repair the modern appliances that make modern life so luxurious for the masses; from the auto mechanics, plumbers and locksmiths to the waiters, waitresses, bartenders, busboys, and other restaurant staff who have brought cosmopolitan dining to all classes of society. I especially support the troops who work in the various food industries — catching fish, hunting game, farming, picking fruit, shipping food, fixing refrigerators, serving, mongering — without whom our connection to the rest of the world would be deprived an important dimension.

I have only mentioned a fraction of the most overlooked public servants. Many of them work hidden from the view of the commons. They fix computers, behind the scenes. They develop movies and art and music. They design buildings and concoct business plans and deliver babies and sew dresses and wake up at 3AM every day to bake bread or stock shelves. Perhaps I will get to them in another article. Here I have mostly focused on some of my favorite ones lost in plain sight, the ones we see every day and yet are all too often invisible for all they give and how little they take.

Next time someone in the market does you right, in particular if they are of the neglected classes of workers, thank him for his public service. You will be surprised how much it can mean to someone to hear it, after the sheer confusion is overcome. Most of these people are rarely thanked, don't expect it, and are taken aback when a patron shows he really understands the situation. Public teachers, firemen, cops, soldiers, bureaucrats, civil engineers and so many others are praised everyday. Children are taught at a young age to revere these government officials, many of whom still demand even more appreciation, more tax dollars, more benefits, more national recognition for their subsidized labor. You don't usually hear such a demand for respect from cabbies, restaurant expediters, private guards, convenience store clerks or the other true public servants, but they would be justified in asking for more appreciation than they get. Yet they never do. They are almost always just happy to serve the public, often at a great personal cost, for a reasonable fee. Honor their sacrifice. Thank a private sector public servant next chance you get.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is research editor at the Independent Institute. He lives in Oakland, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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