The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Name 10 things the government does well

with 166 comments

A dear friend of mine left a challenge in a comment.  Here ’tis:

Other than the military, can you name 10 things that the government has done really well, better than the private sector?

It’s an important question, for skepticism toward all government (rather than reform of bad government) is not only common, but at the root of a couple of major political outlooks.  And because it’s important, it seemed worth a post of its own.

Here’s my quick response. Maybe you can do better:

You betcha. Off the top of my head, I’ll give you twenty, most of which are under-funded for the work they do:

  1. The FAA. Crashes are a rarity here, thanks to equipment safety tests and massively successful air flight controlling.
  2. Medicaid: private sector insurance companies make money by ditching their customers when they get very sick. Medicaid picks up the castoffs.
  3. Social Security: What if Mr. Bush had succeeded in privatizing SS before the markets crashed? Can you imagine how many old people would be working at WalMart, since their SS would have been cut in half? And did you know that before SS, thousands of older Americans simply starved to death?
  4. SCHIP: Healthcare insurance for children who would not otherwise have it – enormously preventive of school absence, long-term illness, loss of physical and mental development
  5. The CDC: How do we know that the virulence of H1N1 is less than expected? Who is telling the world that US pork is safe to eat? How do we know whether an illness is H1N1 or not? It’s all the CDC.
  6. School hot lunch programs: For many children, their only serious nutrition all day every day. What industry would do it?
  7. The Soil Conservation Service: though bureaucratic, there is no private industry comparable. How vastly different would America be without the wetlands your dad and a thousand like him have created.
  8. Head Start: kids from homes that have seriously dysfunctional emotional and learning environments have benefited enormously
  9. The Department of Motor Vehicles: how many mistakes have you had on your car registrations or titles?
  10. E911 commissions: how long does it take an ambulance or fire truck to reach you if a child who can call 911 can’t tell the operator an address? When I first came to Washington, there was simply no way to know. People died.
  11. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics – known around the world for ground-breaking medical research.
  12. Open meetings laws for city, county, and state government office – nothing like it at all in the private sector. But if public officials make decisions without notifying us, they can get in big trouble.
  13. Free public libraries – which most nations simply don’t have.
  14. Public health services – how many lives have been saved by free or low-cost immunizations? Show me something analogous in the private sector.
  15. The Interstate Highways Commission: we enjoy the best auto and truck transportation system in the world.
  16. The FDIC: how safe is your bank account? Prior to the FDIC, if your bank got greedy and lent more than it could support, you lost your life savings.
  17. The FDA: how do I know that the Adderall I take is really Adderall, and really the dosage I’m told? Much of the world does not. The FDA constantly catches businesses attempting to cheat.
  18. The Federal Elections Commission: A missionary friend of mine tells me that Africans are utterly astonished at the speed and accuracy with which US elections take place, and the efficiency and safety with which the US changes its administrations.
  19. Uniform Building Codes: my son works for a concrete contractor, and can tell you with confidence that there are pre-code homes in our town (and probably in every town) that have sewer lines that run under the park and dump raw sewage into the creek that flows into the trailer court.
  20. NASA – what business has landed on the moon?
  21. The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (Excuse me for going to 21 – thoughts are still coming!) – one of the premiere writing teaching centers in the whole world. Only a handful do it as well.

Worth thinking about, eh?  What can you add? [Click the comments line at the top of the post]

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166 Responses

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    April 9, 2014 at 12:51 am

  4. All of the things you mentioned should not be part of centralized government but be handled by local communities or State Government. The federal government is the least efficient way to deliver services.

    Richard

    March 12, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    • You You want the airlines and food industry to meet 50 different standards? You want 50 different sets of regulations on banks?automobile saftey rules? It is insane.

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      March 24, 2014 at 9:22 am

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  6. Do you know what else the government does a better job at than the private sector? Providing meeting rooms for Libertarian Party meetings!

    Seriously, google “Libertarian Party Meeting at Public Library” The irony of their total cluelessness and profound failure to live up to their core ideals will make your day!

    Dave Koss

    February 12, 2014 at 9:31 am

    • Most Libertarian Party meetings are held at restaurants or other establishments. Occasionally at members’ homes or places of business. The private sector does a much better job of providing meeting rooms for Libertarian Party meetings than government does.

      Google “Libertarian Party” “monthly meeting” and you will get a good understanding of where they hold meetings. Sure, if you add “Public Library” to your search term then the maybe 2% of meetings held at libraries will float to the top of the search results. The 98% held in restaurants and other places will be hidden. It’s intellectually dishonest to think you’re looking at a representative sample that way.

      I’ve been to dozens of Libertarian Party meetings for various purposes. Once some genius organized one of them in a public library. His rationale was we’re forced to pay taxes for this place anyway, we might as well use it. The rest of us were like “meh. it’s a dumb place to meet anyway, you can’t even get a beer here”.

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    December 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm

  8. GPS. GPS is not on the list The government created and realized this wonderful thing that gets us places.

    Joe black

    October 23, 2013 at 7:20 am

    • The National Parks should be added to the list of things that the government does well
      How many have you been to? They are truly awesome.

      To name only a few;
      Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee;
      Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; Yosemite National Park, California;
      Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
      Olympic National Park, Washington; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
      Zion National Park, Utah; Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
      Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (just 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park)
      Acadia National Park, Maine

      Tina

      October 27, 2013 at 11:40 am

  9. It is not the role of government to baby sit us. I dont think the author of this post understands the concept that we are broke. 16.8 trillion in debt! All these programs listed are funded by money borrowed from China. Is this your idea of fantastic? I am apalled at you people who think we are swimming in money to fund all of this garbage. Sooner or later, you will run out of other peoples money. That is the concept i understand.

    Robert Gee

    August 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    • The fact is that China hold only 8% of the total US debt.
      Don’t be so alarmist. There is nothing to fear but fear itself, as a Great American said…

      Rev. E.M. Camarena

      August 31, 2013 at 12:22 am

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  18. William I wrote a long blog post on this question you ask: ” back to the topic, when deciding whether or not the government does something “well”, one really must consider the cost. Is a $25,000 car good if it costs $40,000? How about the government services you thought your taxes were paying for — are they a good deal…”

    It’s a great question, and my approach is non-ideological (and may offend ideologues).

    Hal H

    April 3, 2013 at 11:43 am

  19. Get uncomfortable and read experts (instead of ideology) and learn about how and why governments do deficit spending, and what is good public spending investment and what isn’t. Challenge your brain, improve your knowledge.

    Hal H

    April 3, 2013 at 11:41 am

  20. Most of the things listed have no comparable private competition, and only accomplish what they do because of a massive amount of money that is being “borrowed” to fund them. And did you seriously include the DMV?! Not screwing things up is not an accomplishment, being efficient would be, and they are anything but efficient!

    Dave Richardson

    February 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm

  21. LMAO, Kids they know every thing!! HaHa

    Mike O.

    December 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    • they know enough to know they are inheriting a shitstorm created by prior generations who claim to be wiser.

      mike

      December 18, 2012 at 11:53 am

  22. Give me one example of an old person starving to death because we didn’t have social security, outside of the Great Depression.

    Saar Cone

    December 6, 2012 at 10:48 am

    • Better yet, name one senator or congressman who’d prefer SS over their massive private plan. Or one public servant in Colorado (most states actually) who’d give up PERA (their private plan) in favor of SS?

      ed.covney@gmail.com

      March 3, 2013 at 6:07 pm

  23. One one serious error in your list: “The FDA: how do I know that the Adderall I take is really Adderall, and really the dosage I’m told? Much of the world does not. The FDA constantly catches businesses attempting to cheat.”

    The FDA makes consumers feel safer than they are, letting their guard down, to their occasional sharp misforturne.

    Here’s my version from last year of what government does well, and what it does poorly:

    http://findingourdream.blogspot.com/2011/06/what-government-does-well.html

    based on close reasoning and practical results.

    Hal Horvath

    September 13, 2012 at 1:51 pm

  24. Never Mind that the rich rarely pay the taxes they should, sure we are in debt, people want to stop paying taxes. Look over the last 40 years and see what the debt has done when we cut the top tax rate. Only 1 time did we have a surplus and that was NOT due to a tax cut.

    We went safe roads, planes, cars, food etc.. but no one wants to pony up. Cant have it both ways people.

    jane

    July 18, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    • I posted a couple weeks ago and it still says ‘your comment is awaiting moderation’. I put a lot of time and thought into that post. ???

      william02138

      August 3, 2012 at 11:39 pm

      • Ed, the US did have zero debt one time in it’s history, during Old Hickory’s term. When you do the math, it turns out that any nation can pay or service it’s debt indefinitely so long as it’s average economic rate of growth (such as over a 10 or 20 year period) is *more than* the % of increase in it’s total issued debt over that same period. That’s just the math side of it, the hard numbers that are not about opinion.

        It was quite interesting to me the proposition that the total value of US homes is less than the national debt. These numbers are easily found actually, so that anyone can quickly check up on this claim.

        From the US Debt Clock site, current US federal debt is: $16.8 trillion.

        From Freddie Mac, the current value of the US housing stock is: $17.2 trillion.
        http://www.freddiemac.com/investors/pdffiles/investor-presentation.pdf

        Thus this proposition is false.

        While this doesn’t speak to your general argument, nonetheless it is still necessary for any good argument to use factual information that has been verified. In fact, if you skeptically check up not only on some of your numbers, but on *every* *idea* and number and proposition you use, every one, then you can avoid being the victim of misinformation from various political PAC or think tanks or talk shows, which usually operate sans morals.

        Hal H

        April 1, 2013 at 7:45 am

        • Hal H, the debt is certainly on par with the value of the US housing stock. And if the debt isn’t quite high enough for you, wait a few months. Plus Ed is technically correct. If every homeowner sold their house and paid on average a 4% realtor’s sales commission, the proceeds would be only $16.5 trillion. Minus another $9 trillion to pay off their mortgages, which is required before they could give away any of the proceeds. That means they’d walk out of the closing with a combined $7.5 trillion which if they gave to the gov’t would pay down less than half the federal debt.

