Continuing on in the Why Government Fails series, we will start with the main reason government doesn’t work: mission.
To accomplish anything an organization needs a mission to accomplish. You can’t plan unless you know what you are planning for and you can’t act rationally unless you know the reason for acting. For an organization or individual to succeed and prosper it needs a mission to work towards.
The problem with government is it doesn’t have a mission and it rarely can have clear goals. Unlike private companies, which have a clear underlying goal: make as much profit as possible within the law.
The government on the other hand does not and can not have such a clear, underlying mission because the government does not have a specific purpose, value, or interest it represents.
The government represents the diverse, mass interests of millions of different individuals, each with their own values and goals. These mass values and goals are often schizophrenic and mutually contradictory between groups, within groups, and even within individuals.
There is no way for a government to possibly please all these groups and interests, it is impossible.
Let’s illustrate with an issue like poverty.
What is the government’s underlying mission?
Is it to maximize economic freedom whatever poverty may result?
Is it to maximize economic productivity to reduce prices so the poor can better afford goods?
Is it to keep employment high so that the poor can pull themselves up from poverty through hard work?
Is it to keep wages high so workers have a good standard of living keeping them out of poverty?
Is it to provide every individual has a basic standard of living to reduce absolute poverty?
Is it to promote economic equality so there is no relative poverty?
Is it to promote consumption to reduce immediate poverty?
Is it to promote long-term growth to reduce poverty in the future?
All of these goals are contradictory. A goal of freedom is inconsistent with having any other goals. Consumption and long-term growth come at the expense of each other. Economic equality reduces economic productivity. Providing a basic standard of living reduces productivity and the incentive to work. Keeping employment high often means subsidizing unproductive activity. High wages reduces jobs? Etc.
When it comes to poverty issues, whose interests should the government look out for. The poverty industry? Industry and business? Taxpayers? The poor? Unions? The blue collar working-man? And how should they look out for it?
Each of us probably has an answer, but even then for many it would be fairly garbled. For a government official there is no clear answer. There are simply hundreds of competing, contradictory interests and ideologies, each vying for the government to benefit them and do things according to their ideology.
Because the government has no mission, the government can not measure progress. For organizations measurement is a necessity for success. A business can know it’s succeeding if its profits are higher than the year before.
The government has no such way to measure success. Using the poverty example above, how would a government measure and define success. The Gini coefficient, GDP, GNP, the unemployment rate, the employment rate, the participation rate, median income, mean income, poverty thresholds?
Each measure of success carries certain ideological implications. GDP per capita and GNP measure productivity. Gini measures equality. Mean and median income both measure differently, the latter more towards equality of income. And so on.
There is no real way for government to measure success that would be acceptable across society.
Because each group and individual desires something different from the government the government can not help but fail. If the government implements gun control half the population believes the government is failing, if it does not the other half of the population believes it is.
The government can not succeed because it is impossible for the government to please everyone. It can only choose which groups to fail.
Because the government has a mess of contradictory interests rather than clear, consistent goals, its action usually comes out as an irrational muddle somewhere in the middle of people’s interests, rather than anything resembling a consistent plan.
Each successive government has its own agenda, which it only somewhat implements due to politically reality. Each of these agendas is pasted over-top of the previous system and previous agendas. Each interest group influences the agenda to skew it their way.
This leads to government being a confused, unfocused mess with no real goal to strive towards.
Reason #1 the government fails is a lack of a mission.