5 Things Americans Need To Understand About How Government Really Works


One of the biggest problems we have in this country is that so few Americans understand how our government works in the real world. Since that’s the case, most people simply aren’t capable of making an informed judgment about whether politicians can deliver on a promise. With that in mind, it seems like a good idea to go back to basics and explain what so many of us have already learned the hard way about the government.

Government can’t compete on even footing with the private sector: There’s a reason why you get better service at Wal-Mart than at the DMV. It’s no coincidence that FedEx makes a profit while the post office loses billions. Moreover, it’s no shocker that Enron and Lehman Brothers are gone, but FEMA and ICE are still around. It’s because the government can’t compete on an even footing with private industry. Unlike businesses, they don’t have their own money on the line, most of their employees advance based on seniority, not merit, and government agencies don’t pay a big price for failure. To the contrary, if a government agency does a lousy job, it just means it will probably get a bigger budget the next year. What it comes down to is that the only way the government can compete with a business is by outspending it or by rewriting the laws to make the business less competitive with the government.

Government action often creates more problems than it solves: People are always clamoring for the government to “solve” problems, but what they don’t understand is that when the government “fixes” one problem, it can often create another issue that may be even worse in the process. Our government’s attempts to “fix” one problem or another led to the length of the Great Depression, the destruction of the black family in America via welfare, marriages shattering across America because of no-fault divorces, gas lines in the seventies, the Savings and Loan crisis, and the current banking crisis that was caused by a government-created housing bubble. While the government is not the root of all evil, many of the worst problems we have as a society were exacerbated or created by the government in its clumsy attempts to fix some long forgotten mess. This is why government should be treated as a necessary evil, not a force for good.

It’s extremely difficult to shrink government: Our political system rewards spending money and punishes cutting spending. For example, if you create a 300 million dollar a year “Giving Fluffy Kittens to Orphans Program,” people will love you for it. Animal shelters and pro-orphan advocates will publicly laud you for your compassion while orphanages around the country will funnel campaign cash into your coffers. Meanwhile, if you bring up the cost of the program, most Americans will shrug their shoulders and say, “Ah, it’s only 300 million dollars.” However, if you suggest cutting 50 million dollars from the “Giving Fluffy Kittens to Orphans Program,” you’ll be accused of hating orphans and kittens while every orphanage in the country will be screaming for your blood. In other words, government spending is easy to get started, but difficult to stop. That’s why it’s wise to be very hesitant to create any new programs — because billions can be frittered away on useless debacles like Head Start that have proven to be nearly impossible to kill despite the fact that they don’t work.

Our politicians lack expertise: Many people seem to attribute almost super human abilities to our politicians, but the reality is far different. Most of the politicians in DC are bright people, but as a general rule, they have a very superficial understanding of the subjects their legislation impacts. How can we expect people who barely know how to use the internet to handle a subject as complex as network neutrality? How can we think someone who has worked in government all of his life can truly understand how much a new regulation may hurt someone running a small business? Moreover, given the length of bills that are being shoved through Congress and the fact that these bills are written in legalese, many of our legislators undoubtedly don’t even fully understand what they’re voting on half the time. Point being, even when members of Congress have good intentions, their lack of hands-on experience can lead to disaster.

The first priority of our politicians isn’t solving our problems: As the great Thomas Sowell has said:

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.

Getting reelected may entail lying about what a bill does, punishing people who don’t deserve it because it’s popular, rewarding special interests who may help your campaign, and promoting bills that sound good but don’t work. The sad truth is that politicians are often rewarded at the ballot box for pushing policies that sound good, but ultimately do great harm to the country. That’s all the more reason to limit the power of government as much as possible.

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