          Actually the debt would probably go up. If Congress sees a fresh $7.5 trillion coming in they’d probably spend another $10 trillion.

          william02138

          April 1, 2013 at 12:20 pm

        • Freddie Mac, the current value of the US housing stock is: $17.2 trillion is total asset value. To arrive to owners cash value mortgage liability must be deducted. Asset- Liability= Capital. According to the US Census 70% of all homes are mortgaged. If home owners sold their homes and gave the Government the balance after montage IT WOULD NOT PAY THE NATIONAL DEBT.Date: Mon, 1 Apr 2013 12:45:15 +0000 To: weblo65@hotmail.com

          ed bowles

          April 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm

          • William, I bet your math sense will suggest to you we should not care much whether debt is 98.5% of total value of housing or 101.6%, etc. The intention here is to correct a suggestion in the sentence that one is significantly larger than the other. As to the *real* issue, suppose housing values rise 3% or 4% this year, then….well, you can imagine the effect. This gets us to the more central situation, which is why are housing values rising. Of course there are several reasons, and the main one is the continuing global pool of abundant savings, which also is responsible for the US being able to borrow for 10 years at about 2%, (under 2%!)_etc.

            Ed, one thing most people would not realize from a typical popular commentary is that debt is held by somebody.

            That means the mortgage debt is only one side of a picture, where the holder of the debt owns that portion of the housing value.

            Guess who holds most.

            If you guessed Americans hold most, then you’ve guessed right.

            So, if you start to suspect most of what you heard from political talk shows or columns, then you are on the right track.

            Hal H

            April 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm

            • Ed, also see page 83 of the link to see who holds US agencies (mortgage bonds, or debt) by category.

              Hal H

              April 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm

            • You miss the intent of my statement. I was comparing home owner asset to our National debt. Sure someone owns the mortgages, THE BANKS. Date: Mon, 1 Apr 2013 18:26:46 +0000 To: weblo65@hotmail.com

              ed bowles

              April 1, 2013 at 2:17 pm

              • Yes, but who are these owners, precisely, the non-foreign owners of the mortgage securities? Who owns banks? Who owns pension funds, mutual funds?

                Yes, stockholders.

                In a nation, when someone owns stocks and bonds, that is wealth *inside* that nation, and is available for spending and re-investment. Either one results in money changing hands. When someone sells, the buyer pays, but the seller gets money, and then has it to use. Investment works this way.

                Person A has less money to spend since they bought a house, but person B, a seller, has more to spend/reinvest. Money changes hands, but does not dissappear.

                So, once you learn all the economics you begin to look at numbers like the *net* investment position of a nation — how does a nation’s total liabilities to foreign holders (debt) compare to that nation’s total assets, including foreign assets owned by citizens/businesses?

                Eventually, you learn that if there is free trade that currency levels (exchange rates) automatically adjust to balance trade flows over time…..unless a major trade partner manipulates its currency (China).

                And *that* is our problem, and not any of the other stuff, see?

                Hal H

                April 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

                • It looks as though we are getting into a spitting contest. Please allow me to rephrase my statement. IF ALL HOME OWNERS SOLD THEIR HOMES AND THE MORTAGE HOLDERS GAVE ALL THE MONEY TO THE GOVERMENT, IT WOULD NOT PAY OFF THE NATIONAL DEBT. Date: Mon, 1 Apr 2013 20:39:14 +0000 To: weblo65@hotmail.com

                  ed bowles

                  April 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm

                • $17.2 is more than $16.8. If you ignore everything else I say, just please consider that it is worth your while to check up on your facts, and especially all 2nd hand information.

                  Hal H

                  April 1, 2013 at 7:54 pm

                • Hal H, checking up on facts is a fine idea. $17.2 is the wrong number. Ed and I each already explained why.

                  william02138

                  April 1, 2013 at 8:29 pm

                • Can we all agree $16.8 trillion in federal debt is a huge number? Another way of looking at it is it’s $146,000 per US household (as in $16.8 trillion divided by 115 million households). A huge huge number. Relating back to the topic, when deciding whether or not the government does something “well”, one really must consider the cost. Is a $25,000 car good if it costs $40,000? How about the government services you thought your taxes were paying for — are they a good deal when you think about the additional $146,000 debt in your name (sort of) that it took to pay for all that stuff?

                  william02138

                  April 1, 2013 at 9:01 pm

                • I dont mean to be rude, Im just being frank.

                  Your reply is actually a meaningless and self-refuting and it may be effective in making readers think its meaningful. However it doesnt contribute anything of substantive value. It may sound good. But its a piece of rhetoric and nothing more.

                  Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2013 02:01:40 +0000 To: weblo65@hotmail.com

                  ed bowles

                  April 1, 2013 at 9:08 pm

                • Whatever. Sorry to interrupt your truly meaningful spitting contest with Hal H. Bye.

                  william02138

                  April 1, 2013 at 9:55 pm

                • William I apologize, My reply was meant to be to Hal H.
                  Sorry

                  Ed Bowles

                  April 2, 2013 at 8:59 pm

                • Ed, thanks for clarifying that. Apology accepted.

                  william02138

                  April 3, 2013 at 1:13 am

  25. Great list! Let’s also remember the National Forest Service and the Inland Waterway.
    I LOVE some of the replies! It just shows that so many people, psychologically denied the ability to come right out and openly hate their parents, have transferred that sublimated energy into hating the government instead. When confronted with ACTUAL, CONCRETE evidence that the government can and does do things right they go ballistic! Good. Ever notice how it is the people who most loudly claim to love the country who are the ones who HATE, LOATHE, DETEST and REVILE the government and/or the will of The People? What kind of love is that? They are the patriotic equivalent of spouse beaters.
    (Shared this link on Facebook)

    Rev. E.M. Camarena

    July 2, 2012 at 11:41 am

  26. [...] Name 10 things the government does well « The Least, First. [...]

    Name 10 things the government does well « The Least, First « Blackgov

    February 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm

  27. [...] 3. Social Security: What if Mr. Bush had succeeded in privatizing SS before the markets crashed? Can you imagine how many old people would be working at WalMart, since their SS would have been cut in half? And did you know that before SS, thousands of older Americans simply starved to death? (Read more) [...]

  28. LOL, yeah, you’re smarter than every single high school and college person, I can tell.

    Why don’t you take a gander and try to tell me what on that list is not a good taxpayer investment, and here’s the hard part, actually tell us why, don’t just mindlessly rant.

    marco01

    December 7, 2011 at 12:39 am

  29. I have read many of the above and many seem to miss what to me is the meat of the question. I address the question this way. Tell me what society improving projects have been undertaken by “free enterprise” that have not been self serving. Almost everything beneficial to the total society that has been undertaken throughout history has been done by that society doing it separate from the “free enterprise businesses.”
    Clean air, clean water, schools for all, the arts, health insurance for the multitude. Does the question somehow suggest that because an individual is working for the government (society) that individual suddenly becomes less productive or less concerned with a good product than the person working for a private company?
    Joe Newman.

    Joe Newman

    September 3, 2011 at 11:40 am

    • What’s wrong with something being self-serving if it also serves you? Pick a really basic thing like farming. Farmers are self-serving — they grow food for profit. Without the profit motive they wouldn’t grow food (or they’d only grow it for themselves, not to sell to you) and you’d probably starve. So you don’t like “self-serving”? That’s very short-sighted.

      william02138

      May 22, 2012 at 4:28 am

  30. What idiot wrote this? How stupid can 1 person be? Name for me ANY of these things the Federal Government is doing better? Hot lunches for people who don’t work? Why do the rest of us work hard pay our taxes so that others can have more children and force us to pay for them? And I am not a rich person, just a very average one who’s tired of supporting the other half.

    Dan Sunt

    April 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    • And if their children have no food, is it the children’s fault? What kind of morality is that?

      Monte

      May 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      • It is the responsibility of the parents and local communities to provide for those in need, not the government to STEAL from people, no matter how “moral.”
        Look into Frederick Bastiats’ the Law. Classical literature you need to think about the morality of theft by government

        ben

        May 23, 2011 at 3:10 pm

        • So, if the parents don’t provide for the childeren, and the local community feels no obligation to (a la dan and ben) then it’s perfectly moral for the federal government to let childeren starve or suffer through malnutrition? Not only is this attitude immoral, it’s impractical: A starving child doesn’t learn school lessons, good citizenship, or loyalty to country when their only thoughts are of their empty bellies.

          ByronS

          September 1, 2011 at 11:01 pm

          • If morality doesn’t matter, than how can it be immoral for the government to “steal” from you?

            Ann A.

            October 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm

            • *applause*

              Somebody

              October 27, 2012 at 11:39 am

            • Is it immoral to steal, or immoral not to provide charity? Is it immoral to resist a thief?
              Further, if a thief comes into your house and steals all of your possessions and sells them, is he justified if he says it’s “for the poor”?
              If so, is it moral for him to take that money and then use it to pay his own salary?
              If that’s moral, is it then ok for him to borrow money to pay his own salary, help the poor, and then steal more from you to pay down the debt, his salary, and whatever manages to make it into the hands of the poor?

              Lastly, is it moral to force your morality onto other people?

              Clearly you think it’s ok to steal, ok to force your morals on other people, and it’s not ok for those people to defend themselves from your abuses.

              Libertarians disagree with you, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why.

              Saar Cone

              December 6, 2012 at 10:55 am

              • Libertarianism is like Communism. Great in theory, impractical for reality.

                Ericj

                February 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    • Look, I see it like this. If you are a moral person & want to pay taxes to help others it should be your choice. Taxes should be optional. Or here’s a thought, instead of paying taxes & letting the politicians choose where our money goes why don’t we have a lot of charities & we can decide where we want our money to go. It’s not the government’s responsibility to instill morals in people, it’s their parnets/caregivers job (same as religion).

      Alison

      March 10, 2012 at 3:46 pm

  31. It is funny how people rip on the goverment. Normally the same ones who loved the biggest government program of the latter decade…THE IRAQ WAR….

    Yet they get all patriotic and antisocialist when our governemnt tries to get health insurance guarantees for all.

    Since when is gathering our wealth..without the persuit of profit bad? Has anyone ever seen some of those charter schools? Chicago privatized our parking meters …now I feel like my car is being watched by robo cop! I agree our governemnt needs a BIG FIX…but some things are better left to the common good rather than the profit in a few robber barrons pockets!!

