Many people believe the government wastes vast amounts of money. This perception is created by the media and the opposition making a big deal out of every little bit of perceived or real wasteful spending, which make people assume that waste is pervasive. Governments spend billions of dollars but when people hear about waste of ten thousand dollars or even ten million dollars they don’t put that number in perspective. A lot of them probably don’t even notice the difference between ten thousand or ten million.
Government isn’t perfect but I suspect it is no more wasteful then large businesses. The difference is there is no Freedom of Information Act for businesses and no group of opposition board members always trying dig up scandals. Even if people hear about a business being wasteful they assume it is someone else’s problem, but in the end we all pay for corporate waste just as surely as government waste, especially since most large companies are part of oligopolies and it would require a major screwup to bring them down.
For example, look at the recent controversy over the CEO pay of ORNGE, a mid-sized Ontario government agency that handles air ambulance service for the province. They cleverly hid their CEOs pay in a for-profit subsidiary. When it was reveled to be $1.4 million a year, more then the head of Ontario Power Generatio, people where appalled. How many people assume that such excessive pay is widespread in the government when this is really an exceptional case? We know the salaries of the heads of other agencies, so we the head of ORNGE was the highest paid of them all. He was the exception.
However, in the private sector his pay would not be exceptional, but the norm. Who is really more wasteful? The government where his salary is exceptional and makes people angry when they hear it or the private sector where his salary would be normal?
The false perception that waste is widespread it drove dubious Toronto mayor Rob Ford to victory, but he has yet to find any beyond the crumbs he campaigned on.
It’s a fundamental problem with the media. They spend so much of their time reporting on exceptional things, people assume those things (murder, sex scandals, war, animals doing somethings funny) is the norm, rather then exception.
This post based on a comment I made on the Toronto Star website.