Government is Bad?

People who delude themselves that the private sector or the public sector is inherently better than its counterpart are, in my opinion, guilty of a destructive prejudice that gets in the way of good outcomes.  A recent editorial in the Democrat-Herald is a case in point.  The editorialist opined that a response to a Linn County Request for Proposals to promote the county Expo Center “…did not exactly result in a bumper crop of potential candidates:  Just three applicants responded and two of them are, by and large, governmental entities….  In fact, one of the applicants (the City of Albany’s Parks and Recreation Department) is a branch of government.”  The author never explains why a government entity might be a poor choice or why a private company might be better.  The Albany Parks & Recreation Department is an award-winning organization that has successfully promoted events and managed facilities for decades.  The implication that they are unworthy of consideration to take on promotion of the Expo Center is not supported by fact or good judgment.

By my reckoning, my full-time work life is now about 42 years old.  I spent ten years working in private sector jobs; and the remainder of my career has been in the public sector, including four years in the U.S. Navy.  The highest compensation I have ever received came from a private sector employer, but I turned down an offer to return to that employer shortly after I accepted my current job in Albany.  The thought never occurred to me that a private employer was really any different from working for a city.  My decision was based on a number of factors, the most important of which was my unwillingness to be separated from my family.

During the course of the past 42 years, I have worked for private companies that I believed provided excellent service while treating employees reasonably well.  I have also worked for at least three private organizations that I thought were terrible on one count or the other.  My experience in the public sector has been mostly positive, although I have certainly seen my share of poor performing public employers.

I think I have worked and lived long enough to conclude with some justification that public or private employers are neither inherently good nor inherently bad.  The quality of a given organization, public or private, depends on a range of factors that have little to do with whether there is a profit motive or not.  Well-qualified, highly motivated, and competent employees are found in both sectors.  When I was in the Navy, my first supervisor observed that 10 percent of those in any organization were responsible for 90 percent of the problems.  My experience supports this view, regardless of whether the organization is public or private.

I am not aware of any authoritative studies that provide convincing evidence public is superior to private or vice versa.  Usually, the two sectors do different things, but the common denominator is that organizations should be judged on their record, not on the basis of blind prejudice that ignores the best interests of the community.

Appreciating Value

Thursday, January 1, marked the beginning of 2015, and I like to use the beginning of the New Year as a time to take stock of what matters to my family and me.  Over the past decade, I have tried to focus on value rather than cost.  My recent bout with kidney stones is a good example of the concept.

The hospital and doctors will receive a large sum of money from our insurance company and a relatively smaller amount from my pocket for the treatment I received over a two-week period.  The value I received from that care; however, is essentially priceless to me because without it my life was miserable.  When you are in constant, intense pain, the value of simply not being in pain is really high.

My current good health and freedom from pain allow me to enjoy all the other things in life that are important to me.

I feel the same away about living in a safe community.  Life is difficult when you know there is a real chance someone will try to kill you every day.  We all face this risk to some extent, but thankfully it is a very low risk in a place like Albany.  The value I receive from professional law enforcement and the judicial system that supports it is consequently very high.  Safety, of course, depends on much more than good policing; and I am grateful for all the people and institutions that make our town much safer than most places around the world.

Education is certainly an important piece of this picture.  All of us receive immense value from our investment in an educated society, whether it’s in the form of the doctors who provide our health care, the researchers who develop life-saving medicines or technology, or the people who provide daily services to make our lives better.  We tend to focus on the failures rather than successes of our education system, and I think that undermines how critical a continuing investment in education is to our well-being.  Personally, access to books and information is also essential to my mental health; so I find extraordinary value in the library, newspapers, and on-line resources.

Safe drinking water, decent food, and comfortable shelter are probably high on everyone’s list of things we value; and I am no exception.  I am most grateful that throughout my life, even during times when I worked at very low paying jobs, I have never really been without these essentials.

Focusing on the basic necessities that deliver the most value to our lives should illustrate an obvious point.  We need each other.  In addition to the value we receive from the many people we rely on every day to meet basic needs, perhaps the greatest value we receive from others is the love and respect that allows us to maintain a healthy perspective on life.  My hope for the New Year is that we will all enjoy a year of sufficient peace and prosperity to sustain our appreciation for the value we receive from others every day.