photo credit: Civisi

The Sutherland Institute hosted a blogger breakfast this morning and invited Spanish Fork Mayor Joe Thomas to speak about his experience in government and some of the challenges he has seen during his time in office. Mayor Thomas’ remarks highlighted several struggles he has had in combating inertia in government.

The problems that Thomas described sounded like classic case examples of protectionism, wherein government agents create a security net around their job such that they are guaranteed employment regardless of their efforts. In this situation, government abandons free market principles to introduce monopolistic safeguards for themselves and their successors. When this happens (and it happens in nearly all government entities), Bastiat’s words ring ever more true:

Government is that great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. (Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms, p. 99)

Without competition, government becomes indolent and inertia drives all operations towards a status-quo level of mediocrity. Few incentives exist in such an environment to innovate, take risk, and work hard. With a legislatively guaranteed paycheck, the government worker can rest easy, free from the fear that exists in a free market to create goods and services faster, cheaper, and better than the next guy.

What, then, is the solution? Mayor Thomas proposed that government needs more leaders, instead of managers. He hopes for more people who can think outside of the box, drive new initiatives and propose creative solutions. But the reality of the situation, sadly, is that there are few free market leaders who 1) desire to run for office, 2) stick to their principles after being elected, and 3) proactively seek for positive change. Additionally, government action often requires a majority vote, and principled and proactive leaders can easily be defeated by their protectionist colleagues.

The solution, as always, lies inherently in the people. We can easily boot out of office anybody who is usurping the system and not providing adequate service for the wages we pay them. If we remain at home on voting day or continue to be uninformed about the problems that need to be remedied, we will never be able to contribute to and work towards a solution. We reap what we sow, and that includes lazy, status-quo government employees who live off of our taxes.

There are always two forces at play in determining any given course of action: inertia and incentive. We can either ignore the problem and allow leech-like government workers to grow fat off of our hard work, or we can develop and promote proper incentives that will open up government services to competition, transparency, and accountability. Mayor Thomas is right: electing good leaders is one step. But that step cannot be taken until we do our homework and understand what the problem is, and who can provide a good solution.

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