    BTW I bet most people red this post on their blackberries riding on governemnt highways! hahaha…..DOnt get me started on the CHicago Sky Way!! (PRIVATE and Crappy)

    From Chicago

    March 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    • Actually, I HATE the war. It’s not our job to police the world. But let me tell you, Obama loves the war just as much as the others before him. And that’s a fact proven by his lack of ending it & possibly starting a new one. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Actions speak louder than words”. I help the needy on a daily basis & I don’t need the powers that be tell me to do it because my parents instilled morals onto me, not the government.

      Alison

      March 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm

  32. How can you prove that the Private Sector would not have done these things better?

    Jim

    March 24, 2011 at 12:50 am

    • Alack of medical resources for starters, uneducated children who do not have the finance to pay to go to school.

      Rezaan

      April 13, 2011 at 4:13 am

    • Which of “these things” could make a profit?

      Which of these things could make a profit, and still be accessible to the poor?

      Nathan

      April 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    • Heavens – do all this AND add a profit margin? Now you’re talking about the way the health insurance industry works.

      Monte

      May 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm

      • health insurance is not a failure of a free market. it’s the destruction of a market largely by government influence. the price discovery mechanism has been destroyed and what should be catastrophic insurance is instead treated like prepaid medical service.

        mike

        May 9, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    • Jim – think about what you said – if the Private Sector could have done those things better, why didn’t it? Government steps in when the private sector isn’t interested.

      Monte

      May 13, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      • or when the government doesn’t allow private enterprise to do it

        mike

        May 13, 2011 at 8:45 pm

        • Our current healthcare system iS a failure of the free market. While I love capitalism, our differences boil down to my belief that free markets do not work in all situations. Re: healthcare, it does not work where you have a market which is limited from the demand side. That is to say, when consumers are not free to take part in a cometitive market and make choices based on free competition. It won’t work. If I go to an emergency room, or I have a cancer I’m dying from, I usually don’t have th luxury to shop around or go to Brazil, where it’s cheaper. This opens the door to graft, usury greed and monopolization. In our case, while we have a lot of innovation on the supply side, we also have a lot of manipulation of the product. That’s we we pay $4000 for a titannium screw, or drug companies can rename or apply an old drug w/ a new molecule or give it a new appplication and jack up the price again. These are the main reasons we’ve had 120% inflation in healthcare in the last 10 years (5 times what it is for everything else) This is the reason we have a healthcare system which is twice as expensive as the rest of the modern industrialized countries, and this is the reason why noone else in the world wants our system. EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD has either a socialize medicine or highly government regulated system of healthcare, and although we’re good at some things, we do NOT have anywhere near the best system in the world overall. To get what we pay for we’d have to be twice as effective and we’re nowhere near that.

          william Bradley

          August 13, 2012 at 1:45 am

          • lol what? that’s ridiculous.

            1. would a free market tie employment to health insurance? why isn’t care or house etc?
            2. car and home insurance operate in a freer market – and we use them as insurance is mathematically designed – for catastrophic risk mitigation. if americans get a simple checkup they use health insurance. is that a result of free market forces?

            when you go to the emergency room, you wouldn’t shop around, i agree with you. but how much of the healthcare market is that?? the reality is a HUGE amount of costs are quality of life, not life or death, not as urgent as an ER visit, et. cetera. the main reason we’ve had that health care inflation isn’t because of free markets, but because of the complete and utter lack of one in any form whatsoever. price discovery is non-existent in a market. it’s offloaded to a 3rd party (insurer) for transactions where it often doesn’t need to be involved. and it has little incentive between provider and patient/consumer to reduce those costs.

            we have bad things and we have good things – no system is truly #1 because it depends on how you value them. we have great quality, what we have is a pricing problem. socialized type systems put downward pressure on that, which is part of why we do rate so superbly if you actually are sick – in talking about things like cancer treatment, we are one of the best places to be.

            everyone else in the world is doing x is a 5th grader argument. i certainly hope you have more sophistication than that.

            the system in the world that ACTUALLY is the most like a free market is that in singapore. HSAs are used widespread. the government provides (catastrophic) single payer insurance. we could debate on the way the catastrophic insurance is provided, but there is no debate that HSAs – with patients acting as educating patient consumers – puts massive downward pressure on price. there are FAR more market forces going on in their system than that in the US. i think the WHO year 2000 report ranking methodology is debatable – but nonetheless, singapore ranks really high on the report (near france) while spending TWENTY CENTS ON THE DOLLAR of what france does.

            market forces are not perfect, nor would i claim they should be used for all things, nor would i claim without any regulation. but the fact is they do work, and the fact is you have entirely no idea what one even is, if you believe the current american system looks anything like a free market system.

            mike

            March 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm

          • I can’t agree with anything in your post. And rather than touch on every point, I’ll make but one comment: When have we ever tried a ‘free market’ approach in health care – NEVER. If you’d like to try, you must first get trial lawyers out of the way. Loser ‘pays’ would enable doctors & insurance companies to do what they want to do without the overhead of defensive medicine.

            Ed Covney

            March 16, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    • Amen Jim!

      Zag

      June 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm

  33. WHY? BECAUSE PEOPLE DONT LIKE THE TRUTH. AND THIS IS CERTAINLY NOT THE TRUTH…
    ..
    ..

    OMG I GOT DELETED

    February 22, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  34. Just saw this and am fascinated by the list and discussion. I think the conservatives replying are changin the goalposts. This expression “Tell me something the government does well” springs from conservatives trying to discredit the government. And it works because people forget all the ways the government makes life possible for us. So, conservatives, first acknowledge that government is not a giant sink hole of money spent on useless bureaucrats who do nothing or do nothing well. Stop saying if Americans have to tighten their belt, the government does too as if the government were some alien entity that steals money from the people. Then lets have a debate on individual agencies and programs and discuss each to determine its pros can cons. Stop reverting to this generalized attempt to discredit our government. That’s what this list is about.

    CHARLES SHAFER

    December 6, 2010 at 8:58 am

    • We haven’t discredited the government, they’ve discredited themselves! If I gave $1k dollars to a private company and the same to the government. Who would you trust with it and who can do more with it?

      And I work for the government!

      Zag

      June 12, 2011 at 10:32 pm

  35. wat the ****

    ffreakwrs limpth dogsward

    November 2, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    • I was driving home around 9 pm the other night, along the twisty roads in my fairly rural town. There are few street lights in the area, and the little reflectors installed along the lane markers show the way. I thought to myself that without those reflectors, I might be home-bound after dark. I don’t think most people realize just how many small but significant things the government provides that effect their daily lives for the better.

      Diane Murray

      November 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm

  36. You’d better take #9 off the list, because in many areas the DMV works really, really poorly. But you should add universities and community colleges.

    katz

    March 9, 2010 at 12:54 am

    • Katz, thanks for your comment. You make my point, though: the DMV works well or poorly, depending on who’s in charge. The problem isn’t government – for it is being done well in many locations – the problem is bad government. When a society scorns its government, its talent goes elsewhere to work. When a society sees its government as an opportunity for excellent and useful public service, a great deal gets done, and done well.

      Monte

      March 17, 2010 at 2:13 pm

      • talent does not seek non-government work because government is scorned. talent seeks non-government work because it can be rewarded by markets.

        mike

        March 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm

        • Sometimes. But ask every teacher, pastor, social worker non-profit worker – did they choose their career for the money? Plenty of very talented people are simply not attracted by high-paying careers.

          Monte

          March 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm

          • agreed, there are other rewards certainly. and i think those same people are in government today regardless of scorn for there particular department or not. for people as an aggregate though, it’s the reward that keeps them out of government, not that it is criticized.

            mike

            March 17, 2010 at 3:24 pm

            • Could be, I suppose, but my hunch is that the scorn of government forms career directions, in some instances, quite early on.

              Guess we’ll need some research to prove our hunches!

              Monte

              March 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm

              • unfortunately i’m not sure how we could find any data to work out how much scorn for a particular vocation affected its ability to draw talent, with all other variables fixed

                mike

                March 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm

                • We don’t need to do any studies. Prior to Reagan, when government service was looked up to, the government could and did attract the best and the brightest. I mean the Manhattan project wasn’t staffed by mediocre scientists, for example.

                  Brent

                  April 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

          • Hallellujah for pointing out this simple fact! I am a little leery of folks who believe the market affects human behaviour so much. My own personal wealth (not that I have any) has NEVER motivated me.

            Michelle

            November 19, 2010 at 4:23 pm

        • I am not working to get rich and neither are any of my co-workers at the small daily where I work. We chose the career of journalism because we believe we make a difference and we support democracy. Your theory only works if people are motivated more by money than by other ideals.

          Michelle

          November 19, 2010 at 4:31 pm

          • incorrect. it works perfectly fine as can be seen throughout human history and different forms of government tried. because you can find or display yourself exceptions does not invalidate the overall theory. the aggregate effect is that people have, are, and very likely always will be, motivated primarily by personal incentive.

            mike

            November 20, 2010 at 9:17 am

            • You can keep saying it, but it won’t make it true. Not sure how you came to be so convinced, but how do you rationalize the military for yourself? It’s the one that even neocons agree is a GREAT usage of govt (they LOVE this one), and yet the hundreds of thousands who work for our military put their lives on the line for very little compensation and a generally lousy deal. I’ve worked with many former soldiers in the private sector and they are always intelligent, quality, people. Anecdotal sure, but I don’t believe that only people with “no other option” go into the Armed Forces (many like to say this – insult our soldiers even as they wave their flag pins)

              So how does your theory explain the military? Im sure you’ll have an answer because you clearly think you’re right, but the fact is that outside of the parasites on Wall St, most people are motivated by a lot more than just money. On Wall St, i would agree. The street clearly attracts those who would sell their own mother for a buck. Maybe you are a CDO trader?

