Here Are 3 Things the Government Does More Efficiently Than the Private Sector
As the November midterms draw closer, many Republican candidates will be touting their alleged disdain for “big government” as one of the reasons to vote for them. Republicans, of course, aren’t so fond of “small government” when they attack reproductive rights, advance a theocratic agenda or promote the War on Drugs and the Prison/Industrial Complex, but that doesn’t prevent them from claiming that government is always the problem rather than the solution and repeating their talking point that the private sector inevitably does everything better. However, the right-wing “government bad/private sector good” mantra is fatally flawed because in many areas—from health care to mail delivery to high-speed rail travel—government has been as efficient as the private sector, if not more efficient.
When Republicans were trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, in 2017, they insisted that Trumpcare would result in better, more comprehensive health care at much lower prices. But according to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the American Health Care Act—one of the GOP’s Trumpcare proposals in Congress—that bill would have resulted 23 million Americans losing their health insurance by 2026. There would have been no “free market miracle” with the American Health Care Act, only an increase in medical bankruptcies and millions more Americans unable to see a doctor when they get sick.
Minus adequate government intervention, the U.S.’ health care system is an abomination—and the reality is that when government has more say in health care, people live longer. In other developed countries, universal health care is being achieved a variety of ways, from government-operated systems like the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K. to systems that are private but subject to very strict government regulation. The ACA, thanks to government intervention, brought health insurance to millions of Americans. But it doesn’t go far enough, and life expectancy in the U.S. is only 78.7 years compared to 83 in Japan and Switzerland or 82 in France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Canada and Australia.
Medicare is a government-operated universal health care program for Americans who are 65 or older, and it’s been wildly popular since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration unveiled it in 1965. But House Speaker Paul Ryan, claiming that the private sector could improve Medicare, has proposed replacing traditional Medicare with a privatized voucher system—which would be a disaster for the U.S.’ seniors.
Republicans and Libertarians are both critics of the U.S. Postal Service and insist that the private sector could do a much better job delivering mail and packages, but the facts say otherwise. In early 2017, Endicia compared U.S. Postal Service prices to United Parcel Service (UPS) and Fed-Ex prices—and the U.S. Postal Service offered, by far, the best bargains. According to Endicia, a two-pound package sent from Seattle to Atlanta cost $10.28 compared to $17.19 with UPS or $17.56 with Fed-Ex.
Ironically, if Republicans succeeded in privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, it would be small towns and rural areas—the Republican base—that would suffer the most, not urban Democrats. Presently, one can send a one-ounce letter anywhere within the U.S. for 50 cents, which is an especially good deal if one lives in a remote area of Montana, South Dakota or Idaho. But there’s no way that rural areas and small towns would continue to enjoy mail delivery at such prices in a GOP privatization scheme. The U.S. Postal Service is not only more affordable than UPS or Fed-Ex—it’s more user-friendly as well.
High-speed rail travel is another area in which the private sector isn’t necessarily better. After Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister in the U.K. in 1979 via the Conservative Party, she launched a campaign of rail privatization—which continued under her successor John Major, who became prime minister as a Conservative in 1990. Thatcher and Major believed that the private sector could do a much better job with rail travel, but rail travel suffered in the UK and became more expensive. In 2015, Action for Rail published a report noting that since 2010, UK rail fares had increased by 27%.
According to Action for Rail, an average U.K. worker was spending 17% of their wages for a monthly £391 season ticket from London to Brighton—whereas in Continental Europe, people making similar trips were spending 9% of their salaries in Germany, 12% of their salaries in France, or 6% of their salaries in Spain or Italy.
One of the most insanely bad ideas proposed by Republicans and Libertarians is the privatization of fire departments. In Arizona, one such department is the Rural Metro Fire Department, which sent John and Kacia Purcell a bill for almost $20,000 after their mobile home burned to the ground on August 12, 2013. In most parts of the U.S., fire departments are publicly owned and supported by tax dollars. But the Purcells found out the hard way what can happen when a fire department is privately owned and one hasn’t subscribed to its service.
None of that is to say that the private sector doesn’t do some things incredibly well or that the U.S. should adopt a Marxist-Leninist system of government like the one that existed in the old Soviet Union. A lot of great things come from the private sector, from smartphones and laptops to Jay-Z recordings to software for studying French or German. But while the private sector has its place, so does government—and programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are much better off under government control than they would be in corporate hands. If Paul Ryan, an admirer of Ayn Rand, had his way and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were totally privatized along with the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Postal Service, it would be a nightmare for millions of Americans.
Government isn’t the consistent failure that Republicans and Libertarians paint it as being. From the U.S. Postal Service to Social Security and Medicare, government has a long list of accomplishments and—when it comes to efficiency—sometimes functions even better than the private sector.