Changing the operation of today’s American government

What if government operated like a business? We would have more efficient delivery of services, programs that do not work would be instantly cut and we would know that all of our tax dollars were put to good use.

I have brought up this idea before, but over the past week I have thought more and more about how this applies to many of the problems our government faces today. My thoughts came to me while reading William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden for my Development and Modern Africa class. While Easterly talks about the problems of development projects around the world, I believe that many of his criticisms are the same I make of the modern Democratic Party.

Easterly critiques the people he calls “Planners” for attempting “Big Plans” that do not actually help people in impoverished countries. He prefers “Searchers” who try to find solutions to problems on a micro-scale over the grand schemes proposed by Sachs and other developmental economists.

The “Planners” of development around the world reside in both the Republican and Democratic Party, according to Easterly. While this is true to an extent, the difference comes on the domestic front. I remember President Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention almost four years ago. The address was loaded with promise after promise after promise. Grand slogans such as “Yes We Can” and “Change” permeated the speech. Obama became, in the eyes of many, a man who could drastically change American society for the better.

Obama and other Democrats have adopted the mantra of “we can solve all your problems” not just to get elected; they actually believe that government can provide solutions to the major problems facing our society.

Until picking up Easterly’s book, I didn’t think I realized the extent of this mindset’s terrible consequences. He details the billions of dollars spent by the United Nations and the World Bank in countries that experienced no greater growth rate than the rest of the world. In America, while trying to eradicate problems with health care, the financial industry, or you name it, the government spends a lot of money and creates regulations that can end up making the problem worse. These are similar situations; well-meaning liberals end up not attaining their goals because the plan requires a “top-down” implementation.

Voters, though, like this “big idea” approach. Politicians can campaign on eradicating your problems, and get elected because you go to the polls thinking voting for a certain individual will actually bring this result. This could not be further from the truth.

If government were run like a business, we would recognize that more money, a new program, or what have you is not the answer to every problem. Only programs that actually work and government institutions that get the desired results efficiently would be left alone.

We need to recognize that the nicest solution may not be the best solution. Giving away money to people in financial hardship may be a nice thing to do, but we do not want them to stay in an awful financial situation forever. This is not good for the individual, government, or society as a whole. So, programs have been instituted to help people on welfare to find jobs and get out of their current position.

Easterly describes many examples where in developing countries, making the poor pay for goods and services has done more than foreign aid could accomplish. Two examples Easterly gives of this approach working really struck me. The first is the Shell Foundation, the charitable organization of Shell, the oil company, which began to solve the issue of getting Africans stoves to reduce smoke in their shelters by figuring out the type of stoves individuals wanted, and finding a way for the people to pay for that stove. This is a far more helpful approach than aid agencies took by just trying to give out stoves or force them on Africans, particularly when many of the stoves did not fit the particular needs of the people who received them. It turned out better to have people pay for the stoves they wanted.

The second example that struck me was a doctor in Bangladesh who trained paramedics to go around to villages to provide basic medical services. While aid agencies provide some funding, the poor still have to pay a small amount for the service they received. The paramedic now has to be accountable because the poor have paid for that paramedic to complete the service. It would be nice for this service to be provided free-of-charge, but then the accountability is no longer a factor.

Easterly would label both of these as examples of “Searchers.” These are the kind of people we need in our own government. Individuals do what is good and right, not what seems to be the “nicest” solution. If government were run like a business, grand schemes would not dominate the discussion. Instead, actual solutions would become the norm.

This may seem to be a simplistic solution, but maybe simplicity is what we need. As we move in the direction of the 2012 election, do not allow promises to guide your judgment. Look for “Searchers” trying to determine what is best for us in the long run.

This is why I am a conservative. We need simple solutions that will work in the long run, not grand solutions that sound good in the short run. Thank you for reading my column for another semester.

Tyler is a sophomore. You can reach him at tbecker1@swarthmore.edu.

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