Is the US Government Efficient? Depends on Which Democrat You Ask

What do you think of federal taxes? Do you pay too much? Too little? More importantly, do you think you are getting value out of what you pay?

I would guess that most people feel that they pay too much in taxes. This belief seems likely given the Pew Research poll published over the weekend showing that only 22% of Americans feel they can trust Washington almost always or most of the time. Tough to pay taxes to a government you don’t trust. The poll also finds that nearly 50% of the population feels that government programs are run inefficiently. But are they right?

Professor Tom Schaller would argue they are not. In a recent article he contends that,

“Dollar for dollar, America offers the most effective and efficient government on the planet, doing so for about 20 cents on the dollar nationally, 28 cents if you include state and local taxes. If you ask a conservative to name a country that provides as many quality services for less, or more and better services for the same price, they can’t name one.”

There are two obvious flaws in Schaller’s logic that undermine his attempt to bait conservatives into an argument. One, the government of the United States is sadly rather unique in today’s world given the proliferation of the European nanny-state. This makes it hard to find any of the comparables he asks for. Hard to name a country that does more with less because that is not the name of the game in European style welfare states who are built around the principle of high taxes and more services.

Second, and more pertinent to the national mood, our huge national debt and operating deficits suggest we are not providing programs efficiently as he suggests. The national debt has reached a staggering $12.8 trillion and 2009s budget deficit was a record $1.4 trillion – figures which Schaller failed to include in his analysis. Eventually this unsustainable spending spree must be dealt with. The two clear paths are either higher taxes or cuts in government programs. Given that this choice is an inexorable part of our future, the efficiency and effectiveness of our tax dollars will wane greatly.

In contrast to Schaller’s argument, that we are getting bang for our tax buck, another liberal strategy has been to extol the virtues of Europe. This argument, exemplified in a recent article by noted political writer Steven Hill, posits that the European style welfare state actually delivers more. In the piece Hill recalls a conversation between a fiscally conservative Senator and a man who lived in Sweden.

“The problem with Americans and their taxes is that we get nothing for them.” He then told the senator about the comprehensive services and benefits that Swedes receive.

“If Americans knew what Swedes receive for their taxes, we would probably riot,” he told the senator. The rest of the ride to the theater district was surprisingly quiet.

Hill goes on to list all the things they receive including health care, affordable child care, retirement pensions, subsidized university educations, job retraining, paid sick leave, ample vacations, etc.

Hill and Schaller both approach the problem from the liberal perspective but take two completely different sides of the argument. Schaller argues that the United States government is incredibly efficient at using our tax dollars to fund programs for Americans. Hill on the other hand argues that the European welfare state model deliver an enormous amount of services at a comparatively modest cost in taxes. Despite two opposite positions they are both used to gird the same conclusion – that we should drop our fears of “big government” and pay more in taxes.

Talk about a heads I win, tails you lose argument. No matter which position conservative adopt to limit the size of government liberals have an answer. But only one of them can be right…right?

Frankly, in my view they are both wrong. The problem is they start from the wrong premise. Why should we compare ourselves to European welfare states at all? We are not Europe and we should not seek to be Europe. America was built on a foundation of limited government and personal freedom. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

A nanny state and a mommy government in the mold of Europe is just not in our DNA. From the absence of those traits has sprung a United States that is different and blessedly unique in its vision of government. We want it to pave the road for individuals to succeed but not be driving the car. Why now should not now feel the need, or allow anyone to impress upon us the need, to stray from the principles that made us great in the name of mirroring what other nations are doing?

In returning to the words of our founders, George Washington wrote that “[s]ome day, following the example of the United States of America there will be a United States of Europe.” How sad would he have been to find it turned out just the opposite.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee

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 I would agree that we are

 I would agree that we are not getting our value on our money. Programs are bloated and even our military is in over 100 countries and that part is bloated. When things get to big, there is a lot of waste and inefficiency.

Now let us turn the coin around. Do we get efficiency with tax cuts? In other words, we got the tax cuts from Bush. We saw our jobs leave the country, we saw our money go to Iraq, and then we saw the laissez-faire of Bush thinking that tax cuts is the only answer to running the country.

