Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Does the government do anything well?

Recently I debated commenters at the Huffington Post.  I made the claim that the government is always incompetent. 


The government has spent trillions on reducing poverty and yet we still have poor people. That's not surprising when you realize the government is incapable of doing anything good. And yet many of you want this same incompetent government to run your healthcare. I can't imagine why.
The liberals disagreed. Here and here.

One commenter, who prefers insulting me to actual arguments, listed things that the government does, in response to my claim.


Do you travel on roads, do you take public transportation, do you call the police when you need them, do the firemen come when you have a fire? Do you have a library, clean water to drink, parks for your children to play in? Shall I go on? Think before you post! 
I pointed out that the government does not run roads well.

40,000 people each year die on American roads. This would not be acceptable if the roads were privately owned. Why are 40,000 deaths each year acceptable because they are overseen by the government?

Understand that if you want to argue for government run roads, then you are arguing in favor of more than 40,000 deaths each year in this country.

How are 40,000 deaths each year acceptable?

Let me repeat myself: In order to argue that the government should run roads, you must be arguing that more than 40,000 road deaths each year is acceptable.

Do you see how the argument is framed?

Me: The government's roads kill 40,000 people each year, and this is unacceptable.

Pro Government Person: 40,000 deaths each year (plus taxes, speeding tickets, car insurance, etc) are an acceptable price to pay for government roads.

After knowing the two sides of the issue, do you support government run roads? 

Wisely, my debate partner ignored the issue of public roads in the later comments.

Government is competent: 0
Government is incompetent: 1

Let's look at the next example of government competence (from rothomaha's comment):

Public transportation.

How shall we determine if public transportation is a part of government that is operated competently?  I propose three points:
  • do people get transported from place to place
  • are there many deaths and injuries
  • is public transport run at, or under, budget
Let's have a look:

But first a bonus point: is public transportation "green"? The answer is: "No."

Do they transport people well?  Companies like Google, Yahoo, and ebay don't think so.

These companies decided that they would rather pay the expense of transporting their employees rather than rely on public transportation.  This has to be a tremendous cost to these companies, and yet they are willing to pay it.  Would they do this if the public transportation worked well?

Is government subsidized light rail a good idea? Not even close.

Are NYC's subways a good idea?  Not the way the government runs them.

Are publicly run ferries a good idea?
The San Francisco Chronicle is aghast that new 140-seat ferry boats between South San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda are filling an average of just 20 of their seats (scroll down to “On the line”). The service, which cost $42 million to start up, was expensive enough at projected ridership rates, but actual ridership so far is just a third of those projections. Even before such low ridership was known, the paper opined that the ferry service may not be “prudent.”
Is public transportation run at, or under budget? With Streetcars? Nope.

Are there deaths and injuries, is ridership low, and are Washington DC's DC Metro run way over budget? You Bet.

High speed rail? "Yet even at the original cost estimate of about $10 billion, University of California researchers calculated that “high-speed rail would be California’s most expensive mode of intercity transportation."

Surely having the government build bridges is a good idea? What would make you think that?

You say, "The government has failed in each of those cases (and many, many, many more) but the government needs to operate public transportation or poor people would not be able to get around.  No private company would ever look to operate a replacement for public transportation."

Are you sure about that?

Really sure?

Really, really sure?

So, is government funded a good idea? No.  Is privatizing mass transit better. Yes.

Government is competent: 0
Government is incompetent: 2

I'd continue onto the next subject (Is government run police a good idea? Nope. Its quite bad, even today.), but I've other things to do.

If you favor more government in our lives, then I propose an experiment to see how well that works.

Hey rothomaha, was I thinking before I posted this?


  1. Government does one thing exceedingly well - proving how incompetent it really is.

    Your comments about public transportation are spot on, as well.

    1. The government is good at destroying things. See: the military, public schools, the poor, etc.

  2. My own city put in a light rail line a few years ago and the system has ridership levels that only just meet what was suppossed to be the ridership level in the first year of operation.

    1. That sounds much better than all other light rails were able to accomplish. Did the cost of construction double the initial estimate?