Trust and Government / Trust in Government

Earlier today, I did a post on Facebook about the increase in the California Gas Tax (i.e., the per-gallon tax at the pump), linking to the Caltrans website on SB1. In the post, I noted: ” For all my friends who are concerned about the gas tax increase that goes into effect today (12c a gallon — c’mon folks — that’s perhaps $3 a tank — the cost of a burger at McDonalds! — you can afford that for better roads — esp. at a tank a week), here’s a great explanation of where that money is going, and how it is restricted. In particular, take a look at the list of projects being supported.”

Some of the reaction I got took me by surprise.

I don’t want to go into the specifics of the gas tax. There was a bunch of debate on how it would be spent, but that’s not the subject I want to address here. Let me repeat that for those that can’t hear: This is not a post specifically about the gas tax. Got it? Good.

What really took me by surprise was the level of distrust of Government. There was a clear and strong opinion from a segment that believed that the government would mismanage any funds that it was given, and therefore we shouldn’t let them have any. This is a position I’ve heard time and again from Conservatives and Libertarians these days. It is one reason why I believe people supported Trump — he was campaigning against the untrustworthy government. Never mind that he was equally untrustworthy and … pay no attention to that man behind the curtain … but I digress.

Now, when I was growing up, it was us Liberals that didn’t trust the government. But that’s because they were lying to us, not mispending our money.

I don’t expect anyone to change their position on trusting government from this post. Everyone can point to numerous examples where government has misused our trust. That’s not hard. Further, any parent will tell you that once trust is lost, it is very very hard to earn back. It takes time — but with government, we don’t even give it the time.

Rather, what I would like people to take away from this is as follows:

  • What is the better alternative? In many cases, these functions can’t be done privately or by individuals. Privatizing the process has not worked. We need to work to make Government better and trustworthy, not blow it up or write it off.
  • Government funding is complex. Incredibly complex. There are different pots of funds that can only be spent for specific purposes. There are rules and regulations that end up costing immense amount of money, put in place because people misused and did untrustworthy things before (one need look no further than acquisition regulations). What might seem simple and sensical to us is impossible at the government level because of regulations — and then ends up looking like waste.
  • In some cases, government behaves the way it does for the same reason you manage your house the way you do. You budget for a certain amount of money to come in based on some rosy assumptions (“Sure, I’ll get that raise.”), and then they don’t. At your house, what do you do? You defer repairing the roof or the air conditioner so you can pay your food bill. In government, you take money from transportation repair so you can pay your prison guards and highway patrol officers. Remember: It’s complicated.

Our government may be vastly imperfect and incredibly frustrating. It may do things that you don’t like. But it is still much much better than some of the alternatives out there. However, for it to work, we need to trust in it and let it work, not actively campaign to tear it down or blow it up (which, I believe, were Steve Bannon’s words, not mine).