Good Government at Less Cost –
Disciplined and Productive.

From Absolute Monarchy – to Absolute Government?

The relationship between government and citizens was formally confirmed over a thousand years ago. It was based on the concept of Absolute Monarchy. The King ruled as of right, taxed at will, and spent on palaces or war or whatever took his fancy. True, Britain gradually built up a number of constitutional-type documents limiting the Royal Power, and Ancient Custom also had its place in exerting discipline over the monarchy. And the great Magna Carta signed at Runnymede (picture above) in 1215 established many significant constitutional principles. But the basic fact remained: the king was King.

Though Parliament finally succeeded in establishing supremacy over the monarchy in 1702, the situation as far as the ordinary citizen was concerned changed very little. The Upper Classes, the minority of educated landholders and the new industrialists who could read and write and had some grasp of domestic and international affairs, they ruled the country. They knew best, and there was neither need nor opportunity to question their actions.

Has this changed much today? It would hardly seem so. Once elected, governments are as arrogant, as dictatorial, as secretive, spendthrift and generally “superior” as they ever were. Yet “we, the people” are today every bit as well informed as the government (save in those instances where government deliberately conceals information); indeed, the plain common sense of ordinary citizens is often needed to bring governments down to earth. It is, after all, the “ordinary people” who enjoy the benefits, or suffer the discomfort and the cost of government actions.

We need to update the relationship between government and people, better to reflect the times in which we live. Government is the nation’s biggest spender, taking anything up to 50%-plus of the nation’s earnings. It is also a monopoly, subject to little or no discipline in the efficiency of its operations and its cost-effectiveness. It is virtually unanswerable to anyone for its actions; it taxes and spends at will with very little meaningful accountability.

For both political and economic reasons, we need to establish a new relationship: a relationship which accurately reflects reality, namely that government is a service to its citizens, its wages paid by its citizens as its customers. The process of government must be clearly defined in its field of action and subject to strict financial and administrative disciplines, so that it fulfills its functions productively without incurring an over-burdensome tax on our earnings.

Each and every department and function of government must be clearly and separately identified, its function clearly defined and its costs enumerated so that those who pay the bills can review the different functions and assess their utility and desirability.

Debt and Decline

Governments are among the most wasteful, the least productive of any organization yet devised by man. Although this is now becoming apparent to an increasingly disillusioned public, the criticism is not as harsh as it may sound, and is certainly not intended as a reflection on individual elected members or government servants. It is simply an observation of human nature, which does not believe in making life difficult for itself unless absolutely necessary.

Throughout private sector business and industry, managements are under constant pressure to remain competitive. They cannot afford to let quality slip, to miss an opportunity to improve productivity, or to fill a new market need. No one accepts pressure through choice. The need arises only because competition can overtake a business, even cause its demise.

Monopolies do not suffer such pressures, so it is easy for service standards to stagnate or fall back. Yet there is an escape route for dissatisfied customers: one can always opt out. If your electricity supplier really annoys you, you can close the account and light your home with oil lamps. Inconvenient perhaps, but the option remains, for though a monopoly supplier, your power company cannot require you to use its services. It is not an enforced monopoly.

It is in this respect that Government stands alone. Government is not only a monopoly, it is unique in being an enforced monopoly, there is no option to reject it, and refusal to pay its taxes will land you in prison.

The simple result is that taxes and debts slide slowly upwards, services remain stagnant or decline, and government departments proliferate. Periodically government finances reach a level of indebtedness which requires urgent and drastic action if disaster is to be averted. When this happens, governments give us two choices: higher taxes, or lower standards of service. Or most probably, both.

So ‘programmed’ are the good citizens, so constantly fed with these two options as being the only options, we never think of expecting government to meet, and to subject itself to, the same standards existing throughout the ‘real’ world of commerce.

Unknown in government circles is the ‘P’ word – Productivity – the concept of striving continuously to give a better service at less cost, a concept taken for granted throughout the business world. So the burden of government, its size and its cost, steadily increases.

Confronting the ‘P’ word.

Quality, Productivity, and Service – three words not normally associated with Government today!

If these ideals are to be applied effectively, the function of Government must first be precisely defined; we cannot measure the productivity of a service without first defining its purpose.

The need for, and the purpose of government can be defined by the adverse effects of its absence. Society needs government, law and order to provide protection from robbery, violence and the excesses of individual power, from dishonesty and deception in commerce and industry, to resolve conflicting demands on the natural resources and to prevent pollution and destruction of the shared environment.

