The invisible government
By Jack Balshaw
The thought of an invisible government conjures up visions of dark and sinister activities. Yet most people want the government to be invisible. At least invisible in the sense they aren’t aware it’s there. And in most cases, government has succeeded in providing the public with just what they want. You could almost say that when we are aware of government, it is because it has failed in some manner.
At the local level, probably 98% of what government does is just keep things working. In 42 years in my town there hasn’t been a single time I haven’t been able to turn on the water or flush the toilet. Neither the utility nor the phone comapnies have been able to accomplish that run of uninterrupted service.
Yet we never say, “WOW, what a great operation this is!” We never think to give credit to anyone when nothing goes wrong. It almost takes a disaster and the recovery from that disaster before we begin to thank and honor the “heroes” who saved us. It never occurs to us that those same “heroes” have been taking steps for years to head off many other disasters or at least unpleasant experiences. All the rest of the time it was, “just their job”.
We don’t usually appreciate even the police and firemen until they have done something that calls attention to the fact that they were there to perform some positive task. We never think to appreciate the many times that Planning and Engineering have caused poor designs of proposed developments to be modified so that we wouldn’t suffer from traffic or other problems.
For every stupid, rigid, insensitive or thoughtless action, there are dozens, hundreds and even thousands of governmental decisions and actions that are proper and correct. All this doesn’t mean that we should never criticize government operations. Just that, when we do criticize, we should also remember how many times things are done right.
Jumping to the other end of the government scale, the federal level, a similar case can be made. We’re all much more pumped up about the intrusion of the Federal Government into our lives because of the multitude of stories told of government arrogance, ignorance or laziness by those who want the federal government to either do or not do something.
We accept these tales as personal affronts even though they don’t directly affect us. That is, until the Federal Government doesn’t do something we think it should. Then it’s a different story. The arrogance of the Federal Government interfering with private sector operations quickly changes to government being too lenient with the private sector right after we hear of an avoidable aircraft accident. And the criticism of excessive federal employees becomes a demand for more inspectors right after the news of unhealthy food products causing illness or death.
Try to think of anything socially acceptable you wanted to do in the last year that you were prevented from doing by a governmental regulation. It’s much more likely that you had to do somethings you would rather not have done ( get your car smogged, pay your taxes, put your tray table and seat back in the upright position, etc.).
I do tend to view government in a more favorable light than most. I worked in government as both an employee and as an elected official. The people I worked and served with were no different than any cross section of the population. “We” are the government. If you don’t believe it, think about the people in town who hated government and its representatives last year and now are looking forward to government bringing about what they wanted to happen now that “their people” are government. All of a sudden, “government is good”.
I was thinking of calling this “Government Appreciation Day” but thought that would be expecting too much of the reader.