              Quantum flux

              November 21, 2010 at 12:33 pm

              • uhm, how is it not true? can you show me that great society that didn’t respect property rights and grew wealthy and great? what? having trouble doing so? the aggregate motivator among a large group of people (like a country) has always been personal incentive. some styles of government try and force it to be the group instead but that doesn’t mean it works. just because you know someone who does some job and gives away all their money doesn’t invalidate this. or because they go into teaching which is a lower salary field and because they love teaching doesn’t invalidate it either.

                you act like you have some big catch with the voluntary military. the salary may be low but they can bank it as well, since depending on their living situation a lot of the typical expenses are paid for. you can leave the military or make a career out of it and end up with a decent amount of money. certainly there are people that are motivated by the gi bill as well. it doesn’t matter if you believe that people with little other options go into the armed forces do, the fact is you can go see guys that don’t have many options available to them go in for this reason. you are anecdotally talking about *former* soldiers – did you even think your belief through? this is after the military is done with them. you have heard the phrase about tearing people down to build them up too right? go take a look at the first week of training for army recruits. i guarantee that you will find a bunch of guys who don’t have a lot of options. i have known people that joined up because of this and my cousin also talked about it when he joined up. i found it hard to believe the percentage of the guys he was with that he considered screw-ups.

                and you are ignoring the non-monetary incentives as well. some people may join because it feels good to them to defend the country. that is a mix of doing something for the country and it’s good but also for the feeling in gives themselves. some people may also join to get to work with special equipment, on special equipment, or with special information. it’s not like you can do something in the private sector to work on a sub, or that it’s as easy to become a jet mechanic or something.

                you just deny reality if you think only people on wall street are motivated by personal incentive.

                as to the assertions i may be a neocon or a CDO trader, i’m an IT consultant. i’d also call you out for attacking the messenger instead of the message. and i’m a libertarian. my foreign policy is a lot more respective of rights and less interventionalist than ours today, the one thing i actually thought obama might do right. but no change there. i’d also jail the major banking fraudsters and wind down all these stupid insolvent banks a la the resolution trust corporation as was done for the savings and loans crisis. instead of moving all the crap onto the taxpayer’s books. no change with obama there either. great.

                mike

                November 21, 2010 at 1:27 pm

      • Monte I agree with you but I’m not sure folks see the real problem behind it all. Government IS necessary but when it is not held accountable then you will end up with a mix of both bad and good government. I’m afraid mostly bad because many start off with good intentions (like politicians) but eventually get turned and become part of the problem. I want some good government when necessary but I don’t think we need as much as we have and whatever we have should be held accountable… whatever that takes.

        Bob F

        January 28, 2011 at 2:04 pm

  37. Here are some other highly effective government programs:

    1.) Key contributions to intention of the internet, email, and the world wide web. Read “Inventing the Internet” by Janet Abbate. Phone companies had to be dragged along kicking and screaming, at first. Much later in the 1990s, after test networks and standards were in place, the internet was appropriately privatized.

    2.) No more burning rivers. Seriously, they used to be so heavily polluted that they would catch fire from time to time, until the government brought us the Clean Water Act and the EPA. Look it up. When’s the last time you heard of a river burning?

    3.) Vaccines for cervical cancer. Curing or preventing any type of cancer is a notable accomplishment in my book. The federal government shares the patent for HPV vaccines due to key scientific contributions by the National Institutes of Health (see “Who Invented the VLP Cervical Cancer Vaccines?” by Caroline McNeil). Notably, like the internet, much of the key research was done by scientists at heavily subsidized public and private universities.

    4.) Garbage collection. Until the early 20th century, people in cities used to throw garbage out into the streets, at best into large, overflowing waste receptacles that were never emptied except in the wealthiest neighborhoods. Cheap and efficient, yes, but I appreciate the heavy handed government intervention here.

    Scott Bartell

    February 27, 2010 at 4:37 pm

  38. What I find interesting is that most of the conservatives posting here are not answering the question: what does government do well?

    Instead what they are arguing is whether or not the services should exist in the first place. That is debatable.

    Conservatives are always claiming that government can’t do anything well. And that just isn’t true, as Mr Asbury points out on this blog. Government does plenty of things very well – better than anyone else. You may not like the things that government does – but that doesn’t mean that gov’t automatically does it poorly.

    Ted Chambers

    February 11, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    • ted, how do you know whether the government does it well or better if you simply don’t allow the private sector to even compete on some of these things? 15 – best transportation system – how do we know it does well vs. private solution? the claim here is well vs. other countries. probably debateable these days too. 16 the FDIC is insolvent and just got bailed out – you can certainly make the argument that the FDIC institutionalizes moral hazard and socializes losses, can you not? i don’t want to go through them all again but i’d say almost every one is debateable in whether the government should do it or not. in whether the government does it poorly, equally or better than private sector is hard to answer when the private sector is simply not allowed to do half these things.

      mike

      February 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm

      • Mike, capitalism, for both better and worse, naturally moves its efforts to where there is money to be made (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.) But some services that must be provided must be done where there is no money for profit.
        Our current healthcare debate is the perfect example. Insurance companies will never extend care to poor people without government assistance, for there is no money to be made there without it. Inner cities and rural counties often have limited access to healthcare of any kind for exactly the same reason.
        Unless one believes everything worthwhile is a moneymaker, there has to be a role for government – for business will simply have no interest in going where there’s no money to be made.

        Monte

        February 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm

        • insurance companies are not supposed to extend care to anyone, care providers do that. insurance is risk mitigation for catastrophic events. i would not mind lumping/socializing/subsidizing the costs for
          1. catastrophic events that cannot be underwritten; can’t be modeled by any actuarial science
          2. the truly poor

          #1 would work similarly to flood insurance (sans the ecnouragement to stay settled in flood zones in the housing market of course) and #2 work work similarly to the high risk drivers that the government forces auto insurers to take on and divy up via market share.

          health insurance now i believe doesn’t work as well as it could simply because it is not allowed to operate like home or auto insurance. prices are also out of control from providers because consumers no longer care what anything costs. the price discovery mechanism has been destroyed, and insurance is expected to be prepaid service rather than actual insurance.

          i am fine with government providing something if it truly can do it well, i am fine with government intervening if it truly does something better. whether ignored because of short term benefits or ignorance os potential consequences however most of our intervention seems to make things worse.

          mike

          February 11, 2010 at 9:43 pm

          • Mike,

            How do you define the “truly” poor. Until this Wall Street caused recession I was earning a decent living. Now, unless I sell my home, which I bought when times were better, I bearely have enough to make ends meet. My house is worth a lot more than what I could get for it now, so does this make me poor?

            I do have health insurance, sort of. There is a $7,500 annual deductable for each of us. We do have some retirement savings which we have already had to dip into. Do you suggest that we sell our house, use up the retirement money we have, and move out on the street so we can beg for health care and food. Will work for health care would make a nice cardboard sign don’t you agree?

            Bill Ruesch

            Bill Ruesch

            February 12, 2010 at 10:54 am

            • bill, i’m not going to propose where that line is drawn but at some consideration of income, assets, # of dependents, etc. you have a pretty vague description of your situation and i have no idea if you would meet what i would consider “poor” or not. certainly more to it than difficulty in making ends meet. i will note that your house may or may not be worth a lot more than you can get for it now. homes typically track inflation, and we were just in a huge asset bubble. i’d inflation adjust since 01 or prior, throw on some fudge because it’s government calc’d inflation, and some fudge for whatever investments and demographic changes have occurred in your area, etc. to get a general range of the true market value of your house. i would not use anything like sale prices over the last few years in determining how much it is actually worth. the true value of anything, of course, is what someone will pay for it.

              i’m not suggesting you do anything. as far as you concerns over the costs of health care, i share them, so let’s not create a false choice between something like current system and obamacare. i am for more freedom in the market, and to assert that what we have today is a failed one is simply dishonest. supposedly “socialist” countries have more freedom in major areas than we do have here. i am essentially stuck with one provider tied to my employer, i’m not sure if any other country in the world has this. it’s not worth opting out and picking my own because the government taxes it differently and it costs more that way. the $20 copay most americans enjoy is a weak copay designed to curb moral hazard. in reality things things like a physical (routine, affordable event) should not be done at all with insurance (unforseen catastrophic event) and in other countries people are able to choose larger and more meaningful ones. because of things like this i would say that someone like the swiss enjoy some more “free market” things than we do in the US – but in no honest way could anyone say either system is a true free market though, or even close.

              mike

              February 12, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      • Mike,

        I find your argument against the FDIC to be disingenuous considering that the private sector had hundreds of years to come up with and develop a way to insure deposits but did not. Because of that, thousands of people lost fortunes. The interstate system is a different matter considering that states and public corporations did develop some roadways but any skeptic looking at that legacy and the legacy of railroad development in this company would be hard pressed to find a way for private organizations to develop a centrally planned and developed interstate roadway system without government help or intervention a la eminent domain, funding, etc.

        Monte,

        I haven’t read all of the comments to see if another reader has mentioned this yet but I would like to point out that it was the government that developed rural electrification and telecommunications in this country after the power and phone companies refused because it was not profitable enough for them.

        So, Mike, if you are living in a rural area then you have the government to thank for the ability to even read this site.

        Jameson

        April 10, 2010 at 9:13 pm

        • actually i believe credit unions were insured privately for a long time. i would not think it fair to expect private enterprise to do so today in our current monetary system because it is so engineered and the market so intervened with. you can even see this in the FDIC itself as it has been undercapitalized in dealing with our current crisis. of course it would be completely obliterated if the government had not saved banks for political reasons.

          i think gov does ok with infrastructure.

          mike

          April 10, 2010 at 10:17 pm

      • We actually started with a private transportation system (toll highways) — it didn’t work at all, let alone as well as public highways.

        Brent

        April 12, 2011 at 10:18 pm

        • for some reason i can’t reply to your manhattan project post. in any case, my response is that you are applying a single major military endeavor of great importance and somehow saying the same forces that were involved in it are somehow imbued with typical government work, which is a pretty big stretch, don’t you think?

          i’m not familiar with the history of tollways, certainly today there are tollways that have been sold to private corporations (for better or worse), i’m not sure if the LA one was sold or the company built it (?) but i believe there is an express kind of tollway option that is run for profit and has a toll that varies upon the amount of cars using it and the amount of congestion in the regular public lanes.

          mike

          April 13, 2011 at 12:46 am

  39. I’d take exception to the original premise that the government runs the military well. Certainly our brave soldiers deserve our full support, but ask any one of the them if they see waste, abuse and mismanagement. The resounding answer is “every single day!”

    How about starting with “Other than the Constitution, can you name 10 things…?”