The provision of Law is the essential ‘core function’ of Government: the formulation of Law and its Enforcement, or more specifically, those Legislative, Protective and Constitutional Services essential to and directly related to the protection of Liberty.

However governments now undertake additional services, and the current activities of Government fall into three broad categories: Laws, Infrastructure, and Welfare.

If Government is to exercise its regulatory function without bias it cannot own or operate any non-political services or industries, including Infrastructure and Essential Services which must be operated outside Government, but with Government's strict supervision.

With the purpose and function of Government clearly defined, it becomes much easier to apply strict financial and administrative disciplines to ensure that Government fulfills its own core functions as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible with continuously rising productivity, public disclosure and accountability. Clear job descriptions and benchmarks for each department allow for accurate assessment of performance.

Many existing government departments and programs would inevitably be abandoned as being non-essential, while each of those remaining would be required to state clearly what it is doing, what it is costing, and the extent to which it is fulfilling its stated objectives productively.

Government is a service to its consumers and as such should be subject to the strictest possible commercial disciplines; its performance should be at least as good as and preferably better than the Private Sector. Any Commercial Legislation relating to accounting, standards, productivity or quality of Private Sector business and commerce should immediately and automatically apply to any and all functions of Government.

Over the past twenty years just about every part of the world economy has been transformed by technology and new ideas, yet no sector anywhere has changed less than government.

Government accounts, for a start, are totally meaningless to anyone conversant with company accounting procedures. What pass for accounts are vague estimates, fudged by transfers between departments, and budgets set as targets which are never adhered to.

The remedies are fourfold.

One: commission a major firm of internationally recognized accountants to put government's accounts on a standard business footing. Then put every detail online, down to the last penny (if you dare). Transparency is the first line of defence against waste.

Two: separate-off infrastructure administration and the major welfare services of education, healthcare and pensions so that each can then be reviewed individually.

Three: ruthlessly eliminate the grants, projects, pseudo-government appendages... anything not directly essential to the good governance of the nation. Be ready to question the current usefulness of departments set up long ago and hanging on out of tradition and nostalgia - or simply lack of serious questioning.

Four: subject what remains to an outside professional time-and-motion study. Identify the objectives of each department, institute a measure of its success or failure, then ensure that it meets and exceeds its targets with the maximum efficiency and the minimum of expenditure through continuous monitoring.

Such and similar measures would no doubt reduce taxes and increase service quality quite rapidly. But how will they come about? Discipline and regulation are required in large measure, but no institution, least of all Government, can be trusted to discipline itself.

Governing Government.

While the Magna Carta is revered and respected as being the “grand-daddy” of constitutions, and while it is studied, analyzed, and to a large degree copied, a fact rarely considered is that the Magna Carta was “consumer-driven”.

The King did not write a constitution in which a few crumbs of monarchial self-discipline graciously thrown to the public were greatly outweighed by his own rights and privileges. It was the barons, nobles and clergy who, as objects of the king's whims and the taxpayers who funded them, drew up the Great Charter and compelled the King by force of arms to agree to it.

The motivation to improve government efficiency and standards of business conduct is unlikely to come from inside government itself, and even if it does, the disciplines thus created are likely to be more cosmetic than real. Governments frequently pay lip-service to improving productivity and financial discipline, but seldom make any real changes. Self discipline is a noble ideal, but it rarely if ever comes about.

The people’s assurance of Good Government can best be secured by independent outside agencies, a prime example being total freedom of the press and all forms of communication media with every encouragement for them to research and publicize all acts of government.

Good Government can also be reinforced by the use of independent outside (private sector) agencies for use in checking government accounts, assessing government departmental productivity and the remunerations of government staff, as well as full transparency, honesty and possible corruption. A clear current example can be seen in the independent Bond Rating Agencies which rate the credit-worthiness of governments, thus directly influencing the interest rates governments are obliged to pay on new debt issues and indirectly forcing remedial measures.

Sensing an injury to their pride and limitation on their freedom of action, governments may well claim that being subject to such outside agencies creates a conflict with democratic principles. To the contrary. Requiring that government must account for every penny taken and spent, by ensuring that government and its dependent infrastructural services deliver the best possible product at the lowest possible cost, and by ensuring that government does not pay itself more than its private-sector equivalents, is entirely compatible with the interests of “the people” who must pay the cost and who if specifically consulted would no doubt enthusiastically approve.

And the more agencies of whatever kind or source checking up on every aspect of governance, the better government will be.

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