Listening to talk shows on NPR, I learn that a segment of the population is convinced that unless the government provides basic services, all society will break down into despair and poverty. A couple of particulars that are often mentioned: air traffic controllers and food inspectors. Supposedly, when this horrible sequestration hits, suddenly there will be fewer of these people and we will have to all put up with shortages of food and longer lines and more delays at airports.
First of all, just to get the obvious out of the way, none of this has to happen. They could simply take the tiny percentage of the budget and take it out of everyone’s paycheck. Those who can get a better paying job may quit and go do so. The only way there will be a shortage is if no one who can do the job is willing to replace the workers who quit. In this economy do you really think it is likely that a 2.7 percent cut is going to make people leave or refuse to take a job as an air traffic controller or a food inspector?
That is only one way in which costs could be cut. Does anyone really think the government’s departments have been efficient in getting reasonable and competitive bids from venders? We all know that our government can get by on 97.3 percent of its planned increase in budget. This sequester is not even a spending freeze. It is a reduction in the expected rate of expansion.
But the real issue here is that there is no reason for the executive or legislative branches of government to have anything to do with food inspection. Do you really think that companies who supply food to millions of people want to kill their customers or want to make them sick? Far from making us safe, government interference actually puts us in danger. By taking responsibility for keeping the food safe, the government takes the incentive away from the food providers. Food production could easily be like other industries that police themselves because they don’t want to be sued for injury or charged with criminal negligence.
Likewise, air controllers do not need to be under socialism. Why shouldn’t the people who are in the business of arranging air travel bear the responsibility of air traffic control?
People who think this is impossible or unlikely simply do not understand how much private industry has provided for cooperation and safety in the past. They are told a few horror stories in their textbooks and simply believe that the only answer was the government—that society had no peaceful way to correct these problems as they arose and prevent them in the future. They don’t know the dirty little secret of American history, that the government has been pro-business and not laissez-faire. Time and again they made it illegal to use the courts for class action suits to address issues of safety and pollution and other factors.
We could have built an air traffic or a food inspection system, but government wouldn’t let us.
So here is the learning opportunity that no one wants you to take: At one time in our country, it looked easy and beneficial to have the government usurp the job of food inspection and arrange for all air traffic. No one felt the loss.
But it was all a Ponzi scheme. It was an inefficiency that we didn’t notice at the time, but which now weighs us down in the coming debt-apocalypse. The government can pretend that it is providing a service at a certain point in history when society is prosperous and does not notice the inefficiencies and the problems that will develop. But later it all becomes clear. Suddenly the government’s impossible budget threatens basic transactions and services because the government has usurped them. Yet our government continues to strive to pretend we are all in real danger from a reduced increase in spending (called a “budget cut”) and to pretend we aren’t facing real danger if we continue to spend.