One of the reasons I didn’t write anything yesterday was that we went into the City to have lunch with friends. The food was wonderful, which I knew would be the case, since Yank Sing is my favorite restaurant. The conversation was frustrating.
It all started when someone tried to look something up on the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, only to discover that it’s a terrible website. I pointed out that, being a monopoly, once the DMV created a somewhat functional website, it had no incentive to create a better one. A DemProg at the table, who works in the private sector, instantly defended government workers.
“I know government workers,” he said, “who work crazy hard.”
“So do I,” I replied. “I’m not talking about individuals; I’m talking about a systemic problem.”
“So you’re saying no government workers can do a good job?”
“No, I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that when there’s a monopoly, which is always the case when government is involved, you only need to get things functional and no more. You’re not going to lose business, after all.”
“That’s not true!”
(It occurs to me as I write this that the DemProg took my argument as a veiled attack on the Obamacare website, although that hadn’t even crossed my mind at the time.)
The argument volleyed back and forth for a while, with the DemProg insistently saying — and me agreeing — that there are wonderful government employees out there. I kept repeating my point, though, that the system discourages hard work and innovation because there are no rewards for either.
Since we were at an impasse, the DemProg switched to another argument:
“It’s not the workers’ fault and it’s not just because no one else can compete with them. It’s because of the regulations that limit them.”
“That’s my point exactly! The nature of government is such that every agency, from its inception, is prevented from growing, innovating, and creating. It’s designed and limited by committees that have nothing to do with it’s actual functioning.”
I’m a bit muddy on where the conversation went at this point. We definitely touched upon government unions, which he said were necessary to protect workers, and which I said were corrupt ab initio, because the people whose money is at stake (i.e., taxpayers) are the only ones not at the table. Instead, I explained, although I doubt he or the other DemProg guests understood, unions pay money to elect politicians who ensure that they get insane benefits, far better than in the private sector, because the politicians know that a portion of those same benefits will be turned into cash to re-elect the politician. No taxpayers — the ones who fund this corruption — are involved. I especially flummoxed my audience when I added that Progressive icon FDR feared public sector unions.
I suggested a thought experiment: Imagine that the DMV is divided into two separate entities, one of which serves all state citizens whose last names end with the letters A through L and the other of which serves all state residents whose names end with M through Z (and we’re assuming that pretty much divides the state population in half). Both DMV entities are given the same goal — do DMV stuff — but they’re not explicitly told how to do that. Moreover, they are told that, at the end of each year, there’s going to be a customer satisfaction survey. Whichever DMV department wins that survey will be rewarded: The employees will get significant bonuses. The other DMV won’t get any bonuses and, if the survey answers are really bad, people will get fired and salaries will be docked.
I then asked, “Would the above scenario improve performance?”
To which my DemProg friend said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”