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Friday, June 22, 2007

Governmental Inefficiencies

We've all heard the talk about how inefficient big governments are. Disgust at the amount of money it takes to accomplish even the smallest tasks and horror at the unknown amount of pure waste are common among most people today. Usually these things can only be pointed out by looking through vast amounts of paperwork and interviewing countless people (signs of yet more government inefficiency). Yesterday, however, one could see the wasted money fly right out the window.

As I opened up my first copy of The Economist (and the first of only six copies because continuing on after this free trial period is just to dang expense for a graduate student) I decided to see what was on the television. Somehow the channel ended up on C-SPAN and I was able to witness the most ridiculous government spectacle I've yet to see with my own eyes. In the House of Representatives there was a debate about a controversial piece of legislation that would allow the federal government to purchase contraceptives and send them to poor and underdeveloped countries as part of foreign aid. The controversy arose because many of these countries, which were previously and specifically excluded, also endorse abortion as a means of family planning. The Republicans didn't want the public's tax money to be spent on abortion in any way. The Democrats didn't think this sending contraceptives to these countries would do that because there is specific language specifying that no U.S. money could be used on abortion or abortion promotion.

I'l try my best to capture the essence of this debate:

Democratic party representative: "This bill does not approve spending on abortion overseas. It approves sending contraceptives overseas. We are not exporting abortion. Instead we are allowing these poor women and children a chance for a better life by preventing unplanned pregnancies. The Republicans say that they support family planning, well this is your chance to do just that. Vote yes for this bill."

Republican party representative: "By providing contraceptives to agencies that promote abortion as a method of family planning, we are allowing that agency to free up money previously spent on contraceptives and spend more on abortion and promoting abortion. They no longer need to spend the money on contraceptives because we're giving them to the agency for free. Therefore, they will have more money in their budget to do exactly what the American people don't want them to do, promote and practice abortion."

And then after this brilliant back and forth between parties, another person from the Democratic party comes to the microphone and gives the exact same argument the previous Democrat gave. Of course this infuriates the Republicans so they have to respond. Fortunately for them, another Republican representative comes to the microphone and gives the exact argument the previous Republican gave. Right now the American people have a very low level of confidence in the U.S. Congress and I think this is why. Why can't more legislation be discussed and passed in each session? Because evidently no one in Congress has an attention span longer than 15 minutes. If no one has anything new to say, then why not just move on and vote?

That would be the sensible thing to do, but then all the representatives that didn't get to speak at first wouldn't be able to post their repetitive diatribe on their own little websites for their constituents to see. I know, if you want to report back to your district that you were active, then come up with a new convincing argument that actually advances the discussion!

Economists are always able to (somehow) put a value dollar on time wasted. For example, they'll tell you so many millions of dollars are wasted on employees playing solitaire at work. I wonder how much money was wasted yesterday on high level government employees grandstanding with the same argument a colleague just gave?

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