Sunday, January 29, 2012

Defining Success.

In private industry it is easy to tell if you are successful or not.  If you make money - and don't go to jail - you are successful.  If you go to jail and/or fail to make a profit, you are not successful.

In government, their is not one measure, but several.   This is part of what makes government so complicated.

Here are a list of the three major possible goals (That is these are the ways some people MAY judge it, not necessarily why they created it or how they should be judged):
  • Purpose: Achieve the stated purpose - such as defend the United States
  • Money: Under budget and/or cheaply
  • Partisan: Push the administration's world view
Now, sometimes there are obviously failures - when money is spent and zero change is done.  These are incredibly rare.  However, that CLAIM gets made an awful lot - usually by listing huge amounts of money and and cutting short the time frame.

It's sort of like saying "We have allocated $1,000,000 per child and it's been 8 months and we do't even have a child yet."

Yeah, it takes 9 months to give birth and the $1,000,000 you allocated is over 25 years, including everything you are going to pay including Medical School tuition.

Here is a list of general spending categories, including the post office.  In no particular order:

  1. Social Security
  2. Healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid)
  3. Military
  4. Agriculture
  5. Education
  6. Anti-Terrorism
  7. Housing
  8. Crime
  9. Science
  10. Environmental Protection
  11. US Post Office.

Let's go over these things:

#1: Social Security is a huge success in achieving it's stated purpose.   Budget wise the GOP tries to call it a failure, but honestly that is debatable.  Slight changes (such as eliminating the cap on SS taxes) can handle that issue.   Old people like it, and it successfully keeps the older generation in favor of the Democrats.   From the Democrat's point of view, Social Security is hugely successful in all three measures.  Overall success = 9/10

#2.  Healthcare Medicare and Medicaid are generally liked by the people that use it.  They do their stated purpose.  Veterans health care is not as well liked, but generally accepted.   Money wise they are OVER budget and not cheap - except when compared to private insurance which is much more expensive.   Partisan wise again, the Democrats get a big push from it.   From the Democrats' point of view government healthcare is moderately successful, but the GOP tries to claim it is a big failure. But everytime the GOP tries to change Medicare, they get laughed at.   Obamacare has not yet kicked in yet, so we can't really judge it.   On the other hand, if our old healthcare did everything we wanted, we never would have made Obamacare.   Overall, 7/10

#3.  The US is the undisputed military leader of the world.  But we did lose Vietnam war and we may not have made Iraq any better.  We also spend a crap load more than anyone else and it took us a decade to kill Osama Bin Laden.  Partisan wise, it is a big GOP stronghold.   While the GOP likes to push our military as successful, honestly, our record here is mixed.  The recent cuts that will almost certainly be support the view that we spend too much, just like in healthcare.  At best, it is a 8/10.

#4.  The US is the breadbasket of the world. The programs work.  They also cost a lot of money - often spent paying people not to grow  things.  Partisan wise, no one wants to truly support it.  Rate it a 6/10.

#5 Education.  We routinely badmouth our education system.  But honestly we let the states fund them.  More importantly, our higher education is still the best in the world.   Partisan wise, it is a punching bag.   Give it a 5/10

#6.  Anti-Terrorism.  Not many attacks get through.  But the TSA overspends a huge amount.   Partisan wise it is a huge success - the GOP loves to use it as a weapon.  7/10

#7.   Housing is a failure.  We spend a ton of money and get crap for it.  Moreover it is a punching bag.   At best it gets a 2/10

#8.  Our legal and justice system is remarkably good.   Yes, we arrest 1% of our population, but at the same time we give people many rights.  While it can be expensive to participate in it, the government costs are not unreasonable - except when we pay to keep minor drug offenders in jail.  Aside from the fact that we don't always pay enough for defense - or force legal abusers to pay court courts, it does well.  Partisan wise, it's a huge success.  People love to claim to be law and order politicians.  I rate it an 8/10

#9.  We don't overpay for science.   The amount we pay for Nasa, the National Science Foundation, etc. is trivial.   We get a lot for that little bit of money.  The few problems tend to be dramatic (Challenger disaster), but are a necessary part of discovery.  But partisan wise, often people ignore the science.   Call it an 8 out of 10.

#10.  The EPA is notoriously short changed on cash.  They don't cost a lot.  But they also have a reputation for letting people get away with stuff - particularly because of Bush's 8 years of "no enforcement".   Partisan wise, it is useful to the Democrats and even the GOP doesn't want to eliminate it.  A solid 7/10.

#11.  The post office does a great job for a cheap amount of money.  Their current monetary problems are entirely due to Congress forcing them to be more conservative in their pension budgeting than any business has to be.   They don't really have a partisan function.  A solid 9/10

To me,t he surprising part is first of all how MANY government programs come out looking good.   Only Housing is a real failure (2) - although Education is not that great (5)> 

Even if you add Agriculture (6) as a 'failure', that is a 70% success rate.   Honestly, while the EPA, anti-terrorism and health-care could do better, but so could a lot of businesses.  

Start up businesses have a failure rate of 50%. 

In other words, government does a better job than most businesses does.

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