Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ineptness versus Malice

It seems like when we hear about the evils of big government, the central argument is always that "Government is Bad at Things".  It's not that the motives of government or bad, it's just that it's a big bumbling imbecile and tends to get everything wrong to everyone's detriment.  People are entertainingly selective about the scope of government ineptitude (great at Military, bad at healthcare (though demonstrably better at healthcare than all companies everywhere, but that's a different story)) but that's the basic gist of the "small government" argument.

Anti-corporate rhetoric, on the other hand, tends to focus on malice.  Companies do bad things to the customers on purpose in order to make money or, even better, individuals in companies use their positions in order to do bad things to make money personally - often at the expense of their company and its customers.

I'm sure that there are plenty of inept companies, but I rather suspect that their lifespans are brief.  In fact, this is one of the common arguments against government run things.  Government run things don't die if they are inept, whereas companies do.  Presumably this leads to more inept government run things and fewer inept corporate things.  All well and good.  Here's where I take umbrage though.  The same motivations which incentivize competence in the private industry also promote being bad for money.  Maybe not bad in the sense of breaking the law, but certainly bad in the sense of deceiving customers or taking advantage of the gullible among us.  I don't really see similar motivations in government.  I mean, maybe if a cruel or malicious plan is explicitly popular with the electorate, but other than that there doesn't seem to be much point to being mean in a non-profit.  Corrupt? sure.  Inefficient? certainly. But not malicious.

So here's my question.  Why should we prefer Competent Malice to Incompetent Ineptitude?

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