    NeonDeon

    January 17, 2010 at 9:17 pm

  40. #1. I am a pilot. Federal Aviation Regulations are written in so that even a lawyer would have hard time understanding it. Actually, I think they were written by lawyers/for lawyers.
    #2. Medicaid? Ever wonder why medicine costs so much anyway? Watch prime time television and tell me how many medicine ads you see. But aside from that, government bureaucracy is terribly inefficient at providing anything.
    #3. Social Security? Should I trust my fellow citizens to take care of me in my old age? I pay roughly 300 a month to Social Security. Imagine if I was allowed to keep that money and put it in a Roth IRA…it may actually grow. I could be a millionaire when I retire.
    #4. Seriously?…your common theme here is taking from the well to do and providing for the ne’er do wells and their offspring. And yes…I have kids of my own.
    #5. Private doctors cure people. CDC causes panic.
    #6. Again…Robin Hood mentality. Not overly well done or efficient.
    Did you even understand the question?
    #7. Though bureaucratic…again, what does it do well, not simply do…
    #8. Not my problem. Good parents DO WELL at raising children. Government creates dependency.
    #9. The DMV? You have to be joking. Stand in line for two hours to speak to an alien? Good choice.
    #10. sure…911 is awesome. Cops suck.
    I’m getting bored so I’ll skip to #20. Most businesses don’t have quite as deep pockets as our government…or the ability to simply steal from the population. But, please read what Sir Richard Branson has to say about this…

    Pete

    January 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    • Your response is written in true ignorance, and you have no numbers or data to back up your claim, and simply declaring something does not demonstrate the veracity of your argument.

      #2: The government bureacracy in Medicare consumes 4 cents of every dollar spent. The private industry is anywhere from 15-30 cents. They are the most disgusting example of bureaucratic bloating I can think of, other than the defense industry. Medicare is the single most efficient health plan around when it comes to bureaucracy. As for Medicaid, that is NOT an example that can be used for federal government. Medicaid is block grants given to the states for them to spend as they deem appropriate. My state has privatized medicaid and it has become a large joke compared to the state run program from years ago. Furthermore, if you have a doctor, then you have only Medicare and Medicaid to thank, because at one point that doctor trained in residency, and his salary, and the salary of the teaching physicians was paid by Graduate Medical Education Funds supplied by the Feds through Medicare and Medicaid. NO private industry contributes to this funding.

      #3: Social Security is not a retirement fund. Its retirement and disability insurance, and if you think that your IRA would do well even after the evidence of the last ten years, then I have a great investment scheme for you. Just give me a call, I’ll take your 4$300 a month. I guarantee rates of return worth millions.

      You really are desperately and willfully ignorant if you think that the CDC contributes nothing to my practice as a physician. They are the surveilance tool that ensures we won’t have another 1918 Flu pandemic. Their response to this pandemic was phenomenal, additionally their work in tracking other diseases like HIV, measles, pertussis and seasonal flu, and disseminating that to physicians like myself is invaluable. The 24 Hour News Cycle, and ignorant morons cause panic, the CDC gives professionals like myself the information they need to keep people healthy.

      I’ll get to the others like Head Start, and School lunches later because there is great data on the return on that investment.

      Ryan

      March 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm

      • “The private industry is anywhere from 15-30 cents.”

        and private industry today is free from government intervention in health care right? these seems like a comparison between a false choice, hey the only way to do this is medicare vs. health care industrial complex today!

        “Its retirement and disability insurance”

        retirement insurance? oh, so it’s insurance for something that will happen? that’s exactly what insurance is modeled to handle right?

        “if you think that your IRA would do well even after the evidence of the last ten years”

        you mean the time in which the government set interest rates too low via the central bank, enabling the greatest capital misallocation in the history of mankind?

        mike

        March 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

        • You’re dodging the point, Mike – Medicare beats private industry hands down, and Medicare is all government. I’ve worked for two different Fortune 100 companies, and they were masters of waste and inefficiency. At one of them, it was said that 30% of our income was spent correcting mistakes. Mom and Pop’s shop may be tight with their quarters, but business as a model of efficiency seems like a myth in my experience.

          Monte

          March 23, 2010 at 9:08 pm

          • yes, when you point to this heavily intervened with market for health. what about markets that are not?

            what about the post office? my old consulting company did a study about implementing rfid scanning for them. they couldn’t do it because all of the post offices were too different, there was no way to make it work. i wish i remembered the exact stat, but during the study they found some ridiculously high amount of packages to be misrouted before delivery – something like 30+%. i think i’m guesstimating low on that. how about insurance through them. i’ve been an ebay powerseller and dealth pleanty with usps, ups, and fedex. both ups and fedex resolved insurance claims within a week. i simply *gave up* trying to get money back for a $250 item because it was that painful of a process and amount of time. or how about tracking? fedex has a tracking number. ups has a tracking number. usps? registered number, insurance number, express number, receipt number, i’m probably even missing some. how about ups creating routes with only right turns to save on fuel? how long did it take usps to adopt hub and spoke model distribution – how about this one, would they have ever invented it themselves?

            i’m a consultant and i have only ever worked at fortune 500 and 100 companies. and, especially as a consultant, i have seen plenty of waste. but you know the stories that always beat private waste hands down? the government! this is a commonly shared belief among the hundreds of consultants i have now met over the years. tech and non-tech. i used to visit a site that had tech stories about screwed up systems. a good chunk of them were from really bad consultants. the absolute worst always involved government though!

            and why would you expect any different? can you logically tell me why you’d expect government to be as efficient if not more than the private sector? the private sector is seeking profits, which it can get by squeezing out inefficiences. what strong force like this is promoting efficiency in government?

            this recession is also going to put pressure on trimming the fat out of private companies. government, the non-productive piece of the economy though, still growing headcount. what happens to that fortune 100 company that rests on its inefficient laurels anyway? it’s competition comes to kick its ass. i am a practical libertarian. i will agree that some things should be done by the gov, some the gov does well enough, some maybe even well. but to believe that it is more efficient than the private sector? no. NO WAY.

            mike

            March 23, 2010 at 9:46 pm

              • Mike, you’ll get no argument from me that there are some things that business does better – at least, that good business does better – and anyone whose done business on Ebay knows there are some reliable and some unreliable. There are, however, cases where the public good is so indispensable that it can’t be subjected to the rises and falls of markets, and cases where the public good won’t be well-served by the necessity of profit (medical care for poor people comes to mind).

                The enemy, in my view, is unreasonable dogmatism, which biases us toward one side or the other, complicating our motives. Our negotiation shouldn’t be “How can we do this and generate profit?” or, “How can we do this and take in under government authority?” but simply “How can we do this?” with the emphasis on the this rather than our business/government bias. As long as we’re pre-committed to one direction or the other, we have two motives rather than one, and dogmatism often forces the primary one to the back of the bus (which is why its taken us a hundred years to come up with healthcare that serves 90% of us).

                Monte

                March 24, 2010 at 10:49 am

                • monte, i would agree that that is the proper approach. i think it is incorrectly faulting the current system of health care to blame it on being for profit or government run however. i can literally switch auto or home insurance within the hour. i can have a large amount of control over tailoring my coverage. this is simply impossible to do for health insurance, and the reason why is because of government intervention.

                  mike

                  March 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm

      • Yeah, Ryan! Great response. Thanks for improving the substance of the dialog here!

        Monte

        March 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm

  41. Social Security is a huge success. SS experts also don’t think it is in any real danger, I could explain this but just research it. Those scary SS IOUs? The government has never not paid it’s loans so relax.

    Medicaid is for the poor, Medicare is for the elderly – some commenters are obviously confused about this.

    I have lived in CA for 15 years. The DMV works very well here, I have never encountered a mistake.

    bob

    December 18, 2009 at 6:42 am

    • Well said, Bob. Now that the under-regulated securities industry has devastated our economy (a lack of government, rather than too much of it!) Californians are enduring the devastation of their state’s tax base, resulting in the gutting of things every Californian believes to be important.

      Alas, when staffs one-tenth the size needed to complete their assignments can’t keep up, some will say, “See? I told you that government always messes up.”

      Thanks for your comment!

      Monte

      March 20, 2010 at 12:31 pm

      • @bob, it seems to me that there are some very valid criticisms of social security.

        “The government has never not paid it’s loans so relax.”

        that’s like saying i’ve never saved for a rainy day so why bother? besides with fiat money of course we’ll never not pay our loans. we can always make more dollars and pay them back. the question is as to what the purchasing power of the dollar will be.

        @matt, you are taking the ben bernanke view of not enough regulation, while appearing to discount the fact that the real problem we have today is privatized profit and socialized risk, which leads to maximum risk taking. total moral hazard. and how is risk socialized? though government systems, institutions or legislation. do note that there are some people that saw this coming – many years ago – and all point to the largest enabler of this episode being the federal reserve keeping rates too low too long. is this too much or too little government? should government be setting rates in the first place? note that economists do not think themselves smart enough to set the price of a gallon of milk or 6 pack of batteries – so why do we believe them smart enough to know what the interest rate should be?

        as far as government messing up, you may believe this is because they don’t have enough people or money. whereas i believe this is because there is little reward for success or punishment for failure. the system is not set up to attract talent or to grow it. i’m a consultant and i go to companies all the time to help out, and i am often able to do things myself in a shorter amount of time than even multiple people working on the same problem with the existing staff. is the answer they simply need more people and more money? or is their profit/reward based company not structured to attract/grow talent? how much more difficult does it become to grow and attract that talent when an organization is not seeking profits, and is never allowed to even fail?

        mike

        March 20, 2010 at 1:13 pm

  42. National Parks… really. The parks are a national treasure and most would have been chopped down or mined out years ago. I could probably come up with many other things, but I would really have to think about it because I, like most Americans, take so much of it for granted.

