To Reform Government Is Largely a Waste of Time
by Steven Greenhut: I
Put My Life on the Line Writing This Article!
speak or write about Californiaís pension and public debt problems,
I always hear from well-intentioned, conservative- and libertarian-minded
people who want me to consider their solutions. Most of their ideas
Ė caps on this kind of spending or that, changed pension formulas,
public votes, etc. Ė are sensible enough, but they always miss the
That is, they
misunderstand the nature of government. They think that government
is an institution that does all these necessary things and can therefore
be reformed. But government is a vast force-based enterprise designed
to take as much money from the public and give as much of it as
possible to the clients of government. Itís a wealth transfer and
any genuine services government provides can be done better, cheaper
and more humanely in the private sector.
When it comes
to pensions, thereís no technical problem. In about three seconds,
I can craft a non-radical, extremely modest plan that ends unfunded
pension liabilities. Starting tomorrow, public employees no longer
receive defined-benefit plans and instead get a 401/k-style plan
like typical private-sector serfs. What are they going to do, quit
en masse and get private-sector jobs? I hear readers laughing now.
The real problem, though, is not technical, but political. The public-sector
unions that run this state, and the Democrats and Republicans who
do their bidding, would never allow it. As it is, they fight any
tiny reform, even for future workers. So why waste any brain cells
thinking about big fixes in a state government where legislators
not only resist modest reforms but still hatch schemes to expand
benefit levels for the elite class of government employees?
the main goal of government is to get more for them. California's
Democrats argue publicly that the public pension system is a historic
success and that the real problem is the stinginess of the private
sector. We have to understand this mindset.
In my experience,
the average reform-minded person thinks that legislators and even
some government employees will come to support sensible reforms
when they realize that weíre only trying to rein in excesses. They
think government should operate more like a business.
that if we convince enough people about the waste and abuse, they
will rally behind our measures and proposals. After all, the current
situation is unsustainable and our reforms will save the government
from itself. They are as wrong as they are well intentioned.
The truth is
government is like rust. It never sleeps. Government grows for its
own sake and it has no intention to stay limited. Every bureaucracy,
once taken root, will grow as long as someone feeds it.
companies celebrate when they spend less to achieve more, government
values the opposite things. Have you ever noticed how government
always measures its success in terms of how much money it spends?
Itís impossible to give government agencies enough money for anything.
The more poorly they spend existing money, the better opportunity
they have to clamor for more cash: "We never had enough to
do the job right in the first place."
once what he ultimately wanted, a union official replied: "More."
Thatís what itís all about. Unions would rather drive the entire
economy over the cliff and bankrupt a city or state than give up
anything. Government has no bottom line, no customers and cannot
be run like a business. Government operates by force and as a result
doesnít care how unhappy the public is with its services. You donít
like the IRS or local cops, what are you going to do about it? Any
business with that attitude would, in the adapted words of Monty
Python, be an "ex-business" because no one would go there.
Government only has to take your taxes.
job depends on willing buyers and willing sellers. Obviously, people
who value free exchange head to the private sector, and the government
sector is a magnet for those who operate in an authoritarian kind
of world. Itís therefore not surprising when government agencies
send out press releases celebrating the huge fines they impose on
businesses, as does the California Air Resources Board. It's understandable
why Democratic leaders in Sacramento, for instance, drip with disdain
toward the private sector.
One could argue
that every dollar given to government would be better put inside
an incinerator. Have you ever known an incinerator to abuse someoneís
property rights? Do you know any incinerators that get "3 percent
at 50" pensions? Likewise, any effort to reform government
is filled with problems. Would you want an IRS that did a better
job tracking and monitoring us?
donít know what we do about the frightening growth in government
power, but I do agree with H.L. Mencken, who wrote: "I believe
that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely
a waste of time." Donít get me wrong Ė I appreciate the people
who want to fix the current system, but they need to remember that
government needs to be stifled rather than reformed.
Greenhut (send him mail)
is a Sacramento-based writer and author of Plunder!
How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our
Lives And Bankrupting The Nation.
© 2013 Steven Greenhut