Logical Consequences

For the past quarter-century, Americans have been bashing government–not just this or that administration or political party or elected official, but the enterprise of governing.

Want a laugh? Say “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” Want to indulge a conspiracy theory? The government’s giving the Alamo to the UN! Obama plans to impose Sharia law!..  Got a grudge against your state lawmakers? Push for your area’s counties to secede. Hate the feds? Put on a tricorn hat, misspell a placard and hold a rally.

The problem is, there are consequences to this constant and indiscriminate hostility to government authority, and those consequences aren’t pretty.

Example: Yesterday, to its credit and my surprise, The Indianapolis Star ran two actual news stories: one about legislative conflicts of interest and corrupt behavior, and another about inadequate regulation of child care providers.  Stories about the inept rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and other tales of poor management, are everywhere.

Guess what? When we devalue government, we shouldn’t be surprised when government isn’t done very well. When we spend our time and energy arguing whether major elements of government infrastructure should even exist, we don’t have much time or energy left over to insure that all parts of government are operating properly–that public servants are competently performing those tasks that most reasonable people believe government should do.

I will be the first to acknowledge that we have public officials who deserve our scorn, policies that are–at best–counterproductive and need to be changed, and antiquated or corrupted structures that need to be revisited. The difference is, those are criticisms of how well our government is doing–not attacks on the legitimacy of government itself.

Are some regulations unnecessary? Undoubtedly. But supervising people who care for defenseless infants and children certainly seems an appropriate function of government. Most Americans would also agree that we need laws sanctioning officials who abuse their positions for personal gain.

Americans’ attitudes toward government are a lot like their attitudes toward Congress: we famously despise Congress, but approve of our own Representative. We hate government, but not the programs that benefit us, or veterans, or grandma.

Much as we may not want to admit it, we live in a complex modern world where there are   tasks that only government can effectively perform–from FAA supervision of air travel, to FDA oversight of food and drug safety, to regulations preventing banks from ripping off unwary customers…..on and on. When the agencies charged with these tasks fail to do their jobs properly, real people get hurt–planes crash, people get sick and die, and–as we’ve seen– economies fall into recession or worse.

We need to stop bashing government’s legitimacy, and instead turn our attention to how government is doing its job. We need to put down the ax and pick up the scalpel–to stop characterizing government as some sort of enemy,  and begin focusing on making it better.

When we insist that “public service” is an oxymoron, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t get decent public service.


  1. Did you catch the story about the Prosecutor (somewhere in the South, I think) who made a motion to ask that the Defense stop referring to him as “the government”?

  2. I am mother to five, grandmother to thirteen and great-grandmother to eight so your reference to child care hit me directly. Reading that headline on page 1 of the Star yesterday disturbed me greatly as I did a lot of baby-sitting during my child rearing years. When does baby-sitting end and official child care begin? Is it in the numbers or the physical facility? The government certainly needs to have standards for child care facilities – we read more and more often about abuses and deaths in these situations. BUT…and this is a huge BUT to me; why would parents continue taking their babies and small children to anyone providing child care that has been the scene of the death of a child???

    Common sense cannot be legislated but people in this country today prove the need for someone, even government, to find a way to instill common sense, logic and rational thinking and actions as personal self-government doesn’t seem to be working on many levels. Let us not forget that government can only do the job it is meant to do IF we elect competent officials to carry their legislated functions out.

  3. Thanks for writing this. Sorry for the super long post, but I think I had this saved up for a while. As someone who is in local government currently and formerly worked in state government, I really do wake up each morning and think my job is to help the community and advocate for the homeless since that is my specific job. I see the huge amount of success that government provides, most of the programs that I audit have over a 90% success rate, and I know that I have personally kept people from having to sleep on the streets.

    That said, I don’t like to see people at the brink of disaster, and most of the time if they are coming to me directly instead of an agency, it means it has gone too far for me to be able to help them. The so-called safety nets of society are stretched out extremely thin with gaps larger than net itself.

    One thing that government does best is to serve as a platform to help people help themselves. There are resources that government has by function of being government that cannot be duplicated by the private sector. The more I put the big picture platform in place so that people are less likely to be at the brink of homelessness, the better I do my job, the better able that people are to help themselves, and the better the community functions as a whole. The irony is that the smarter I do my job, the less likely is society to realize that government is doing well, because it is easier to see results when I pull someone directly off the streets versus to see the results of working with landlords “behind the scenes” to provide assisted living to the disabled so they have housing, the big picture solutions are more subtle and mostly go unnoticed.