    Chad

    November 24, 2009 at 1:38 am

    • dear chad,
      eventhough i enjoy the natl parks and think they are a treasure, there is no constitutional authority for the federal govt to own land….only for defense (as in forts and arsenals and/or govt buildings. see art 1 sec 8 paragraph 16. this does not mean that the states could’nt designate parks or even better an amendment to the constitution, authorizing such. but as it stands, as i read the document, the feds have no “enumerated powers” to take land for natl parks

      pieman

      November 25, 2009 at 6:24 am

      • Dear pieman:
        The view that says anything not mentioned in the Constitution is beyond the powers granted to the government is simply false. This has been a hot topic, since healthcare legislation has been on the table. I suggest two articles:
        Washington Post – Why Healthcare is Constitutional
        FiveThirtyEight – Constitutional Chicanery

        Monte

        November 28, 2009 at 8:00 pm

        • that doesn’t make any sense – it was the exact intentions of the constitution to dictate only what the federal government has the authority to do. this was obvious in the founders intents as well. it was only later during a supreme court decision iirc that the constitution was “interpreted” in such a way for the federal powers to be near limitless.

          as far as problems in healthcare/insurance, why is it we ignore so much of why it is messed up – largely a result of government intervention? the article i’d advise reading is
          http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200909/health-care

          mike

          November 28, 2009 at 8:05 pm

          • “it was the exact intentions of the constitution to dictate only what the federal government has the authority to do” – popular among libertarians, but it simply ain’t so. Show me where the Constitution says it.

            Monte

            March 23, 2010 at 9:02 pm

            • The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause in Article One to allow Congress to enact legislation that is neither expressly listed in the enumerated power nor expressly denied in the limitations on Congress.

              this is the interpretation now, i do not think it was the intent of the founders who expressly wanted a weak federal government.

              mike

              March 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm

              • Likely so (about the founders). Which left us, by the middle of the 19th century, with a Civil War waiting to happen whenever an issue divisive enough finally arose.

                Monte

                March 24, 2010 at 10:59 am

                • i don’t think that was necessarily an unavoidable thing because of the federal government being weak. it’s just that states were supposed to be much more independent than they are today. kind of like the EU and member countries.

                  mike

                  March 24, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  43. Boats for the military and coast gaurds, bridges, sidewalks, highways, and schools.

    Katelyn

    November 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm

  44. The common thread I see in the things that government does well: Everyone benefits from it in the same way, and has essentially the same need. The more uniformity and centralization in the service/benefit/need, the better the government is able to handle it. In my view, as soon as anything associated with the federal government becomes even slightly specialized, it begins to fail.

    Let’s take a look at some of your examples:
    FAA? No arguement on the benefits here, BUT it was the airlines changing their corporate culture in the 70s that brought real improvements in safety into air travel. You cannot mandate culture.

    Medicaid provides a safety net, but the program rations care and places poor emphasis on preventive care, which leads to patients being more ill and resource intensive when they do enter the healthcare system. Put everyone on medicaid and the whole system breaks down quickly. Medicare is the same. And if you develop a system wherein you are giving something away, you better have a lot of it.
    I’d argue that, just like the airlines, better effectiveness and outcomes are going to come from within the system, outside of government control. Separating healthcare financing from employment and moving toward individual management of healthcare and healthcare finance is a better answer than a govenment mandate.

    Social Security is a failure in my view, a demographic nightmare that the feds have gutted, leaving the SS trust fund full of IOUs, not real funds.

    Enough for me to mistrust any more government than we absolutely, postively must have.

    Bob

    November 13, 2009 at 3:03 pm

  45. monte, it’s not that government is bad is a self-fulfilling prophecy. it’s that non-government trims underperformers and government never does. (assuming a free market and capitalism, and no things like silly bailouts) – if i’m performing my function poorly, i fail. capital is released and flows into more competent hands. but government? it never fails, it just keeps going. if you legalized mail letter delivery to mailboxes, i’m sure ups or fedex or someone wouild provide the same service and better and cheaper. instead we just continue to dump money into the usps for eternity.

    government or not –
    if you aren’t allowed to fail,
    and you have no incentive to get better,
    the end result is always going to be the same.

    some programs like FAA do appear to work pretty smoothly, i agree. but that is probably a fairly small specialized group of people so it has much more of a chance of working pretty well.

    mike

    October 22, 2009 at 1:00 pm

  46. You hit the nail on the head.

    Government isn’t the problem, “Bad Government” is the problem.

    As long as people don’t get involved and participate in the political process we will have bad government that does not serve our interests.

    Bernie Malonson

    October 21, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    • Thanks, Bernie – I agree completely!
      Those who believe government to be uniformly evil create a self-fulfilling prophecy, something like this:
      Government is bad, therefore,
      We should cut it whenever we have a chance to do so,
      Then,
      Government ends up working understaffed and under-equipped, unable to keep up (years-long immigration hearing delays come to mind; or Katrina; or …)
      And,
      Government’s best and brightest administrators get fed up and find industry positions that ask less and pay more,
      And, Presto:
      Aha! Government is bad! It can’t do anything right!

      Monte Asbury

      October 22, 2009 at 11:43 am

      • So when government is bad, it’s often because those who strangle it have made it so.

        Monte Asbury

        October 22, 2009 at 11:45 am

  47. i imagine this challenge was issued at a federal level. and i don’t disagree someo of the state or local things pointed out here run acceptably.

    1. agreed

    2. 3. ponzi schemes approaching bankruptcy, costs dictated by government price controls. also you note the pain that could have been experienced with a privatized system today – that system would only work in a fair market, and it is very arguable that what we have right now is not one, and that the federal reserve (ie. gov) was the #1 enabler for the current crisis. (this is what everyone who predicted the crisis names as the #1 contributor as well, btw)

    16. which in turn made banks less risky – they didn’t want to go under. you could argue with the safety net banks actually take on more risk today, because they know the FDIC has got their back. you will note that today, the FDIC is about to tap the treasury as they are under capitalized to deal with losses (despite all of the bailouts even)

    20. no one was allowed to compete with NASA until very recently, and even now i am unsure how much they are allowed to realistically.

    mike

    September 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm

  48. I would like to add to the list, the National Park System, one of the best in the world, NOAA that provides us with up to date weather and other info., the US Coast Guard which until recently was part of the DOT, they maintain all our ports and shipping lanes, not mention rescuing a few people now and then.

    Gary Cretcher

    September 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm

  49. I think the focus of the question is what national programs does the federal government do well. With that in mind:

    1. The FAA.
    This probably qualifies.

    2. Medicaid
    This is done at the state level.

    3. Social Security
    More of a national piggy bank than a national program. The federal gov’t has been draining this fund for years. Most agree it will soon be insolvent. Not a good example of a program gov’t does well.

    4. SCHIP
    Administered at the state level.

    5. The CDC
    Pretty good example.

    6. School hot lunch programs
    The federal gov’t only provides standards and money. All the real work happens at the school district level. There is not enough work being done by the federal gov’t for it to be included in this list.

    The Soil Conservation Service
    Uh…never heard of it.

    Head Start
    Studies have shown that by the third grade any benefit from Head Start is negated.

    The Department of Motor Vehicles
    State run program

    E911 commissions
    Local program

    University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
    State

    Free public libraries
    State and local program

    Public health services
    State level usually

    The Interstate Highways Commission
    Federal program and probably a good example.

    The FDIC
    Good example but the FDIC is not really a federal gov’t program. It is funded by the banks through premiums. It is managed by a board of directors (appointed by the Pres) but it is not a political body. Doesn’t qualify for this list.

    The FDA
    You’re joking right? The FDA is a terrible organization that routinely is influence by industry to approve unsafe drugs.

    The Federal Elections Commission
    Most election work is done at the local level.

    Uniform Building Codes
    Uh, the ICC is a non-governmental body.

    NASA
    Not a bad example of a federal gov’t program – but what real benefit (aside from some pretty pictures from the Hubble telescope) have we received from the billions of dollars spent? Not a good example.

    So I gotta say I think you struck out. The question still needs to be asked, what does the federal gov’t do efficiently and effectively. Let us say when compared to other nations – what gov’t programs in the U.S. are in the top 10?

    Heck, I’m not even sure the military would qualify. When you consider the amount of money spent I’m not sure the military would be in the top 10 with regards to ‘efficiency.’

    hank

    August 2, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    • Hank – I think I understand your point, but I believe you’ve devalued the role of the feds in many of these areas (and, for the record, I don’t think the question was just about federal government, but about government generally).

      Regarding, for instance, Medicaid, S-CHIP, and school hot lunch programs: These are federally-created programs whose administration the feds determined would best be accomplished at the state level. Those were very good decisions – decisions that are examples of federal government working wisely. Good, Good, and Good credit to federal government as well as state government.

      Regarding the Soil Conservation Service – now more commonly the NRCS – if you live in the midwest, it’s everywhere, and it has a truly massive effect on water quality, soil retention, farming practices and wildlife habitat. The landscape of Iowa is dramatically different than it was when I was a kid, thanks to the work of the NRCS, especially returning over-farmed ground to wetland and woodland wildlife habitat. Crops sown on hillsides or near streams now have grassland strips diminishing soil and chemical runoff. America would be in a very different place without it. Very Good.

      Indeed, program after program that you mention is government run, but not necessarily federally operated. There’s no reason – other than a dogmatic one – to see state government as one whit different as a testimony to what government can do.

      I would not want to live in an America that had no FDA. Countless food safety problems have been prevented, despite the fact that lack of sufficient regulation protecting us from corporate influence has an impact. The FEC monitors and judges election procedure and challenges. Iran could use one about now. That part of the work is critically necessary at the federal level, to be sure that all states adhere to reasonable election procedures. Uniform Building Codes are adopted and enforced by governments, not by a private organization. NASA’s achievements have shaped American life – you wouldn’t be watching satellite TV, we wouldn’t know anything about North Korean nuclear development, and wouldn’t be using (and marketing worldwide) a host of common substances that have been developed by NASA engineers. Good, Good, Good, and Good credits to government.

      We agree on one thing: the military does not qualify. It gorges itself on half our discretionary spending, and pours billions out of the nation into the hundreds of bases we taxpayers support that accomplish only outdated cold-war purposes. It is the biggest of big government programs, larger than the militaries of the next 40 nations combined. Its budged could be halved without harming US security, I’ll guess.

      So, I do believe you’ve knocked down a set of straw men, suggesting far more anti-government cynicism than the facts themselves merit.

      Monte

      August 5, 2009 at 11:20 am

    • I have a blog dedicated primarily to the Printing and Publishing Industries, but recently I’ve felt the need to rant about big business and collusion with congress people. You should know that I’m a born-again-libertarian-free-market-capitalist who has seen the light and even though I retain some Libertarian ideals I know that in the real world most of them won’t work. I saw it with the collapse of our financial markets. Rock solid–my eye. Free market dosen’t work when people can use power and money to influence the lawmakers to change things to suit their greed.

