Incompetence and Poor Results OK When Government Delivers the Goods

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CNN recently reported the results of a poll indicating that Americans have low tolerance for waiting. Although many admit they can be temporarily sedated with music and periodic updates of estimated wait time, their patience wears thin the longer they are dragged out on hold or standing in lines. We could surmise that Americans tend to expect quick action and are quick to pull their loyalty from those who demonstrate a propensity for incompetence, poor service, and poor results. However, something about Americans' supposed low tolerance for incompetence and poor performance seems inconsistent. The tolerance associated with waiting on the phone or waiting in line seem trivial when juxtaposed with the amount of tolerance Americans have given to their government's infinitely expensive, destructive, and illegal behavior.

Perhaps it can be attributed to the level of competition that exists for goods and services, such as internet providers and cell phones, in the private sector. If one drops the ball, the average consumer, knowing nothing about markets and economics, can easily find another company to satisfy their wants and needs. Quick reaction seems to be inherent, genetic. Americans might piss and moan about poor products and services, but they will not tolerate such a disagreeable situation for long.

There's only one government. No matter how much it screws up, and that's always--except when it's stealing from the masses, killing innocent people, and causing destruction from one end of the earth to the other--Americans just seem to go about their daily routines, shrugging their shoulders and even laughing about the mass screw-up that government is. Leno and Conan joke about government incompetence all the time and we just laugh and nod our heads in agreement.

It's always funny because it's true. 'Hey, did you hear about that $400 wrench the government bought, or all that money NASA spent in the early days of the space program developing an anti-gravity pen that could write in space and how the Russians solved the problem by using a pencil? What about all that stuff the Pentagon keeps buying again and again because it can't find the stuff it already has? And how about that recent 'smart bomb' that went off course and hit a school full of children instead of its programmed target? Where else would you expect a 'smart' bomb go, but to a school?' Yep, Americans are quick to yuck it up when diatribes are directed at blatant government incompetence and criminality, but never quick to demand that government change its ways. It must be just the ways things are.

If a department store put cameras in the dressing rooms to protect itself and its customers against the costs associated with shoplifting, Americans would be outraged. Would management get a free pass if it just said, 'Well, if you're not a shoplifter, don't worry about it. Go about your business and shut your face! After all, we watch all customers to protect you from the dishonest ones'? Whenever this happens, it always makes national news because most sane Americans would find this practice not only objectionable, but also criminal. Regardless of the seemingly endless apologies for a bad management decision and promises to right the wrong, many loyal customers would vote with their feet and go somewhere else.

When the government does essentially the same thing with the phone calls of millions of Americans, it's no big deal. After all, the world has changed since 9/11. And President Bush assured us that the government would not listen in on the phone conversations of the 'innocent.' Government said it's for your own good and Americans, evidently more confident of a guarantee coming from government than one coming from a good or service provider in the private sector, agreed. Evidently Bush has some character traits or way about him that Bill Gates and Dave Thomas do not.

When corporate 'crooks' get sentenced to long prison terms for screwing the little guy out of what the general public thinks is his right as a consumer and a worker, the masses cheer, even though they only know as much as what government-controlled media outlets have been drumming into their heads week after week, month after month. When government crooks run up deficits and the national debt, destroying the standard of living for everyone and those yet to be born, most Americans are incapable of figuring out who is to blame because they are being greased by the media and politicians to receive the Caligula Tax Increase Fist as the only solution to our pending economic calamity.

Maybe I have been thinking about this too deeply. Maybe it's something simple, like a gimmick, that allows government to get away with criminal and murderous behavior, like the War in Iraq , and still continue to get enough public support to plow forward with more criminal and murderous behavior. It must be those 'Support Our Troops' magnets, and empty slogans to 'stay the course,' 'be patient,' and 'complete the mission' thrown around periodically by the president that sedates people and keeps them coming back for more incompetence and poor results, conditions that would never be tolerated in the private sector for goods and services. That, or the American people are just plain stupid.

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Harry Goslin's picture
Columns on STR: 40

Harry Goslin lives in eastern Arizona.