Monday, December 8, 2014

The obese Octopus

          I live in a small city in a rather lightly populated area, yet my phone book lists 234 local numbers for government offices.  These numbers break down to 41 federal, 24 state, 61 city, and 108 county.
          Each of these phone numbers represents from a few to several hundred officials and bureaucrats and workers who draw from tax revenues not only while on the job but also throughout retirement.  Not to mention the continuous costs of their many buildings and offices that must be furnished, heated, and lighted.  These numbers also represent a vast fuel-guzzling fleet of various official vehicles from fire trucks; to city, state, and federal law-enforcement cruisers; to buses; to sanitation and delivery trucks.  And this is only in my county.  There are 99 more counties in my state and 3,143 other counties or county equivalents in the United States.
          There are 11 million people working for federal government now, if you include bureaucrats, postal workers, the military, contractors, and grantees.  Another 19.5 million work for state and local governments.  That’s 30.5 million people working for some form of our government.  In addition to uncounted thousands of government buildings across the land, there are 845,000 buildings on 750 military installations worldwide.  All of these require furnishings, climate control, lighting, and repairs.  The cost of maintaining the behemoth military machine in payroll, ships, planes, weapons, and vehicles recently topped $640 billion a year and it’s growing.
          At a thriller writer’s conference a while back, I attended a presentation by an FBI special agent about an investigation into the explosion of an illegal fireworks factory in rural Tennessee.  He said there had been 30 different government agencies involved.  Thirty.  The flashing of the various badges as all those folks stumbled over one other in their detecting must have outshone the original explosion.  Anybody who thinks that investigation had a prayer of being efficient and economical please raise your hand.
          Florida bestselling author Carl Hiaasen is a popular novelist who can make you laugh aloud even as he chills you with his thrillers.  I’m reading the recent Hiaasen collection of his Miami Herald columns titled “Dance of the Reptiles,” wherein he attacks the establishment with his rapier wit and cutting sarcasm, exposing the bungling, waste, profiteering, special-interest lawmaking, and often outright fraud and blatant corruption that have sadly become commonplace throughout our nation and especially in Florida.  It’s a great read.  He calls the meeting of the state Legislature “the annual Tallahassee train wreck.”  He likens the bloated free-spending federal General Services Administration to “a giant stoned octopus that has no idea what all its legs are doing.”  I think that’s a fitting description for the whole vast structure that has grown to myopically oversee and ineptly and inefficiently regulate nearly every aspect of our lives.
          You’d think our government has swollen to become quite large enough.
          Unless you’re a politician, official, or bureaucrat, that is.  To them, bigger is always better.  And the response they all too often make to a problem or crisis is to add yet more layers of fat to government.  More agencies.  More offices.  More bureaucrats.  More waste.  More clumsy tentacles for the already obese octopus, appropriating ever more money out of thin air to gorge it.  This is the same government, bear in mind, that in its wisdom has placed the Coast Guard under obviously non-nautical Homeland Security, and complex health care under the brilliant IRS, whose taxing regulations alone already run to 60,000 pages.  The same government that has blithely ballooned the federal deficit to eighteen thousand billion dollars and rapidly counting.  Administration officials are celebrating the fact that the deficit has “only” grown by $500 billion in 2014. That’s “only” half a trillion dollars in yet more debt that we all owe.  Wow.  Nice going, people.

           I think we don’t need more and bigger government every year.

           I think what we desperately need are more investigative journalists willing to take a close critical look at the obscenely overweight octopus we already have.


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