Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don't run government like a business

I'd left an important travel document at home on my just-completed trip, but a quick phone call from airport security personnel in Zurich to immigration officials in New York cleared matters up and had me checked in within ten minutes. Once again, a much-maligned U.S. government agency had provided service vastly superior to what private companies offer. And that's not to mention the exceptional help I received from the Internal Revenue Service the one time my dealings with it went beyond routine filing of a tax return.

What would have happened had the two agencies followed the popular injunction that they run their operations like a business? Zurich would have been kept on hold for hours listening to recorded messages about how important your business is to us. If it got through to a live person at all (unlikely, given the hour on the East Coast at the time), that person would have been a call-center robot rigidly trained not to deviate from prescribed order in answering or asking questions. Eventually he or she would have made it down the list to my problem, which would have been solved, but in hours rather than minutes.

Years ago, when run-government-like-a-business was the byword of the day, a wise commentator pointed out that a business has the right and even the duty to shed unprofitable divisions, but government can't just halt services to customers who don't bring in the desired cash  i.e., unprofitable citizens  or at least could not until recently.

Think about this the next time someone says private enterprise is better than government at everything. If in doubt, presume that the speaker is running for office, angling for kickbacks, reciting a mantra, or all three.
I'm fresh back from my local pharmacy, where the druggist told me that the private insurance plan offered by my private employer will no longer let me pick up my prescriptions. Instead, I am now forced, against my will, to get my prescriptions via mail order.

Where is this freedom of choice I stand to lose if the federal government assumes responsibility for health insurance?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger Dana King said...

I promise not to get too revved up here, but you've got me started.

Your absolutely right about the government v. business conundrum. Look at the Postal Service. FedEx and UPS can cherry pick what and where they deliver; USPS has to take anything, anywhere. Or course their margins aren't as good.

As for your prescription situation, I have answered those who say they don't want their health care rationed by reminding them it's rationed now. You get what your employer wants to pay for--if anything--or what you can afford on your own.

For those who don't want some bureaucrat deciding what treatment they can have, I ask if you'd rather have it decided by someone whose compensation may be derived, in part, based on how much money he can save the company?

Okay, I'm done now.

March 28, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I agree. The whole American problem rests on the assumption that people are naturally good, honest, hard-working, and intelligent. The fact is they are not and that's why the system doesn't work.

March 28, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your post. You can feel what ever you want about the government, and there is surely plenty to be critical about, but at least the govt is at least potential democratic and at least in theory is answerable to the public. Corporations are not. They are strict top down hierarchical structures that exist to maximize profit and market share etc and so forth.

Social security is good example of what you are talking about. It keeps about half of the retirement age population out of poverty and is perhaps the most successful government program in history. Might explain why it is under attack.

Really like that your blog does more that just talk about mysteries and such. Keep it up!

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, my favorite example of the disingenuousness of much anti-big-government flapdoodle came after a food scare a few years ago, I think over the quality of spinach. Some trade-group representative pleaded for a government OK to assure the populace that spinach was safe. I thought, "Aha! Industry trade groups piss and moan about government except when they want their own bottom lines protected."

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, on health care, at least government pretends to give a shit about people, and that moral injection retains enough force that government can occasionally be held to account for falling short of it. Private companies have no responsibility to anyone but their shareholders, in theory, and to their own executives' bank accounts in practice.

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., the most sensible observation I've heard on the health-care debate came from Charles Krauthammer, a stridently conservative columnist. He lamented the connection between employers and health insurance in the United States, pointing out, rightly, that this nexus keeps people from leaving jobs they don't like, among other problems.

March 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks, anonymous. The occasional deviation from fiction into grim reality keeps me interested, too.

March 28, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Yes, Krauthammer said that. But he loathes the idea of government-run health care, so he refuses to take the next logical step. Instead, he thinks we should all be thrown into the private insurance pool, where we'd all be at the mercy of insurance company bureaucrats who'd refuse to sell us policies if we'd once had an asthma attack.

March 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sure. But he at least puts his finger on an essential part of the problem that no one else has. Even if one disagrees with his conclusion, his observation is a useful starting point for real discussion.

March 29, 2012  

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