In other words, if you just give tax cuts, and then ignore deficits and debt, two wars not paid for, globalization and the loss of jobs, relaxed anti-trust laws and the loss of jobs through mergers and consolidation, targeting housing as a way to create jobs and wealth and the failure of that, a financial crisis, and an auto crisis. We are in a recession with high unemployment. So it seems those tax cuts was the biggest waste of all, as it did nothing. It certainly did not fix any problems. And the tax cuts did not create prosperity. 

I think the Bush tax cuts was some 900 billion dollars. Looking at our country today, just where did that money go? Add up the unemployment numbers and we just see that ideology of "trickle down" was a failure. It was a wasted 8 years as we lost the jobs and China gained on us. And there is more and more evidence that we are losing the middle class. 

I agree

Stand alone tax cuts are not the answer. Though I do advocate for complete tax reform in the mold of Wyden-Gregg or Paul Ryan's Roadmap. Either would reduce the taxes most people pay and would clean up the code from all of its loopholes, carve outs, and deductions.

That said, focusing on revenues before spending is putting the cart before the horse. Our spending, which is the fault of both Republicans and Democrats, has simply gotten out of hand. Tax reform should come as part of a comprehensive package of entitlement reform.

Tax reform

I think the first thing that needs to be done is to get rid of refundable credits across the board.

There's no reason that taxation should provide income to a significant segment of society. 

 That said, focusing on

 That said, focusing on revenues before spending is putting the cart before the horse.

Well, it all should be simultaneous. Just have one president that says we are going to create jobs and create revenue. And to work on the areas of government that is bloated from social programs to the military. This is not that hard. No politics involved. Just do it. But you have 535 bosses, interest groups, lobbyists, and corrupted officials, two political parties to the very left and to the very right that makes our country dysfunctional.

Personally, I see no other way of running the country except to have either Donald Trump or Alan Mulally come in with a management team and fix the problems. The politicians will not do it. 

Presidents don't create Jobs by "wishing" or "talking" them

Govt. and Congress do not create jobs....LOL. there are no products Manufactured by Govt.
The Govt. is Administrative overhead. The free Economy and specifically Small Business creates and drives employment and Job growth.
When the Govt. is sucking up all the air in the money borrowing business, there is less money for Businesses. When you raise Taxes, you take money from Americans who would spend it and give it to the most inefficient employees....Govt. paper pushers.
Lowering Taxes creates spending and increases Govt. revenues.
Its proven to work.
Government Stimulus spending has failed to work. Spending money we don't have creates temporary bubbles and no long lasting results.....other than Debt and Inflation.
As for your BS bashing of the Bush Economy, just remember our Democrat Majority Congress since 2007 is the Real Problem.

As for your BS bashing of the

As for your BS bashing of the Bush Economy, just remember our Democrat Majority Congress since 2007 is the Real Problem. 

I saw the problem well before the democrats came in. The deficits and debt was piling up. Bush hid the cost of war and put it into the emergency fund. We saw our jobs leave for that whole decade as we got the tax cuts. 

Government does not create jobs, but it can move the country forward to create jobs instead of failed ideologies. And that is all we saw under Bush. We are where we are today, because we had a government that was blinded by what globalization, mergers, and consolidation is doing to the middle class. Business has money, the stock market is up. The middle class lost their jobs. 

Lowering taxes is only one side of the equation. Of course, the far right wing wackos only have a one dimensional mind. 

You have NOT seen unemployment #s like this since Carter

So don't tell me what you have seen before the 2007 Democratic Congress came into power as being a big "problem".

You haven't seen 7.5% un-employment numbers since Bush Left Office.

Obama prays for Bush's un-employment numbers, or Clintons number with a Republican controlled congress, or Bush 1, or Reagan, etc...

 Oh, the Bush numbers looked

 Oh, the Bush numbers looked good. However, when you pull the covers off, you find that nothing was done to fix the problems of our country. While we had a tax cut and 5% unemployment, many factories were closing, going overseas, mergers, or consolidation. The tax cuts was for the here and now. It did nothing for our future. If you are going to ship jobs overseas, then you have to find new jobs to replace the old jobs. We are where we are today, because nothing was done for our future. This puts the ideology of tax cuts or "trickle down" a joke. Especially when you have globalization. 

