Government incompetence is not a physical mystery or an ideological mantra. Its origin is due to two reasons: motivation of politicians and bureaucrats; And the power of these official actors needs to be limited so that they become a full-fledged Leviathan. If one incorporates this last requirement, then limited government is efficient at a higher level, because oppression is worse than inefficiency. Entrepreneurship in a narrow economic sense requires entrepreneurship and prudence; In the case of government, this means arbitrary power.
Anyone who said something like “Fortunately the government we pay for doesn’t exist” was right. (Aphorism has been blamed on many sources, but my friend and co-blogger David Henderson thinks the original author was Charles “Boss” Catering, head of GM.)
This became clearer with the rise of government power. On the one hand, more power means more opportunity to abuse it, that is, to use it in a way that is preferred by certain citizens but harms other citizens; In other words, more state power means more government discrimination against certain citizens. On the other hand, as much energy needs (hopefully) needs to be limited, Leviathan will probably be unable to provide acceptable quality public services.
A column The Wall Street Journal Just gave a good example. Laura Saunders, A. The Wall Street Journal The columnist, who had a tax problem with the IRS, described his recent adventures (“On Saturday I spent five and a half hours in line waiting for the IRS” The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2022). A taxpayer must make an appointment to meet with an IRS bureaucrat, but there is no way to do it online and only 10% of callers get through it. The option is a walk-in, available only on certain days and in certain places (so far, no walk-in days are available for the rest of 2022). From 8:30 a.m. on May 14, Mrs. Saunders waited in line for about five and a half hours, mostly on a line that stretched a block outside the building. Only five bureaucrats were assigned to that waiting line. One of Saunders’ companions in the queue, with whom he exchanged email addresses, tested positive for Covid the next day.
Another current example is how federal and state policy has created chaos in the baby formula market (see my post on that yesterday), and how politicians now think that further intervention by them could solve the problem.
A broad but certainly related question is how, ceteris paribus, a minimum level of decency, morality, availability is favored or disliked by various political regimes.