Sunday, March 16, 2014

About That "Government Workers" Trope

I can't decide which group bothers me more, Conservatives or their Libertarian cousins.  Another of my Facebook links triggered this rant.

Sorry. He lost me with that first sentence.
"It is probably safe to say that government workers are nowhere near as efficient as private sector workers either."
It is NOT safe to say that. And anyone who paints with such a large brush needs to be painting fences in the country, because up close he's pretty sloppy.

I have had mixed impressions of "government workers" but by and large those who are deep in the woodwork are quite competent at what they do. My Social Security enrollment was an unexpected pleasure once I got past the long wait in the waiting area. The young woman who did the work was no only friendly and proficient, when she learned my wife and I had birthdays eleven days apart she picked up the phone and took my wife's application over the phone. This was at her initiative, not mine.

My experience with Medicare has been limited but the few times I have contacted them by phone the wait was long but the service was excellent. When I signed my mother up for Medicaid it was the same thing -- the caseworker was dedicated to the file and more empathetic than I expected would be the case.

I could go on, but this trope about government workers being no good is a pernicious, widely-repeated lie. And while I'm ranting, I wonder if the writer has stopped to think that every man and woman in the military service, either in uniform or in some civilian capacity, is a "government worker."

Now, having got that off my chest...

When I went from the for-profit sector (with which you are well aware, I'm sure) into the so-called NOT-for-profit sector I had the same experience that this writer described when his civilian buddy went from the coast guard to the private sector. Except the person making a transition was me leaving one part of the private sector and moving to another.

I was shocked at the attitudes about work that I found in the non-profit place where I worked. There were plenty of experienced, dedicated, competent people around me, but there were also many whom I would call deadbeat, putting in their time, watching the clock and taking the path of least resistance when there was any option.

Worst of all, the place was awash with money and nobody -- even supervisors and department heads -- ever mentioned any dollar amounts. Everything was about The Budget, as though the target for good performance had little or nothing with waste or efficiency, but everything about "meeting the budget" no matter what that might mean.

Early on I asked a few people where the money came from and got a blank stare as though I had asked why the sun rises every morning. "It's in the *budget*" was the answer.
"So who makes the budget?"
"They make it up every year."
"But where does the money come from?"
Finally..."It's in the budget!"

After a while I gave up asking. It was like asking a kid where food comes from. "The store" of course is the answer. Forget farming, shipping, cooking. etc. It's a child's grasp of a question too big to answer.

All that I have just described is NOT a part of "government." It is solidly in the private sector, probably more solidly than the for-profit outfits who at least pay taxes. I would love to see some numbers comparing how many for-profit companies go bankrupt compared with the non-profits. I be the two lists would be ridiculously uneven. I can't recall offhand ever hearing of a non-profit going bankrupt except in the case of fraud or other criminal activity.

Sorry for the rant. Some things push my button. As I said, that "privatization is better" is not just partly if not mostly wrong, it's also just stupid.

If anything is wrong with government, it's wrong with us. One of the uncomfortable realities we need to face is that we DON'T live under tyranny. Whoever is in charge is up to us, the voters who put them there. (Which is why every time I hear Senator Sanders I want to move to Vermont so he can be one of my Senators.)

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