“Exit is pretty powerful. It's pretty much the only thing restraining Wal-Mart from offering you terrible goods that don't work, in a dirty, smelly environment with sullen clerks who cuss you out when you ask for things. And yet most stores are brightly lit, clean, filled with terrific merchandise that largely works as promised, and staffed by people who do try to ensure that you have a decent shopping experience.
The DMV, which is theoretically owned by us, less so.”
- Megan McArdle
This is a (perhaps the) difference between government and private industry. Private industry has to deal with their customers being able to go across the street, or they go out of business. There will be cases where one business can’t compete, of course. Government doesn’t have to compete. The customers must pay (via taxes) for services that they may or may not personally benefit from (which is admittedly larger than the set of services they use. I haven’t had the need to use the Fire Department’s services, and as an individual I am unlikely to directly use the services of the United States military, but I do benefit from both, for example). Regardless of the level of “customer service” from my governments, I must pay, however. An important part of the feedback loop is muted.
I could “Vote with my feet” I suppose. That’d get me out of New Jersey to a more free state, but, sad to say, the US is pretty much the most free nation on earth, and NJ isn’t exactly the nadir of freedom in this country either. Where can I go from here? And why would I? I love my country, and to tell the truth, while I can’t stand some of the aspects of living in New Jersey, I bought a house here after sober consideration. I can’t say it’s bad enough to make me leave, and there appears to be a move afoot to make it better.
It’s not really at the large end of things that government fails, really. The US Military works (it costs something wicked, but the cost of the second-best military is even more wicked, should it come down to cases.)
Government in general is all about saying “No” to someone or several someones. Even the military is an organization dedicated to saying “No”; it’s just that they say “No” to the rest of the world, not the US Citizen - “No, you may not invade X, conquer Y, or pillage Z.” It’s at the small end of things where things go pear-shaped, because the someone the government is saying “No” to is the taxpayer. The DMV, for example. PA’s alcohol agency. The IRS. One thing some of the legendarily bad government agencies share is that they are “gatekeepers” for things the customer of that government want. That is to say, their job is to guard access to a resource (yes, even the IRS – whose job is to protect the nation’s purse from tax cheats). As gatekeepers, their role is to say “No.” Their policies, procedures, and training all revolve around “No.” Whereas a private company must be primarily about “Yes” or they will go out of business. Their customers will go looking for the egress, and someone who will say “Yes.”
I don’t want a government that will say “Yes". That’s not the government’s role. I just want one that only answers when ABSOLUTELY necessary. Maybe some of the money saved by this can go to training people to say “No” politely.