Who is More Trustworthy?

One of the primary differences between liberals (or “progressives,” or socialists, or whatever they are calling themselves these days) and the rest of us, is that those on the Left typically love government and hate private business. And at the root of their view is the idea that a government bureaucrat is somehow more trustworthy than their civilian counterpart.

Now, when you ask them why they trust a government worker more than someone in the private sector, they invariably assign some sort of noble intentions to the government worker (they “care” about people), while describing the private sector worker as being motivated by “money” or “profit” – usually accompanied by a sneer of contempt. Because in the world of the liberal, “intentions” count more than results, and profit is a dirty word.

But let’s examine that view. First of all, is it really even true that government workers are in their jobs to “help their fellow man” as the Left contends? Well, surely there are some who fall into that category – nurses and doctors in Veteran’s hospitals come to mind, some of whom are no less than genuine angels. God bless them.

Then there are those who, literally, put their lives on the line – no one would dispute that most cops, firefighters, and those in the armed forces overwhelmingly do so for reasons far beyond personal gain. But the further away we get from such high-risk occupations, the less we find “public service” as the primary goal.

Take public school teachers, for example. Far from being the paragons of selfless devotion that the press loves to portray them as being, the number one reason they give for picking the teaching profession is (are you ready?)…”I have summers off.” And that’s just the beginning – they time and again have shown that your kids come in a distant second to their own pocketbooks. No matter how badly things are going for the parents of the kids they teach, teachers adamantly refuse to take even a pay freeze (let alone a pay cut). And they will go on strike at the drop of a hat to prove it.

The recent snowstorm in New York glaringly illustrated an even more selfish disregard by public employees for the very lives of the public they are supposed to serve, when it became apparent that government snow-plow drivers purposely engaged in a work slow-down to protest layoffs – several people, unable to get to the hospital, died as a direct result. And this was not the first time such tactics have been employed by government employees to essentially engage in extortion.

Then there is the army of administrators, social workers, and others who make up the majority of government worker bees. Here, too, let any legislator dare to discuss even the most modest reductions, either in salary, benefits, or in staffing levels, and there will be hell to pay. I’ve personally heard (more times than I can count) government workers indignantly proclaiming that they should “never have to take a pay cut” – no matter how badly the economy is doing for the rest of us. And as far as these folks being in it to “serve their fellow citizens” think about the last interaction you had with anyone at the Post Office, or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about those arrogant little fascists who join government for no other reason than to tell the rest of us what to do in our private lives, from smoking bans in private businesses to Michelle Obama’s attempts to have government determined food choices for your children. But that’s a topic for another day.

So, what about those who work in the private sector? Why do free-market advocates like me have so much more faith in someone who works for a private business than we do in any government employee?

The answer is “accountability” – the private sector employee knows full well that it is in their own self-interest do a good job of pleasing their customers, whether directly or indirectly. If they do, they will benefit – higher pay, promotions, and recognition. If they don’t, they will likely earn less than their better performing co-workers, be less likely to be promoted, and, in the extreme case, lose their job altogether.

Unlike government workers, who, because of union contracts, seldom have any motivation to out-perform their colleagues – they will be paid the same regardless. Nor do they have any real concern that their downright mistreatment of the public will result in any real negative consequences – when was the last time that the most outrageous conduct, sometimes even criminal conduct, ever resulted in the firing of a government employee?

Even more compelling, the Harvard University School of Business long ago found that the desire for profit leads to both happier employees and more satisfied customers. The Harvard Business Revue detailed this in “The Service-Profit-Chain” a long term study which showed that companies who treated their better-performing employees well (and, perhaps just as important) got rid of their bad employees, produced happier, more loyal employees. This in turn attracted and retained an increasing number of loyal, long term customers, which yielded greater long term profits – turns out that good moral conduct is good for business. Well run companies prosper and grow.

And poorly run companies don’t. Because in the private sector, it is also true that bad conduct is punished. The story of corporate “bad guys” like those who ran ENRON prove this to be true. Even if there had been no criminal conduct, they were bound to fail. Because those who mismanage their organizations may get away with their incompetence for a while, but the record clearly shows that poorly run companies either clean up their acts, or they fail. Which is as it should be.

Because the reality is that self-interest, the desire to profit from one’s own efforts, actually leads to better outcomes for all concerned than all the world’s “good intentions” have ever produced.  After all, look at the list of some of the greatest innovations in modern human history:

The steam engine.

The electric light bulb.

The automobile.

The radio.

The airplane.

The computer.


The cell phone (OK, the jury is still out on that one)

MRI and EKG devices.

Miracle drugs that allow millions to live who just decades ago would have died.

And on and on.

Now, how many of these breakthroughs were the brainchild of some government social worker?


Oh, sure, someone will advance the argument that because some professor at a “government funded” university came up with this or that new idea, and thus “proves” that government sometimes produces beneficial results. But even in that case, it is the private sector that drives all innovation – because at the root of all research is the desire for profit.

Mankind’s major achievements were all the result of private sector workers bent on producing a product that could make them a hell of a lot of money. And even though people like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford also had some very noble views on contributing to the general well-being of their fellow citizens, what gave them the ability to do the good works they did was…profit.

And whether it is what kind food I want to eat or what kind of health insurance I want to buy, I will always trust any private sector employee more than I do some government bureaucrat whose sole goals in life are a job they can’t be fired from, at a salary twice what it would pay in the private sector, a Rolls-Royce health plan, and a lavish retirement pension at the expense of the taxpayers.

John Caile