So In The End, The VA Was Rewarded, Not Punished

Remember the whole VA thing?  It has mostly been forgotten, though we will all remember it again, or more accurately get to experience it ourselves, once the Democrats manage to get single payer passed.

People talk about government employees being motivated by "public service" but in fact very few government agencies have any tangible performance metrics linked to public service, and when they do (as in the case of the VA wait times) they just game them.   At the end of the day, nothing enforces fidelity to the public good like competition and consumer choice, two things no government agency allows.

I will admit that government employees in agencies may have some interest in public welfare, but in the hierarchy of needs, the following three things dominate above any concerns for the public:

  • Keeping the agency in existence
  • Maintaining employment levels, and if that is achieved, increasing employment levels
  • Getting more budget

But look at the VA response in this context:

  • The agency remains in existence and most proposals to privatize certain parts were beaten back
  • No one was fired and employment levels remain the same
  • The agency was rewarded with a big bump in its budget

The VA won!  Whereas a private company with that kind of negative publicity about how customers were treated would have as a minimum seen a huge revenue and market share loss, and might have faced bankruptcy, the VA was given more money.

Murry Rothbard via Bryan Caplan:

On the free market, in short, the consumer is king, and any business firm that wants to make profits and avoid losses tries its best to serve the consumer as efficiently and at as low a cost as possible. In a government operation, in contrast, everything changes. Inherent in all government operation is a grave and fatal split between service and payment, between the providing of a service and the payment for receiving it. The government bureau does not get its income as does the private firm, from serving the consumer well or from consumer purchases of its products exceeding its costs of operation. No, the government bureau acquires its income from mulcting the long-suffering taxpayer. Its operations therefore become inefficient, and costs zoom, since government bureaus need not worry about losses or bankruptcy; they can make up their losses by additional extractions from the public till. Furthermore, the consumer, instead of being courted and wooed for his favor, becomes a mere annoyance to the government someone who is "wasting" the government's scarce resources. In government operations, the consumer is treated like an unwelcome intruder, an interference in the quiet enjoyment by the bureaucrat of his steady income.


  1. Onlooker from Troy:

    Yep, it just never ends.

  2. Joe:

    Can't say I am surprised. Eric Holder hid information from Congress about Fast and Furious and he is still the Attorney General. Jame Clapper perjured himself to Congress and nothing happened to him. The Sunday after the Benghazi attack Susan Rice went on all the talk shows and lied about the talking points. She was promoted. Corruption is not just tolerated but rewarded in this Administration. I wouldn't be surprised if Obama finds a way to promote Louis Lerner he will.

    You gave a good quote from Rothbard. Milton Friedman also addressed this same issue when discussing greed with Phil Donahue.

  3. Citizens have no standing:

    President Don't Hold Me Responsible isn't going to clean house at any Federal agency because soon relater the trail might lead back to the White House.

  4. Curtis:

    One of the reasons I thought it was stupid to even talk about firing Shinseki is that we are talking about Federal Employees who cannot be fired or terminated or downgraded or reassigned for any reason. The only way to get a handle on making these people accountable is to terminate their contracts and start anew with the understanding that there is no tenure, never will be tenure and every employee serves at the pleasure of the ones that WE hold accountable.
    So that's not ever going to happen.

  5. Joe B.:

    Egads. Time to end the VA. Federal employees get full pension and medical after 20 years of employment? Even French railway workers would blush at that..

    How about all federal employees take care of themselves after they retire?

    Called standing on you down two feet.

  6. bigmaq1980:

    "Remember the whole VA thing? It has mostly been forgotten..." Is it just me, or are there really just so many issues today (vs years ago) that a proper scandal gets so easily "forgotten" in the day to day news?

  7. Nehemiah:

    A better example of government incompetence is the fact that the state department has lost track of 6,000 students in the US on student visas. You may recall that 19 terrorists entered our county on student visas. Not to worry, the terrorists probably don't bother to obtain student visas since they can just walk across our southern border. I got a bad feeling about this sarge, a bad feeling.

  8. Bram:

    Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy
    " any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:
    those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and
    those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would
    be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union
    representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most
    incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of
    person will always gain control of the organization, and will always
    write the rules under which the organization functions."

    The VA isn't even close to our worst government agency. What do the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, or Commerce even do? Together they have over 350,000 employees and contractors who... do something.