      All of that aside, I was delighted to find your blog post because one of my readers who happens to be my brother asked exactly the same question of me that you’ve answered so well here. Thank you. I will post a link to your site on my response.

      And if you would like to see my blog it is Talking Through My Hat

      Bill Ruesch

      August 14, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      • Many thanks, Bill – glad it was helpful! I’ll be looking up your blog!

        Monte

        August 14, 2009 at 9:51 pm

  50. Regarding Medicaid:

    Are We Paying Too Much for Health Care? by John Mauldin

    “I want to pass on this quick note from Dennis Gartman’s eponymous letter. It should give all of those who favor a nationalized healthcare system pause, before they jump right in.” Quoting Dennis:

    “Canada is a wonderful place to have a nasty gash on one’s forehead stitched, or to break one’s nose in a game of pick-up baseball; but have cancer, or need eye surgery, or want an MRI, and the business of medicine in Canada and/or the UK breaks down badly in favour of medical care here in the US. For example… and we wish to thank The Investor’s Business Daily for the data noted here this morning…

    “… here in the US men and women survived cancer at an average of just a bit better than 65%. In England only 46% survive. In the US, 93% of those diagnosed with diabetes receive treatment within six months; in Canada only 43% do, and in the UK only 15% do! For those seniors needing a hip replacement and getting one within six months, 15% get it done in the UK; 43% get it done in Canada … and in the US 90% do! For those waiting to see a medical specialist, 23% of those in the US get in within four weeks, while 57% in Canada have not yet done so, and in the UK 60% are still waiting after four weeks.

    “When it comes to proper medical equipment, in the US there are 71 MRI or CT scanners available per million people. In Canada there are but 18, and in the UK there are only 14! Ah, but the best figure of all is this: 11.7% of those ‘seniors’ in the US with ‘low incomes’ say they are in excellent health, which in and of itself sounds rather low … rather disconcerting … and an indictment of the system itself, doesn’t it? But in Canada only 5.8% do!

    “Yessiree bob, ya’ jus’ gotta’ luv that collectivized, socialized medical care! Let’s all go break a collective arm and enjoy the benefits of socialized medicine in the Commonwealth! (Canada) … but heaven help you if you’ve got something really, really wrong. If that’s the case, you’ll be running south to the border faster than you can reach a specialist anywhere in Canada; of that we are certain.”

    Something to think about.

    Ben Hagedorn

    May 30, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    • Thanks, Ben – all true, I’m sure.
      1. But what he’s not telling you is that Canada’s system is weaker than that of most countries. He’s taking a bad example and using it to criticize single-payer care generally. But the truth is, most nations who have it rate far higher than the USA in all the categories listed, and cost a lot less. His argument is like looking at a Chevy Vega and concluding cars are no good, so we’d better stick with horses, and –

      2. Look for comments on Canada’s system a lot in the months ahead. GOP strategists have decided to wage war on Obama’s healthcare plan by criticizing bad plans in other countries, knowing full well that Obama’s plan is a private-insurer based plan and not at all like what they’re comparing it to. Single-payer systems are not really part of the discussion on Capitol Hill or the White House, except as Republicans bring up bad ones to imply that Obama is proposing one. Obama’s plan is not a “nationalized healthcare system,” and the leading Republicans know it full well. See It doesn’t matter what Obama’s health care plan says, we’ll still call it ‘government takeover.’

      Monte

      May 30, 2009 at 9:32 pm

  51. Навеяно наверное стандартным мышлением? Будьте проще ))

    Cederash

    May 23, 2009 at 4:56 pm

  52. Other than the military? You have to be kidding. As a Vietnam era vet, and an avid watcher of Iraq, AfPak, Iran, Georgia, etc., success is not what comes to mind.

    Lin Wells

    May 16, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    • No disagreement here. No element of American government is more corrupt, more business-controlled, and more profoundly wasteful than what Eisenhower warned would become “the military-industrial complex.” Nearly every member of Congress holds stock in defense contractors. Defense analysts on TV are often paid military consultants. Defense contracts are subcontracted to as many districts as possible, so that dozens of members of congress will lose jobs if the contracts are canceled. And this masterful mafia consumes more dollars than the next 49 nations’ defense departments combined.
      “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus said. And the military is where America’s treasure is. Small wonder we’re in continuous war.

      Monte

      May 19, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    • Monte, I left the Nazarene church as soon as I graduated from High School because of its knee jerk conservatism and fundamentalism. I only say this to establish the fact that I know something about the church from a critical stance. I’ve been surfing Nazarene sites lately. You are the most unusual Nazarene minister I have ever seen. I cant believe that there is another one like you. I am compelled to say that I admire you and that I guess this is proof that there is always hope.

      Lin Wells

      May 24, 2009 at 5:02 am

      • Lin – thanks very much for your kindness! I know exactly what you’re talking about (a lot could be said right there!), and your comment means a great deal. I really do appreciate it.

        Come by anytime – I’d love to hear your insights on the things I write about! And you’re welcome to email me anytime at the email link under “Pages.”

        Best regards,
        Monte

        Monte

        May 25, 2009 at 1:51 pm

  53. I’m going to add one gigantic area in which I think the U.S. government does a spectacular job…the U.S. Postal Service. Don’t laugh. We take the USPS for granted. You will never know how good we have it until you’ve lived overseas. I lived overseas for 9 years in 3 different countries and there is simply no comparison to how well the USPS is run. For example, did you know that in France, when you move into an apartment, you can’t just go give the post office your change of address form? Forever after, you must put the name of the first person who lived in that apartment on all your mail or you simply will not receive it. When I was teaching at Kuwait University, the school would occasionally send a staffer over to the PO to pick up our mail. He would then bring it back at his leisure and bring it up to our office. We sometimes waited for two weeks to get any mail, with all of us longing to hear from home. So, several times, I drove over to the PO and asked them if I could get my mail. Without even looking at any ID, they let me in behind the mail boxes. The university mail box was stuffed to the brim and overflowing onto the floor. So, I’d go through all that and I’d go through another bin or two and I’d grab all the mail of every teacher who worked in my unit. Then I’d take it back to the campus and distribute it. Can you imagine such a casual attitude existing in regards to the postal system here?

    Linda Thieman

    May 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    • Linda, wonderful observation! And people walk to our houses and hand our mail to us six days a week! And they’ll take our mail anyplace in the USA – hand delivered – for 43 cents!

      Monte

      May 16, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    • Food for thought?

      How much money might the government save if Fed Ex and UPS handled mail? Maybe we wouldn’t have seen the $2.8 billion the USPS lost in 2008? Do you think either of those private companies could have curbed those losses? If not, you better believe they would have made immediate changes so it never happened again.

      Zag

      June 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm

      • Yes – they would have simply raised the rates and closed hundreds of post offices. But the USPS has to have Congressional approval to do so, in order to protect consumers. Had UPS or FedEx done the same work with the same income, they would have lost much more, for they would have had to take out millions for executive salaries and dividends for shareholders. The FedEx and UPS business models wouldn’t work for the USPS’s business. They can do whatever they want, and serve whomever they want. The USPS has a very different charter, and its business has changed hugely in the last few years. It’s just biased nonsense for one to assume a private industry would do their business better.

        Monte

        June 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm

        • monte, you are acting like mail service costs 8 dollars for the post office and 8 dollars for ups, but ups charges 10, to allow for 2 dollars to be paid out to executives. but you ignore that private companies can and do perform the same or better quality, for a lower cost, even at a profit. especially over time – what incentive does the post office have to do any better? ups and fedex are always pushing down their own costs, to maximize profit, and lowering their costs to fight eachother for market share. what do i as a consumer need protection from? them lowering prices to compete with eachother??

          government has no such pressure. it has taxpayers ignorant to which part of the bureaucracy is working or not, and the government solutioni is often provided as the only one.

          i think we can agree that ups/fedex are superior on packages no? if usps was cheaper and of the same quality, businesses would use them. i worked at computer discount warehouse for several summers though, and the few boxes that went usps were primarily because that’s the only way they could go – to military bases. thousands went to ups, fedex, airborne express and dhl. less than 100 a day were usps.

          what about the very well publicized fact about ups logistics figuring out how to maximize rights turns on package delivery to save time and money? does the usps even copy that today? they’ve been around forever – why didn’t they come up with it in the first place?

          i’ve dealth with a lot of package shipping. through that job, through my own ebay business, domestically and internationally. overall there’s not even a question – the private market is superior. it looks like the fedex and ups business models do work for the usps’s business. now i suppose you might complain about the 0.000001% of the population that lives in a spot that ups won’t deliver, but 1. how many people is this and 2. do these people care or places even exist? i’m doing a lazy man’s googling but i’m not coming up with examples of people having no private package delivery coverage. i think it’s pretty settled – the private market does it better. if it didn’t, so many consumers and businesses wouldn’t be choosing it.

          now you may say sure, but not the case with mail! perhaps so – we won’t know though, because it’s illegal for a private company to deliver mail. i actually think it’s illegal for me to write you a note and then place it inside your mailbox (or even stick it on the flag). maybe if we didn’t have this monopoly established we could see how letter delivery by the private sector would work, which may even lead to the closure of the usps by obsolescence.

          mike

          June 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm

          • Thanks for your comment, Mike. It does boil down to a key word in your last paragraph: maybe. We live in an era that’s convinced itself that “government is the problem,” and is quick to assume that private enterprise would do better.

            I worked for a Fortune 100 company during the early ’80s. It was said that a third of the company’s income went to correcting mistakes. Like GM, the company had grown big, powerful, ingrown, and unattentive to its customers’ needs. Waste was rampant. From my perspective, its appears dozens of government agencies do a better job. Medicare, for example, has a fraction of the overhead and higher customer satisfaction than any private health insurer.

            There is a place for the government agency, and profit is not the only motive that can create good work. Healthcare insurance, like FedEx, is a business based upon providing a service to a select slice of the people who need services. When service needs to be provided to an entire sector but that sector may not have the money to guarantee profit, we have traditionally relied upon government to help us. Health insurance carriers aren’t interested in prospects who are sick, however great their need may be. FedEx isn’t interested in 1st class mail to every house in, say, rural America, which is still – at $.44 – a remarkable bargain. E-mail has torpedoed the volume of 1st class that was once the USPS’s bread and butter, so it’s no surprise that USPS is groping to re-invent itself: its major product has disappeared. That is not the result of mismanagement, but of societal change. Meanwhile, USPS is charging after increasing their service to direct mail customers as well as provide stellar and simple service to Ebay sellers – and I’d guess they’re winning that battle, for their solution is much simpler for the home seller to do on-line.