    Before the entitlement trend, we had the government is not being efficient enough trend. So, in Indiana, we got rid of tons of local case workers that administered food stamps for example, and replaced them with distant call centers where a client does not get the same person each time to talk to, all in the name of efficiency, copying the so-called efficiency of the private sector. (Ironically, I had a few temporary jobs in the private sector where I went in to clean up the long-term messes created by call centers and short-term fixes, because short term efficiency is not the same as long term efficiency. )

    Local case workers that knew their clients could catch food stamp fraud fairly well, since they saw their clients more than once face to face, case workers could catch inconsistencies, they also had the local resources to vet what the client told them, and fakers really do stand out at the local level. More subtle fraud could still happen, especially if local case workers get overloaded with too many clients, but we failed to value what worked well with welfare, and failed to value case workers that prevented fraud early on in the process. We lost our best tool for fighting fraud with local case workers. Now, I feel like my Facebook page is getting flooded with people that want to emulate Florida with mandatory state-wide drug testing. Ironically, most of the clients in the programs I audit are drug-tested already, and so having them drug test again in order to receive benefits does not add anything of value, and really is a waste. So apparently paying professional labs to test urine is a good way to use government money, but paying professional case workers to talk face to face with clients was tossed out as being inefficient.

    We also lose out on the information of how successful of a program that food stamps has been, that it has been successful in keeping people from going hungry, and there are even studies that show that successful food stamp clients were less likely to need government help in the future because it helped them get back on their feet in life. I can understand the argument that people would rather use other sources of money to keep people from being hungry, I would prefer other sources myself, but still the food stamp program has actually helped a lot of people. That needs to be remembered too in a balanced look.

    Yes, there are plenty of embarrassments of government, but that is also true of the private sector, and some of the greatest failures in government are when politicians and taxpayers try to emulate the private sector, blindly copying what has failed in the private sector because we overlook the mistakes of the private sector.

    Ironically, I think by not being honest about failures in the private sector, we misjudge government.

  4. Gayl; thank you for your most interesting post and for letting us know that there are still people in state government here who are trying to help those in need. I worked for the Division of Community Services which was party of Mayor Hudnut’s Office in the 1970’s -till Reagan cut federal funds. It was very rewarding to monitor a number of multi-service, senior and health centers throughout Marion County for compliance. It was rewarding because I worked with people in all those centers who were dedicated to everyone who walked through their doors seeking help. The net was stretched thin in those days, too. One counselor at Near Eastside (now John Bonner Center) provided home, food and clothing for abused women and their children in her own home because there wasn’t a facility to help them. I was proud to work with these inspired and inspiring people. One of the busiest and most interesting was the Hispano-American Center which dealt with all immigrants – whatever their needs or their problems. I wonder what type of help they have available today, if any. Thank you, bless you and hope you find resources to help any and all who need what amounts to survival services.

  5. Yes–and the response of defense counsel, who said something like “ok, then call me Captain Justice….”

    But it does sort of capture the tenor of the times, when referring to someone as “government” is equivalent to name-calling…..

  6. Gayl; is there anyone on local or state level to contact regarding cutting Medicaid funds to home nursing patients? This is a vital issue and nursing homes are not the answer; they are a problem in and of themselves. I have be away from local government work for 21 years so have lost contact with everyone. Thanks

  7. Dear Heavens, are you serious? The government in the United States is total.

    30% of American workers need a government license to do their jobs.

    Every avenue of human interaction in America has a governmental regulator.

    Well over half the population either works for or draws a benefit from the government. It is almost impossible for government in the United States to be a millimeter wider and allow any private action or enterprise, at all.

    There is a staggering disconnection on the left between economics and their ideology.

  8. Again reminds me of my friend Madison…

    “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

  9. American : have you forgotten that We the People ARE the government! ???

    It is not US against THEM because we are US and we are THEM. Why can’t you Turn off that tv and go out and explore your neighborhood instead. Sheesh.

  10. OAN (On Another Note) Has anyone noted the activities of Evan Byah since his heart wrenching farewell in the senate? It’s official that he can now be listed as the head of the list for being decietful. Born into money, he had no reason to desert his roots, except for more riches that is! I wonder how Daddy Birch feels about his boy?

  11. Please; never use the names Evan and Birch Bayh in the same paragraph, you dishonor that fine Senator, Birch Bayh. My OAN; who else remembers when Gov. Evan refused to allow approved pay increases for state employees for about three years? Who else remembers seeing people by roadsides with signs stating, “Will work for food, employed by the State of Indiana”? Who else remembers that he closed psychiatric hospitals in this state? We are no better off now under the “leadership” of GOP sports fans who are trying to stop panhandling by homeless downtown, many of whom are mentally ill. We are marching backwards in time at a rapid rate of speed.

  12. It’s a race to see how soon we can equal Mississippi. It’s difficult because we keep running in to people who are coming from the other way.

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