TIM BATTLE: 'Inequality of waste' has consequences

July 6, 2014 

President Obama recently said that waste can be found in both the public and private sector. You know what? He is correct. But since he has little experience in private business, it was just a lucky guess.

Having actually worked in and for both sectors over the past 50 years, I can attest that there is far more waste in government than in the private sector. I have worked with many great government employees who have a great work ethic and cost consciousness, but they are the exception. They work with efficiency because of their character, not because they are fearful of losing their job.

There are reasons for this "inequality of waste" between private business and government.

First, a private business cannot compete if it is inefficient and has a lot of waste. The government has no competition so it doesn't have to focus on efficiency and waste and market share.

Second, a private business has owners and shareholders who expect a return on their investment. Their return is maximized when minimum inefficiency and minimum waste creates maximum margin and profit.

Third, a private business employee who is inefficient and wasteful is soon out of a job. After a short probation period, the civil servant who is wasteful and inefficient has little or no fear of losing his job.

What President Obama appears to be spinning is that because waste exists in the private sector, it must be OK that it exists in the public or government sector. In doing so, he shifts the blame to a place where it does not belong. To me, it's like blaming my face for getting in the way of your fist. It's like blaming a gun for a murder.

Private business has an incentive to do what's right. It knows that failure to do so means an end to its existence. It can go bankrupt. It is vulnerable for purchase by a competitor. It has unhappy shareholders. It loses customers. It has competitors who take away market share.

The government has no such incentives. It has a seemingly unlimited supply of money to cover the cost of any waste or inefficiency. If taxes are not enough to pay for problems, the taxes are raised.

The private business has only the income from customers who buy a quality product or service at a reasonable price. When customers consider the price too high or the quality too shoddy, they do not buy.

Taxpayers are the "customers" of the government but, unlike private business customers, they have no choice but to "buy" the government services, no matter how wasteful or inefficient they are. It is true that taxpayers have a choice in whom they elect. But in the last few elections, that doesn't appear to have made a dent in government waste and inefficiency.

TIM BATTLE

Ocean Springs

The Sun Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service