Monday, March 12, 2012

Myths, phobias and fantasies

By Bill Kraus

Life in the public sector is complicated and made more so by a long series of myths that too many believe, phobias that too many suffer from, and fantasies that too many chase.

Among the most prominent are:

Government can and should be run like a business. There are a lot of reasons it can’t and won’t be. The most important are that business is a totalitarian organization and government is not. The second most important is that the business of government is conducted in public. Public companies in the private sector think they are. They are not. They will be as, if and when the press sits in on their board meetings.

There is a market solution for everything which is better than a regulatory solution for anything. Really? Regulation is unwelcome everywhere. Events of the recent past are all the evidence needed to convince most that an unrestrained free market with all its virtues can do a lot of damage. An officious regulatory bureaucracy can as well. Regulation of anything--including voting--is and should be both fluid and subject to change in search of the elusive middle ground between too much and too little.

Governments can create jobs. Governments are good at infrastructure and welfare. The failure rate of creating jobs in the private sector is intolerably high for government officials. Government-run operations are not perfect of course, but job creators bat around .300 at best. No elected government will stay elected at that level of success.

The tax system is full of loopholes. The tax system is full of incentives as well. The more they overlap with loopholes the less likely they are to be candidates for elimination. Home mortgage deductions, lower tax rates for couples and for life insurance and for lots of other stuff that those who govern think are good for the country are right up there with tax deductions for medical costs and charitable contributions as something close to untouchables, no matter what the anarchists say.

Big is better especially in the private sector. Big is bigger.

There should be a rainy day fund in the governments’ piggy banks. It rains everyday in the public sector where the demands for money run far ahead of the money available to meet them even in good times.

Elected officials like to vote. Elected officials like to propose. Voting less so. Voting is dangerous in a populist system where those offended by a vote can show their displeasure by running someone against whoever casts a vote that displeases them.

We will be safer from the inevitable criminal elements in our society if we are armed to protect ourselves. Really?

We have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We actually have a government of the elite, by the bureaucracy, and for the people--when it’s working. This means the people are batting .333, which, like in baseball, is Major League good. Lately the elite seem to have taken a pass and the “of” part of the equation has been taken over by the extremists who the elite used to marginalize. The “by” is still in the hands of the bureaucracy for better or worse, usually better. The competence of the public sector operatives has always been high in this country. The real trouble is the “for.” There are serious indications that the elected representatives are representing the people less and the money and the interests that are funding the representatives’ campaigns more.

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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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