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The Unbearable Lightness of Government

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
George Washington

kingOver the past week or so, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) has been holding hearings on the future of television. It is, of course, a misnomer because what they are actually holding are hearings on television’s past while luxuriating in having broadcasters come before them in supplication like noble beggars to the monarch’s court at Christmas.

In Canada, the airwaves belong to the people and the CRTC was formed to protect the people’s interests by regulating the broadcast industry and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Not fully understanding the concept of Internet television, the CRTC tried to impose its rule over companies like Netlifx but when Netflix refused to comply, having no regulatory authority the CRTC chose to ignore them. What the CRTC failed to grasp is that it wasn’t them ignoring Netflix but rather Netflix ignoring them.


Government is slow to understand the realities with which it is confronted and the Commission is just one more example of a regulatory body with no skin in the game meddling in it and making it far more complex than it need be.

There is considerable expense in complexity and you don’t have to look very far to verify that statement.

Virtually every thing that all levels of government touch becomes unnecessarily complicated and that simply drives up its cost and reduces the effectiveness of its stated purpose. It isn’t simply the salaries and cost of the bureaucratic infrastructure that supports that complexity; it’s the unbelievable waste of time and effort trying to manage and control things in a world that moves at a thousand times faster than government decision making and of which government is capable.

By the time the Canadian government got around to sending over the non-lethal military aid and some financial support to Ukraine; the civil war in that country was already wrapping up. Crimea had been lost to Russia and the eastern regions that had rebelled were in negotiations for new semi-autonomous powers.

 “So what’s it all about Alfie?”

ukraineMonths of international meetings, sanctions imposed, media communiqués accomplished what exactly? If the objective had been to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine; it was a monumental failure but then, what other result can be expected when more time is spent discussing action rather than taking it?

And that’s government today; a wealth of words but a poverty of ideas and competence.

By the time governments around the world had come to grips with the Ebola outbreak, thousands were already dead. How many have to die to actually stir government into action? How big does the threat have to become before the bureaucratic and political inertia is finally thrown off and movement to address a crisis is taken?

Instead of immediate action, we are given words; thousands – maybe millions of words to obfuscate and buy time while government considers, reconsiders or undertakes yet another study of the issue. They don’t even care if anyone is listening when they speak and will, as Canada’s Prime Minister did recently at the United Nations, deliver their words to an empty room in order to appear as if they are actually in control of the agenda.

harper-at-empty-UN1The back rooms of all levels of government are filled with studies and reports and white papers yellowed by time and buried in the dust of indecision and delay. When those in government speak to us or even to each other, they don’t even use their own words. An entire profession has been created to produce talking points and speeches for those attending meetings or who speak to us through the media.

In government, meetings and reports are now considered action.

Where government should be the driver for innovation; it is the impediment to it. Where government should be the referee that guarantees a level playing field for all; it picks winners and losers with frequent regularity and typically with the same success as a problem gambler chasing lost money at the track or a casino. Where government should be the facilitator, it interferes, meddles and dithers until progress comes to a complete halt.

A recent economic report by BMO is predicting another global financial meltdown but this one won’t be the fault of private sector greed. It will be the result of government stupidity that has continued to grow debt until the world threatens to collapse under it.

Where did the money go?

In Canada, our infrastructure is crumbling, our health care system is incapable of meeting demand, our military which provides for our national defense is underfunded and our unemployment rate remains in the 7% range after years of government claims of job growth.

The government cannot create jobs but talks incessantly about it. Government cannot affect or mitigate climate change but wastes countless days, weeks and months – even years – along with untold amounts of money to study and debate ways to do exactly that.

We live in the information age, an era in which information is transmitted at the speed of light everywhere except in government. We live in an era of constant change but government has failed to understand or learn how to deal with that change.

Government is slow to respond to anything except perceived threats to itself.

In government the only crisis and the only call to immediate action is when “it” is about to hit the fan in the media; then government moves quickly although seldom to address the issue – the focus is almost always on containing the potential public relations damage.

It is the fear of public exposure that pervades all parts of government from the bureaucracy to politicians. Information – especially accurate information relayed to the public through the media or by whistle blowers – is the single greatest threat government fears. Government is risk averse and so it is necessary to limit to whatever extent possible, the amount of information given to anyone lest it result in criticism.

Government is, to use the vernacular, more about covering ass than accomplishing much of real value.

That fear of risk and of criticism has led to the creation of an opaque wall that surrounds government; a ridiculous level of secrecy that is presented as transparent and open government to a bewildered populace wondering what all the fuss was about.

There is a real and serious need for government in our societies. It is their role to manage our common resources on our behalf. It is why we elect the politicians. It is their role to provide such legislation and leadership as is necessary to ensure the security and advancement of our nations. It falls to the bureaucracy to implement those policies.

On all fronts, all sides of government at all levels are failing. They are lightweights that are increasingly irrelevant in a world where heavy lifting is required.

How else can one explain that some 30,000 psychopaths called ISIL have confounded and befuddled the combined military strength of then_67670_1 world’s most powerful countries? Where government once understood its purpose and role in defending against such aggression, it now backs into conflict tepidly over an extended period of time.

Some try to blame one political party or another but it really doesn’t matter which has been elected to govern. Whatever election promises were made are quickly crushed by reality. That reality is that words will not resolve the things that need resolution and election promises cost money we don’t have.

At that point, the newly elected government becomes the same as the previous as it is corralled by a situational reality it blithely ignored when presenting its election platform.

In the end there is no vision, no strategy, no effective long-term planning in government. There is only winning elections for politicians and endless meetings and process for bureaucrats.

It is small wonder that western democracies are in decline. Our nations are impeded by the unbearable lightness of government thinking and the oppressive weight of government inertia that fails not only to answer the call to action but to understand or even hear it.


© 2014 Maggie’s Bear

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Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear  – ivmaki@sympatico.ca


  • morri

    every time I think about excess government and the inaction that you describe I think of Douglas Adams. in his book, Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy he has characters called Vogons. they, to me, epitomise bureaucrats and bureaucracy. there are many quotes that concern government but the one that says, the government that governs least governs best, is the most accurate.

    • MaggiesBear

      If common sense was currency, government would be broke.

      • morri

        I think we are. broke , that is.

        • MaggiesBear

          I think you are right and in more ways than just one.

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