And if you are going to talk about Carter, then you have to go back when that inflationary mess began and that  was LBJ with his "guns and butter." And Bush did the same "guns and butter." That is Iraq and tax cuts and not paying for them. Again, this is similar to LBJ and we will suffer 10 to 20 years for this. We already know that unemployment will not come down to 5% for a long time.

We can't pretend that corporations are more efficient, though.

There's no evidence - none - that indicates corporations and the market are more efficient than the government.  In fact, when it comes to the provision of health insurance, governments out perform private insurers on every level.

I'm not saying "government is always the answer".  It's not.  But it's only pretend that corporations and the market are always the answer.  We see every day that markets and corporations fail.  The unregulated derivatives market nearly drove us into another Great Depression, and had it not been for government intervention, that's where we'd be right now.

In Between's correct in noting, repeatedly, the the Right doesn't have all the answers.  As I just commented in his most recent blog post, I agree with him that neither does the Left.  I think we need to recognize that government does some things better than corporations/markets (e.g., military, infrastructure planning, education and, yes, health insurance), and recognize that corporations/markets outperform the government in many areas, and then plan and proceed accordingly.  And honestly.

Calling something a "nanny state" and pretending that there aren't areas of Euro government operations and performance that we should seek to emulate is just short sighted.  Let's use what works, discard or improve what doesn't, and actually serve people, which is the true role of government.


Edit to add:  I have personal experience working for both the government, private small business and a mega-corporation owned by shareholders.  Of these three, I saw in my government job a FAR more efficient system than I see in the mega-corp where I work now.  And the small businesses I worked for were unbelievably inefficient.

That's just my experience, so it's of course limited and not a statistically valid sample.  But those who reflexively insist the private industry is more efficient than government simply don't have the facts on their side.

Corporations are more efficient than Government

I've worked for State Government, Federal Government, as a Computer Contractor for Software Development Corps.

I've worked for Fortune 500 top 10.

State and Federal Government employees are 'Retired" on the job, and only the Contractors do the Real work of Software development. 

You're full of it saying Government is efficient.   Government employment is a form of welfare, employing people that private industry would not hire.

No, 4speed,

I'm not "full of it".  I directly related my personal experience to you.  Because yours may have been different doesn't make my experience wrong. 

I'll say it again, like you I've worked for Fortune 500 and for the government.  I've also worked for small business.  IN MY EXPERIENCE in these workplaces, the government job was the most efficient, by far.  Your experience does not and can not negate mine.  And I stated that my experience didn't actually prove anything one way or another.  

I also noted that Brandon failed to provide any evidence that government is less efficient.  And I noted areas where it's been shown that the government is, in fact, more efficient than private industry and then posited that I'm well aware that private industry, in any number of areas, can function more efficiently than would government.  It's really not that difficult to understand.

Like Brandon, you didn't do anything to prove that government is inefficient.  Nothing at all.  You saying something doesn't prove anything.  In fact, given your reputation here, it likely makes people more skeptical about its accuracy or reasonable-ness.  I certainly feel that way about your angry "my way or the highway - right is always right, left is always wrong", posting style on this site.  It exceptionally small minded and it disserves you and the right.

Then your Experience does not Nullify My Experience

I've seen the Government inefficiency up close and personal, I've seen the SEIU in action and how it operates such that  you can't fire people who don't do any work.  How stupid is that ? 

Profit, efficiency, speed of implementation, time is of the essence, etc....all those factors that drives a private businees to grow and prosper and compete, are totally missing in a majority of State and Federal Government Bureaucracies, Administrative bureaus.  Then there is  Governement Red tape, where I've seen surveys where over 50% of the Citizens seeking Wellfare or Child Support help, gave up in the middle of the application process because of all the Red Tape associated with dealing with Government Agencies.   

Its obvious to the most Casual Observer, unless you just don't want to see it.

Public Sector Inneficiency

 I realize this only deals with one measure of government efficiency, but here is some research I previously did on the issue: