By John Glennon
President Obama said it himself: “If people cannot trust the government to do the job for which it exists…all else is lost.” With the IRS scandal, federal surveillance issues, and corruption cases in Portland City Hall, do you still trust the government?
The Oregonian recently reported that Jack Graham, Portland’s chief administrative officer, tried to “divert nearly $200,000 in water and sewer ratepayer money to the city’s general fund last year.” This and countless other cases where public officials have abused their power show how important it is to have strong constraints on government. Just like everyone else, government officials pursue their own self-interest. The difference between government officials and everyone else is that they control public resources, sometimes have the ability to change laws, and are often unaccountable to market forces.
Government officials do not want to cut their programs or reduce staff, compensation, or services. In the private sector, people also want to protect themselves and their employees. But private employers do not have the luxury of spending public funds, and they must downsize when necessary for their businesses to remain profitable. Government officials should be fiscally accountable just like private businesses, and their decisions should be brought more in line with the interests of the citizens they serve.
John Glennon is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market think tank.