Saturday, December 7, 2013

One of the things I learned...

...back in the 1980s was that government can never do anything as well as the private sector. Never.

With the disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.Gov website, it's hard to argue this point. In fact, the Times reported just recently (my emphasis):

Jeffrey D. Zients, the presidential adviser leading the repair effort, said he had shaken up management of the website so the team was now “working with the velocity and discipline of a high-performing private sector company.” 


And then, on Meet the Press last week, the roundtable had this to say:

“The most distinct thing in this report: ‘the team is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness,’” MSNBC chief political analyst Chuck Todd said. “That is an acknowledgement that this was a government operation for a long time, and it failed, and now we’re bringing in the private sector folks. That is an indictment of the whole idea of government as the solution.”

“Government is like an offensive lineman,” New York Times columnist David Brooks said. “It can do something really well. It can do blocking, it can create order. But when you ask government to be a wide receiver, then you’re asking it to do things it can’t do… Republicans win elections when Democrats overreach and ask government to do things it can’t do.”

MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell said the malfunctioning website threatened the project of liberalism by presenting government as structurally incapable of implementing its goals.

“This was a very tough bet, and [Obama] had an obligation to make sure the rollout was not disastrous, in order to achieve those goals,” Mitchell said. “Now they’re at risk of losing the credibility of government as an agent of change, for a generation.”

And in the wake of the rollout, it's hard to argue with any of that. (Except what David Brooks said. Governments can certainly do health care reform; they've done it all over the globe. In fact, every other developed country has universal health care and none has considered a return to the private system. Does Mr. Brooks really think the United States is operating in a vacuum?)

But I bring all this up to share an experience I just had with my property taxes, my mortgage company and the Cook County Treasurer's office. I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say that I had a problem and after going around and around on the phone with my mortgage company and the Cook County Treasurer's office I finally decided to go down to City Hall and fix the problem in person. My wife dropped me off, drove around the block and waited for me to give her a progress report. I didn't know what to expect, but shortly texted her, "This may only take a few minutes!"

I walked in the door on Clark Street and found the office immediately to my right. A nice young man directed me to a lady a few steps away. There was no line on a Friday afternoon. Impossible, I thought. Again, not to bore you with all the details, but she figured out in a matter of minutes that my mortgage company had paid the tax on the wrong property. Imagine that: the big, bad city of Chicago was right and my "private sector" mortgage company was wrong. What's more, as I mentioned, it took only a few minutes to clear up. The Cook County Treasurer's Office had functioned with "private sector velocity!"

So maybe -- just maybe -- it's not as black and white as we had been taught back in the Reagan Years. 

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