Less is More

By Louis Avallone

Last month, officials in Shreveport, Bossier City, and Bossier Parish had announced a ban on the sale of fireworks, through the end of June, effectively causing the seasonal vendors of fireworks to forego any selling to the public during this year’s 4th of July holiday season. Because of the dire drought conditions in our area, the ban was imposed for public safety reasons.

The Shreveport Fire Chief delivered the news of the ban, during a press conference, all while at least twenty (20) other government officials and representatives stood behind him, apparently in a show of solidarity for the imposition of the fireworks ban.

With this large contingency of government officials and representatives on hand, to participate in a press conference where far fewer persons could have accomplished the same objective of informing the public, many folks might find it appropriate to insert some humor here, along the lines of, “How many government officials and representatives does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

But this is no laughing matter. In fact, it is estimated that almost 50% of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local government is just the expense of employing the government employees (like those honorable public servants standing behind the Shreveport Fire Chief during that press conference). Is it any surprise that municipalities across the U.S. are on the verge of bankruptcy?

So, with that said, were 20 government officials and representatives needed here, flanking the Shreveport Fire Chief’s podium? Or could those folks have applied their time more effectively in achieving the important work of the people in other matters?

Practically speaking, it seems that only 1 representative, from the City of Shreveport, Bossier City, and Bossier Parish, would have achieved the work of 20 that were present. And by doing so, this would have represented an 85% reduction in the personnel expense of having those other important government officials and representatives standing idly by.

But however trivial this example of inefficiency may seem, it is indicative of the billions of dollars wasted at all levels of government. Since 2007, private businesses have cut hiring and increased layoffs, but the percentage of federal employees who lost their jobs has barely changed, despite the downturn in the economy. Instead, the unemployment rate in the private sector has nearly doubled to 9.4%.

Did you know that there are 15 federal agencies overseeing food-safety laws? Or that there are 70 programs, across 57 different federal departments and agencies, which receive more than $16 billion a year to fight illegal drug use? Or that there are at least 80 “economic development” federal programs being administered by 4 agencies, at a cost of $6.5 billion? I mean, there are 10 federal agencies that are attempting to track “teacher quality” through 82 programs. Come on, now. Seriously?

So it’s no surprise that, with such redundancy, you need lots of folks to administer those redundant programs. As a result, in America today, there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). Almost the inverse was true in 1960. More Americans now work for the government than work in farming, forestry, construction, fishing, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined.

And Louisiana, like so many other states, is facing huge budget shortfalls in the 2011 fiscal year. These shortfalls, and the fact that Louisiana has one of the highest percentages of government employees – 15.6% — is no coincidence; although we’re doing slightly better than Mississippi where 18.9% of the workforce is employed by state and local governments. For Louisiana’s part, we just cannot continue to afford the payroll expense of 100,000 state employees or the associated $12 billion debt in our state pension system.

The bottom line is this: “We don’t have a trillion-dollar debt because we have not taxed enough,” said Ronald Reagan in 1982, “but we have a trillion dollar debt because we spend too much.” So, when folks talk about raising taxes, to support more government programs, just remember this means more government employees, and that means even greater debt and inefficiency – at the local, state and federal levels alike; debt and inefficiency that we can no longer afford the illusion of supporting.

Will Rogers once said, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” That may be true, but with just a little effort to improve our government’s efficiency, couldn’t we just pay less for the government we have?

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