Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Vicious Cycle: Why the Government Is Ineffective

By Jared SiegelPublished October 31, 2013

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Multi-billionaires with ridiculous hair and unrivaled egos should not be able to trademark the backdrop of snow covered brown trees and soaring skyscrapers cutting through a crystal clear blue sky. I would have much rather seen the words New York, New York, New York stamped along the boards of Central Park's Wollman Rink. I want to be proud of where I live and want to be proud of my government. I want to enact legislation in the spirit of bipartisan compromise and I want this legislation to be effective. I want government to work like clockwork, masterfully constructed and organized. I want to associate it with a beautiful New City backdrop. \r\n\r\n
By Jared Siegal, Published 10/31/13


Picture this: You are smack in the middle of a giant sheet of ice. Massive skyscrapers tower above a myriad of brown leafless trees in the backdrop of a brisk yet cloudless New York City winter day. The moment is serene; it is picturesque; it is fantastic. Then you look down at the walls surrounding Central Park's Wollman Rink and you see the word Trump. Trump; Trump; Trump. Stamped in blue letters all over the rink's perimeter, it is a self-constructed tribute to what Donald Trump, New York real estate tycoon, was able to easily accomplish. In 1980, Trump spearheaded a project to rebuild Wollman rink. The project took less than half of a year to complete, was finished two months earlier than projected, and was 750 thousand dollars under-budget. Compare this to the government's effort to reconstruct Wollman rink. Prior to Trump picking up the project, New York City spent six years and 12 million more than was budgeted attempting, unsuccessfully, to reconstruct the rink. The juxtaposition is emblematic of a major problem today: Private enterprise is efficient; the government is not.

Take a more modern example. The U.S. Federal Government opened Healthcare.gov to the public on October 1. The website is a marketplace to purchase federally mandated health insurance as outlined in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Since its inception, the website has been littered with persistent errors and delays, inhibiting citizens' ability to purchase new healthcare packages. Of the website's failures, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said in CBS program "Face the Nation", "You know, the government simply isn't going to be able to get this job done correctly." In contrast, two weeks earlier, Apple Inc. released the new iOS 7 software update. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, called it the "biggest and fastest software upgrade in history" and since its inception, 64% of iOS device users updated to iOS 7. Apple, on the other hand, was able to get the job done.

How is government so incapable while private enterprise is able to construct and operate projects that stretch our imaginations? Some might argue that it is a matter of compensation. It is no secret that private sector salaries dwarf that of the government and many people believe that the most talented, intelligent, and capable of us follow the money. I disagree. I think there are intelligent and motivated people who genuinely want help run the country. They, however, are so frustrated by the government's dysfunction and inefficiency that they either chose to join the private sector or decide to work for government but are discouraged from fully investing themselves in their work. The past month's government shutdown that resulted from the legislative body's inability to compromise on a federal budget was ridiculous enough to discourage an entire generation of up and coming minds from entering the government.

This is, in some respects, a vicious cycle. Society portrays government as an inefficient and ineffective institution. Ronald Reagan said, "Government is not a solution to our problem government is the problem." As a result, some of the most brilliant and resolute minds are deterred from running for office and the government does actually become less effective. This cycle legitimizes Reagan's sentiment. It is what makes people rally behind Grover Norquist when he says something as ridiculous sounding as, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

It is difficult to determine an easy solution. The problem with a vicious cycle is that it is, in its nature, perpetuating, and it will not simply halt because we decide we want it to. We cannot simply say, "let's make government effective again so that more people will want to join." For one reason or another, the people in government today cannot seem to make it work.  

Here's what I do know. Multi-billionaires with ridiculous hair and unrivaled egos should not be able to trademark the backdrop of snow covered brown trees and soaring skyscrapers cutting through a crystal clear blue sky. I would have much rather seen the words New York, New York, New York stamped along the boards of Central Park's Wollman Rink. I want to be proud of where I live and want to be proud of my government. I want to enact legislation in the spirit of bipartisan compromise and I want this legislation to be effective. I want government to work like clockwork, masterfully constructed and organized. I want to associate it with a beautiful New City backdrop.