11 June 2011

Government: picking winners, picking losers; who cares?

But progressive government -- as demonstrated by the Obama administration -- flunks any real test of fairness. It clearly favors unionized workers over non-unionized workers, just as it routinely favors the biggest and most politically connected corporations over smaller and more entrepreneurial enterprises. Crony capitalism and the practice of kowtowing to the biggest and most politically assertive unions are joined at the hip in this administration. Gambling Man, Andrew B Wilson, 'The American Spectator', 6 June
True, but if we simply change "unions" in the last sentence to "organizations" this would apply not only to the current US administration, but to virtually every other administration in every country in the world. It's convenient, at every level, for government to act as though the success of big organizations, including its own departments, implies the success of an economy, a society and the government itself. Not so. All organizations, whether they be government agencies, business of any size, religious and education bodies, and - yes - unions, have as their over-arching goal that of self-perpetuation. Even when that goal diverges from or conflicts with the wishes and well-being of society.

There's little to keep bigger organizations honest, especially when they are so big that they can work on other organizations, including government agencies, to manipulate trade, legislation, the market, and the regulatory environment with the goal of preserving their privileges. Government itself is folded into this process, such that unravelling the mess is going to be extremely difficult. A widespread sense of crisis might help, but there are no guarantees that that would lead to anything better, at least in the medium term.

Setting some broad, long-term goals might help. Government, with all its powers and influence, would, I think, be better advised to consult with the public about what's really wanted. Under a Social Policy Bond regime it could target, not only global goals such as dealing with the threat of man-made or natural catastrophe, or minimising the risk of nuclear conflict, but national goals such as improved health and education outcomes.

Instead, for its own petty reasons, it wastes time and scarce resources by, for example and as Mr Wilson points out, acting as an investment managers with taxpayers' money. Investment managers, or gamblers, moreover, who are paid however badly they perform.

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