Government in My Life

With the recently past U.S. government shutdown I came to the quick and uncomfortable realization that the government is far to heavily integrated into my daily life.  I was in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East for most of the U.S. Government shutdown and still felt the impact. While in Paris I used my one free weekend day to visit Normandy – where I found the U.S. cemetery closed.

We all saw the reports of the potential delays in “government services” like approving new smartphones or verifying pilots are sufficiently trained to fly. My favorite article during the shutdown was found in the Wall Street Journal.Skateboarders See a (Kick)Flip Side to the Government ClosingWith Washington Plazas Empty and Patrols Down, a Banned Sport Is Suddenly On.

Politically, I’m a classical liberal. I believe balance can and should be found between being fiscally conservative and socially responsible. As an economist I understand the implications and repercussions of sequestration measures but I also believe these are temporary imbalances needed to drive us more closely to the classical liberal state I believe is optimal. The “market” won’t do it perfectly and timing is always questionable, but eventually we will get the desired outcome. I don’t need the government checking and approving everything for me before I use it or buy it. I will – as many do – essentially free ride off of the market. I’m not convinced we need the government – our government – influencing the smartphones we use or where we skate.

I serve on the Board of Directors for a local youth baseball program. The program runs a small concession stand. They grill hot dogs and hamburgers – sell chips, candy, and cold drinks. In the past they’ve had to be “certified” by the Fairfax County Health Department. This year they received notice that “Effective July 1, 2013, a Health Department Permit to Operate will no longer be required to serve food for a youth athletic concession stand. In the past, the Health Department has conducted food safety workshops for volunteers who work at the concession stands.  It is no longer required that volunteers attend food safety workshops.”

This development was probably driven by budget cuts.  I hope it was.

I’m not convinced even full fledged restaurants should be inspected by health inspectors. If someone gets sick – word will get out. This is especially true today. News travels fast in the digital age. Review sites and social networks will ensure the problem is rectified or the establishment will simply go out of business. Arguably – digital also has a longer half-life than a sign hung in the window by the food inspector. Restaurants today really can’t afford one bad digital review. A digital review hangs in the window forever.

I don’t believe capitalism always gets its right. Life is messy.  Solutions – meaningful solutions – require a good degree of altruism. This requires people – not institutions and at the root of markets are people. Agents working out their destiny – and implicitly providing information and value to others.