News item: Fear of Big Government at Near Record Level
A parking ticket outside a doctor's office on First Hill in Seattle is $44, and an hour later the parking inspector is circling again. He knows where naive parkers can be found. They're the folks who think an hour and a half payment at the meter will suffice, when, chances are, the doctor will take "longer than expected". Fair enough to pay the fine, but $44? It's not about regulating parking spaces, but how to increase City income.
But if five minutes is worth $44 to local government, the citizen's time is not worth much at all. Hence, the $10 a day paid to court jurors ordered to service (in King County, WA, for example). Hence the long waits on the telephone to talk to government agencies.
The State government is the same. Only a few officials--like Gov. Mitch Daniels in Indiana--bother to find what it's like being serviced by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Stand in line for a license in downtown Seattle, as a friend did this week, and you see a sign that says, "Take a number here," with an arrow pointing down. Down is where a table is set, with a box with another sign. It doesn't say, "Press here for a number." It says, "Press for service." One stares at it, eventually pushing the button (will a bell ring, a person appear, or will a numbered card appear?). A numbered card appears, and then one hears a bureaucrat standing nearby, sarcastically saying, "Congratulations, you got a number!" In other words, how dumb can you, the citizen, be? Immediately behind you, however, comes a woman who has the same confused reaction, followed by another. Does the bureaucrat helpfully suggest, "Press the service button for a number"? No. Does he or anyone think to change the sign? No, he waits until people figure it out, then congratulates them. For which he is paid a salary by the people whose intelligence he insults.
We are all supposed to understand the little routines and drills that occupy each different bureaucrat's day, whether at the airport, at the Customs office, the IRS, the Social Security office--whatever. They understand where you are supposed to park at the airport or get an IRS form, which forms which agencies require for you to start your shoe shine stand; why can't you? Further, you the citizen, guarded by liberal laws to protect you against all possible mistakes, are supposed to sign form after form of legalese exculpating the bureaucrats from responsibility. They can wave the form later and say, "This is your signature, isn't it? Whose fault is it that you didn't read the form?"
It's not the bureaucrats' fault. Many are fine people and eager to serve. But the incentives are seldom in place. In the private sector you at least have some choices, and some companies (e.g., Toyota, Nordstroms) actually strive to make a reality of the old retail saying, "The customer is always right."
Benjamin Disraeli said, that, in general the difference between a liberal and a conservative is that the conservative will make you fill out less paper. It's not a small difference. It is becoming a bigger one all the time. The American Founders, likewise, wanted a limited government to protect people from petty harassments. Wouldn't it be great if the Presidential candidates took up this theme today? The last one who did so was Ronald Reagan. His Secretary of Commerce, Malcom Baldridge, made a campaign of forcing government forms into plain English--language the recipient, not just the dispatching agency, could understand. Reagan also--briefly--was able to reduce the number of forms themselves.