            All that to say we need good people doing good business, and that doctrinaire approaches are probably going to be simplistic and only selectively effective, IMO.

            Monte

            July 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm

            • my maybe is something we could try though – except the government has made it illegal to compete. i believe in england they did try to open up regular mail and see if it put the state out of business, although in england the post office is much different than ours. ours is just a place to mail things, wheras theirs also serves as a convenience store and i think even pharmacy. so they have not been phased out.

              regarding your fortune 100 company, my own job is as a consultant, and i’ve only worked at fortune 500 and 100 companies. i have seen plenty of waste. but the brunt of the crazy stories about waste (thedailywtf.com has many for tech consultants) come out of government. and really, the private market has a way to fix these things. if a company is really bad, it fails. and the company has pressure on itself to always be eliminating waste, because elimination of waste yields higher profits. what is the motivation for government? they can always just raise tax revenue and put it into a failing program – it’s like having a constant bailout. and what incentive is their to improve efficiency and eliminate waste? a dime this year a taxpayer a quarter the next – what’s the big deal, they hardly notice or feel it right?

              i won’t defend our healthcare/insurance system, it’s absolutely screwed up. i don’t agree that medicare or a universal healthcare type program is the right option though, we have plenty of healthily functioning insurance markets that health insurance could act like if allowed to be more free in the market. instead we have a system that has resulted in completely breaking price discovery and has thus unsurprisingly resulted in out of control costs.

              healthcare insurance is not really analogous to fedex. fedex is providing you an on demand service. insurance, in any form, is a product designed to mitigate risk. profit comes from having a pool of people, knowing the costs of paying out the benefit for x% of people who will experience the things insured against, and spreading that cost among all with some extra for profit. of course health insurers are not interested in prospects who are sick, just as auto insurers aren’t interested in covering prospects who just crashed their car, or home insurers in covering prospects who are trying to buy home insurance after their house just caught on fire. it’s simply not how insurance works. you have to buy it before the risky event occurs, because the service you’re buying is to spread the cost of the risk among many people. once a risk has *happened* then no one can insure against it. in the case of health care i would still help these people, just not through a product called insurance. and i think if we actually let insurance ACT like insurance, that we would see the price of health care items drop drastically.

              it may be 44 cents to deliver mail to rural america, but that doesn’t mean it’s a deal if it’s costing the post office a dollar to do it. even before e-mail, was the usps not running into problems? also as i noted, for those who ship packages, the way to go is still a private company. i agree that usps is trying to target ebay sellers, but i think few ebay sellers of high value items are leveraging it. i still use the post office, but there are specific cases for when i do so. i’m not advocating for us to close the post office either, to be clear – i want it to be legal for private companies to compete, and i want no bailouts of the usps. my understanding is that it is financed entirely on its own accord today. if private companies put it out of business, so be it. if people are like me and choose to use both depending on the circumstances, then that’s perfectly fine as well.

              mike

              July 7, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    • Again, you are total wrong, Mr. Gee.
      Until the republicans made it mandatory for the Post Office to fund health care for all workers going forward 75 years, the USPS was indeed turning a profit. This is not about pensions. The fact is that the post office works quite well. It is being purposely drained of funds because the work force is the second largest unionized work force in America. And it is worth noting that the USPS does not get one dime in taxpayer money so don’t say it is “on our dime.”
      You remind me of the old definition of an ideology: An ideology is a mechanism that allows people to have an opinion on something they know nothing about. You were wrong about China holding all of our debt and you are wrong about the post office.

      Rev. E.M. Camarena

      August 31, 2013 at 12:28 am

  54. Though I fully agree with most on this list (U of I hospitals and clinics were spectacular during my high-risk and complications-ridden pregnancy!) I do think that Medicaid really isn’t doing much better than private sector health care these days. Just consider Plan D and how many elderly infirmed patients are getting abysmal care because they cannot survive their time in the “donut.” Also, many of these programs are successful (or not) based on the mass populations they serve. So in Iowa, the DMV may not ever make mistakes on registrations and titles; in CA it’s a rarity to have it done right the first time. Same is true for the public libraries: walk into one in IA and you can find what you want. Try that in CA, and you’re on a wait list for weeks, if not months.

    By the way, many of the items on the list wind up being red herrings. The question was “what does government do better than business?” and yet your justification for some items is that “this doesn’t happen in other countries.” It begs the question of whether it *should* happen here (which of course, I think it should) and doesn’t consider whether a business could perform the function. In order to make the list more persuasive, you’d have to consider the purpose of business to the purpose of government and then explain how business would never have a stake or an interest in the public good. Which of course, also explains why we should never compare running a business to running a government: the purposes and goals are completely distinct. As well they should be.

    Which, now that I think of it, makes this list (good as it is!) a moot point as well.

    Robin

    May 15, 2009 at 10:28 am

    • Robin – thank you for your thoughts. Of course, you’re right that services vary in quality across the nation. And of course you’re right, that businesses and government have different purposes.

      Within the scope of this post, though – which was a reply to the idea that government can do nothing well, so the less of it, the better – I wonder if your comments add a bit of punch to my response.

      I believe that the problem is not government, but bad government. You illustrate by pointing out that services from the same agency may be well-done in one part of the nation, and poorly in another. Seems pretty clear, in that context, that since gov’t is doing well in once locale and badly in another, that reform of the bad part is what’s needed, not a wholesale dismissal of government.

      Second, remember that Medicaid gets the customers that insurers reject to protect their profit margin. Since no business is willing to take them, business gets no more than a zero on a 1-10 scale, even if Medicaid gets a low score. Medicaid is probably dreadfully under-funded, given its task.

      What is truly moot, I suspect, is not the list, but the wish that it could all be done by business (let alone the unsupported idea that business might do it better.)

      Monte

      May 15, 2009 at 11:25 am

  55. Oh, wait, I’ll add one more, the requirement to provide safe drinking water to our communities. and the fact that for the most part, we do.

    Anita

    May 15, 2009 at 7:28 am

    • Thanks, Anita – good thinking! As I write this, I’m sitting by the park in downtown Washington, IA. My town is benefiting enormously from a program called “Main Street, Iowa.” I can see from where I sit literally dozens of improvements that are related to the MSI toolkit. Our downtown is beautiful, and we are paving the way for a prosperous future – not all that common in small-town Iowa!

      Monte

      May 15, 2009 at 11:28 am

  56. I would add Resource and Conservation Districts to the list. I’ve seen quite a few of these offices add spark to their local urban and rural communities.

    thanks for the reminder to us to think positive.

    Anita

    Anita

    May 15, 2009 at 7:28 am

  57. I would add OSHA to your list, Monte. Consider the working conditions and product safety seen in China and other parts of the world. Business, particularly big business, can be terribly amoral.

    I would also assert in response to the challenge you were given that, having peered deeply into the inner workings of many businesses, government couldn’t do much worse. There are flawed and crazy people at work in one, and flawed and crazy people at work in the other.

    The question of whether business or government may be better at a given thing is really more a question of positioning, motivation (I’m sorry, but business seldom just “does the right thing” – they don’t have that luxury), resources, and most importantly:

    Do the correct circumstances exist that people can run off and, through motivation of self-interest, create an organization that somehow benefits a larger community through jobs or products, etc. Wherever something needs to be done but no “market” can be successfully created, or market forces will create undesirable results, gov’t is often THE alternative.

    It’s not a question of one versus the other, but how they can best work together, and how we can play to the strengths of each while mitigating the weaknesses.

    Joe Hayes

    May 13, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    • Joe – a brilliant comment! I was surprised, as I reviewed my list, to realize how many of the government agencies I included were there because of businesses taking advantage of people! OSHA is an excellent example; employees used to die on the job a whole lot more often than they do today – and solely because the bosses wanted to make money at the expense of people whom they could fire if they complained.

      A friend of mine used to be the County Attorney. He often insisted that in making law enforcement effective, “it always comes down to people.” In the end, as your comment reminds me, both government and business are surely completely dependent on ethical, honorable, competent, hard-working people. Thanks!

      And you make another important point: where there’s no market, there’s no business. People with little money are not going to get the same level of business interest as people with a great deal of it. Business will only go where there’s money to be made. Which is why poor people don’t have health insurance.

      Some things we will have to do together, regardless of whether money can be made, and government is the only realistic means of doing them.

      Monte

      May 14, 2009 at 9:15 am

  58. Amen to the public libraries!! Can’t wait to show Kevin this list & see what he says!

    Jessica

    May 13, 2009 at 11:10 am

  59. I agree. There are many things that government agencies do well and we are a lot better off with them then without them. However, there is definite room for improvement. I discuss this and more on my blog, Carl’s Blog on FDA Stuff. I would love to hear from you.

    Carl's Blog on FDA Stuff

    May 12, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    • No argument from me there, Carl. There is definitely room for improvement. And, ironically, when we develop the idea that government is hopelessly bad, efforts at improving it fade away, and it gets worse. Then fewer people of vision are attracted to public service. And then it gets still worse, as in “You’re doing a great job, Brownie” – incompetent political appointments rather than experts.

      Getting worse is a downward spiral that, IMO, can only be turned around by a reality check that demonstrates that government is only bad when incompetent people make it bad.

      Thanks for your comment – I’ll be by soon!

      Monte

      May 13, 2009 at 10:18 am

  60. Another friend left this comment on the original question (which is back a post on Vacation in Somalia):

    Hi M,
    I will add to you list of 20. No better yet I’ll start a list of my own. 1. We are arguably the most powerful nation of the planet, yet we have a system(flawed) that allows us to change our leadership in a non violent way. When I lived in Bombay in the 60’s government leaders were murdered and families were violated to insure transfer of power.
    Oh yea, 2. My American passport.
    then 3. title 19, and 4. WIC & 5. I forget which amendment that says “free Speech” [...]

    Monte

    May 11, 2009 at 2:35 pm


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