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.