Thursday, January 12, 2006

Musings on government at 4 am (paca)

Well, I am up at 4 AM with all these useless thoughts going through my head. Since I can't make them go away, I might as well dump them here. I went through a whole chain of random things before ending here including feminism, abortion, debate-for-debate's sake, and finally government.

So I basically vote Democratic for social justice issues. It seems that in the 20 years or so, since I became a teen (turned 13 in 1986) the Democratic party has been more frequently on the side of those with less power traditionally, be it gay rights, shelter for the homeless, affirmative action, rape shield laws, medical care for the poor, etc., than the Republican. And for whatever reasons, those were the voting issues for me.

None of this means of course that I always agree with everything. I am more gun rights than the party platform. I also have a libertarian streak which can be at odds with the above issues, because the most common solution to a problem from the Democrats is a government program. The Republicans like to point out this all the time. The problem is that most of the supposed alternatives they offer are inadequate. For instance, private charities do a lot in our nation and many of them do it more efficiently than the government. However, my understanding is that Americans as a nation already give far more to charity than almost anyone else. (Though perhaps the Islamic tradition of giving to charity as a religious obligation rivals, I don't know.) So unless there is a way to massively transform that system, boosting it to 3 and 4 times its current size, it really isn't an alternative. So while the libertarian in me is very open to other ideas, unless other real solutions are provided, I am going to fall back on the only choice we seem to have right now - another government program. Just letting homeless people die because of our beliefs on the proper role of government isn't much of an option to me.

But all that said, I do remain convinced that government isn't very good at lots of things they do. Is there any reason that, I don't know, road construction MUST be part of government? Or maybe the Department of Education? Or urban design? Of course, there are plenty of reasons that it must be that way in the current system. And there are plenty of reasons that we need someone to fulfill that function - we need roads, education, and urban design - but must they be part of government?

I was thinking about garbage collection. Twice a week a truck owned and operated by the City and County of Honolulu drives down my street and takes away my garbage. But surely someone else could take away my garbage. Perhaps someone could make a little money by getting people to pay $5 a month to get their garbage for them. Since the city seems incapable of starting curb-side recycling, I could very well imagine paying someone a couple bucks to take away my recyclables. Why should I wait for the government alone to do it? Voila, reduced government and more recylcing. Win, win.

But of course there are problems. For public health reasons, the garbage must be collected. You can't just let it lie around for weeks. So the government is obligated to send a truck around. Maybe they could send it around less if some garbage was being picked up privately? But we all know the result of that. Wealthier neighborhoods will pay for the premium service, poor ones won't, and since now the truck only comes by once every two weeks, the poor neighborhoods become covered in waiting garbage, becoming part of the destruction of a neighborhood and all of the social problems that come from that.

The point? Yeah, I'm open to non-governmental solutions to things as governments suck at a lot of things they currently do. Can we say customer service? But I want a real alternative. I would much prefer to reduce the size of government, not by slashing 7% from everyone, but by killing all the things that someone else can do better.


kristybox said...

"Just letting homeless people die because of our beliefs on the proper role of government isn't much of an option to me." -Paca

I never know quite how to explain why I vote democrat for social justice reasons, since Liberterians and Rebublicans make such a good point. But from now on, if you don't mind, I'll use your words. They say it nicely.

naughtyloki said...

The sad fact is, homeless people die every day. I'm not sure that our programs actually do much. That's my biggest problem with our current social programs; we throw huge sums of money at problems without putting very much thought into root causes and actual solutions. I don't have any answers myself, but I do often wonder if the warm fuzzy which many people get by saying, "I vote Democrat and we're doing something for the people." just stymies productive thought. I am certain, however, that the political reactions to any attempt to modify standard operating procedure for either party stymies productive thought.

By the way, I'm not too upset at my not having any great solutions for our social woes; I'm not paid large sums of money to find these solutions, and I don't have teams of supposed experts at my disposal. The true problem is that the people that DO have the experts at their disposal and ARE paid large sums of money to solve these problems don't actually care about the problems and have no real incentive to solve them. These people are not homeless. Their family and friends generally benefit financially by their being in office. Some of them are not even sane. Ted Stevens, anyone?

Our "leaders" have had years to perfect their buzz words and trigger phrases and know how to provoke emotional reactions in the voters so that they can bypass any discussion of their actual job performance. Being elected is their livelihood. They spend as much time perfecting their skills at it as anyone reading this blog spent at learning their career skills, if not more. They also have huge sums of money to spend on polls and studies to determine the best way to herd the sheep. I think that may be one reason that more and more voters seem to be disaffected. Each party seems to be getting more "specialized," but there are more than two flavors of sheep. Political moderates are harder to influence with pretty phrases, but most political moderates don't devote 80 hours a week to volunteer for campaign work, either.

Accountability has been taken out of our governmental process. This goes for elected officials, government employees and career bureaucrats. Most private sector taxpayers still have to show up at work and DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE. They can expect to be fired if they don't produce. The average fry cook has to actually cook fries or lose his job. The average fry cook makes significantly less money than a US Senator or career guy at the DMV. But we, as voters, don't seem to expect anything out of our elected officials other than the occasional completely ludicrous comment on television. Has anyone in FEMA or the LA state government actually lost their job due to their completely ineffectual response to hurricane Katrina? Other than Brown, a guy that was planning to leave anyway, and seems to be doing rather well at the moment.

We've fired a few policemen. They seem to have been fired, for the most part, because they committed crimes. I have not heard that we are actually bringing criminal charges against any of them. A few were suspended for desertion. So, don't do your job and get suspended for pay. Don't do your job and steal stuff and we'll fire you.

Let's all say it together, "Bahh. Bahh."

Sammy Jankis said...

I think the problem with letting politicos try to solve social problems is that they feel intense pressure to solve it "Right Now". That is why the solution is always to create a new program and throw money at the problem. Most problems cannot be solved during a 4 year term. To truly defeat homelessness, welfare reliance, drug abuse, poor education and a host of other problems, you have to be willing to take a long-term view of the problem. You have to be willing to cut loose several generations of people who are already too late to help and focus on altering the environment of children being born today so that they have a better life in 20, 30 and 40 years. It is too late to try to change the motivations of adults who have become dependant and comfortable with substandard lifestyles.