Sunday, February 17, 2019

"The Government" Can't Be The Enemy Because "The Government" Doesn't Exist

This is pretty elementary stuff, but there's a lot of people who seem to be totally ignorant of the distinctions I make below.  I'm just talking about the United States today.  Just a couple of points to make today:

1.  "The Government" doesn't exist because there are many different governments.  There is NO one government.

2.   "The Government" doesn't exist because there are different parts of government that play different roles. Complaining about government because you don't like a particular politician makes no sense.

1.  "The Government" doesn't exist because there are many different governments.

Let's start with the obvious.  There's the United States government.  Then there are the fifty state governments, plus DC and the territorial governments.

Then there are the the local governments of the various cities and towns across the nation, not to mention the county governments, and special districts from school districts to road districts.
"Census Bureau Reports There Are 89,004 Local Governments in the United States"(2012)
So when someone tells you "The government is the enemy" you need to ask, which government are you talking about?  And then, which specific part or department are you talking about?

2.   "The Government" doesn't exist because there are different parts of government that play different roles.

In the US, governments have some very distinct parts:

Elected officials make the broad policy decisions.  Their major qualification limits tend to be age and citizenship or residency.  The major practical qualifications are ability to raise money, charisma, and to a certain extent, looks.  These are the people who pass the laws.

Appointed officials make up the next tier.  They are appointed by the elected officials to help them make the policy and run the government.  Again, qualifications are pretty loose.  Mainly you helped someone get elected, are a friend of someone who helped someone get elected, or in some cases, you happen to have experience and training in the area you were appointed to.  This is a remnant of the spoils system - when all public employment was based on political party and favors owed.  These folks general leave government if their candidate loses the election.

Civil Servants make up the bulk of government employees. These are the people ruled by the merit system.  The merit system came as a response to the spoils system.  It set up things like qualifications for employees that were work related, and rules for employment that made sure civil servants weren't fired for political reasons.  They give civil servants due process protections for their job.  They can't be fired without just cause.   These employees generally have jobs as a career and, until recently, they had pensions when they retired.  (This, of course, was true for private sector employees as well until business interests got laws past that made unions weaker and weaker.)

Civil servants have to carry out the laws.  They don't make them, the elected officials do, though they may work with appointed officials to write rules that work out the details of how to carry out the laws.

So, again, when someone complains about 'the government' ask not only which government they are talking about, but whether they are talking about politicians, appointed officials, or civil servants.

Final note:  This is a democracy.  It's not perfect one.*  But determined citizens can get the information they need to make informed decisions.  And without government as a check, large corporations would be free to do far worse to people.

Alaskans, any of you who were paying attention, are not surprised by our governor offering a budget that cuts the University by 44%.  Remember, unlike civil servants, elected officials don't have to have any skills other than raising money and pandering.

But in all of this, like in all of life, there are good politicians, good appointees, and good civil servants.  Prejudice is when you prejudge someone by the category they are in.  So the lazy commentators who want to throw the bums out - without distinguishing between the good ones and the bad ones - are as much of a problem as the bad ones.

*  There are lots of flaws in how our democracy works.  The writers of the Constitution 'gerrymandered' the Senate by giving all states two Senators.  When the country was founded, that wasn't too outrageous because the populations of each of the new 13 states were relatively small.  But the range from the smallest state (Tennessee at 35,691) and the largest state (Virginia at 691,937) was already almost 20 to 1.  But perhaps that assumed that as a frontier state, Tennessee had lots of room to grow.  But today California's 39,776,830 citizens have two Senators, just the same as Wyoming (573,720) and many other states with smaller populations.  That's more like 60-1 and the idea of one person one vote is sorely violated.  And it's why the Republicans still control the Senate.

And Republicans have done their best to create districts in some states so that while the split between parties is relatively even statewide, Republicans get huge majorities in the state legislature. (Yes, Democrats have done this too, but since the Republicans gained control of so many state houses before the 2010 census, they were in charge of redistricting last time round.)


  1. I think it's fair to say that, at its disposal in 2010, the GOP had better technology (software) with which to gerrymander districts than was available in 2000. It may be that this software has gotten more sophisticated still.

  2. Yes they had very sophisticated software to make the districts do what they wanted. They didn't really do that here in Alaska. They were very concerned about getting DOJ approval of Native Districts. Once that requirement was removed by the Supreme Court, they were too far along on that part to change those districts.
    This time around the software should be more transparent and available to the public to use and come up with alternative maps. Should be. We'll see.

    1. That will be very interesting to see how it plays out. Meanwhile, here's a little story about software and politics. You remember a few years ago there was the campaign to raise taxes on the oil companies (I don't remember the precise legal configuration, but the bottom line was that a YES vote would make the oil firms pay more in taxes). A hard-fought campaign. I think it may have originated as a citizen initiative. Boy! Did the Oils fight that one. Spent millions to defeat it. Mark Hamilton came out against it. Lots of big names were against it and lots were for it. Well, closer to the vote, there were some guys canvassing our neighborhood and no doubt other neighborhoods. They went up to the doors to ask a few questions about how people stood in regards to the oil tax and to taxes in general. I even think there was a question (I hope I'm right about this, it's been a while) about how we felt about Mark Begich. The guy who knocked on the doors to the right and left of us didn't knock on our own! He saw we were home (I was in the driveway), but he walked past us. I think it was because they already knew who lived in our house and our general political leanings (my wife is registered Democrat and I'm registered Independent). Well, these guys, diligently noting their findings on their iPads, were hired by the Koch Bros. organization, Americans for Prosperity. They were noting who among the residents would be a likely anti-tax vote. That Info, I'm guessing, would make it easier, more efficient, to get out the vote as Election Day got closer. It steamed me up. I followed those guys a bit as they walked down the street; I was wondering which pretense would allow me to grab the iPad from their hands and download its data!

    2. ... forgot to say that having that info would, of course, also make gerrymandering easier for them.

  3. That was Prop 1 in 2014. One post on it was my Vampire History of Alaska post. Both parties do that kind of intensive get out the vote campaigns. But the more money you have the more you can do that.


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