People seem to have a need to divide themselves into categories; a need that I think has produced far more misery than good through the course of human history. Bob Dylan once musically observed that, “Even the President of the United States sometimes has to stand naked,” which is one way of saying we are all equal in the eyes of deity and/or the law.
The notion of the “public sector” versus the “private sector” seems to me to be just one more example of a misguided impulse to separate ourselves from one another. We are all members of the “human sector” and, like it or not, are consequently capable of a wide range of compassion, cruelty, competence, courage and a host of other “c” attributes both good and bad (caring, cynicism, caducity, callousness, conceit, etc.).
I cannot, for example, get the local newspaper to deliver my daily paper to the front porch of my home. The newspaper is a small but important pleasure to me that has been a part of my daily ritual for as long as I can remember. I can speak from my years of experience as a newspaper delivery boy in the 1960s that it should not be a herculean task to insure that my paper finds its way to my covered porch every day as opposed to being thrown under my car, onto my lawn or tossed to other remote locations. I’m sure my neighbors get some amusement out of watching me conduct the morning hunt for the daily news in various states of undress, but I do not. I am equally unimpressed with the soggy mess I receive when the paper is delivered to my lawn before the sprinklers are activated. I have spoken with the carrier, written an e-mail message to the newspaper, and talked with an employee over the phone during the past year without any noticeable effect. I could cancel my subscription, but I would hate to deny myself the opportunity to read about all the stupid things I do on a regular basis.
This morning I found the paper lying next to the left rear wheel of my car and on page 2 of the Democrat Herald I read the following headline: “City to offer customers a deal in billing error.” The article explained that, in 2004, someone at the City made an error resulting in the loss of more than $180,000 in revenue to the wastewater fund. The error was recently discovered and steps were taken to correct it, but in the end all sewer customers will pay a little more for their service to make up for the amount lost. Public sector employees make mistakes, too.
The worst example, however, of private sector incompetence I’ve experienced recently came from my bank. I was told by a bank employee that they were offering an interest-free credit card for one year and that I could sign up on the spot if I was interested. I just happened to have a need to help out my daughter with a large purchase and thought this might be a relatively inexpensive way to be of assistance. I willingly paid a $350 fee associated with the transaction, but was surprised when my first statement arrived and I found I was paying 22 percent interest. I made several trips to the bank and a couple of phone calls trying to resolve the issue before being told that I should have read the promotional materials more carefully. I paid off the card and I’m terminating all accounts with a bank I’ve done business with since 1967. I guess I was really the incompetent party for choosing to believe what I was told.
If my goal was to document all the mistakes made by public and private sector people and organizations over the past year, I would probably need a computer with more capacity. The human sector screws up with distressing frequency and we would do better to focus on preventing and correcting errors than on blaming one particular group for our problems.