Unemployment? Or Unwillingness to Pay for Services?

Once again the daily newspaper provides important policy information, if you read carefully and connect the dots.

On Wednesday, March 3, the Los Angeles Times carried a front page story describing the lack of quality control and discipline in the county probation department — because there are “too many cases and not enough staff.” As a consequence, juveniles under the department’s supervision are almost undoubtedly being abused by sworn officers who should be disciplined or fired. And the situations are not trivial. One case that was resolved involved an officer convicted of having sex with three juveniles in confinement. Another case involved an officer directing five teenagers to beat another juvenile suspected of stealing her cell phone.

More front page news: You already know that Toyota is suspected of building cars with major electronic throttle design problems that result in unexpected and uncontrollable acceleration. Why didn’t the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration take a more pro-active role in investigating the reports that started coming in seven years ago? There may be several reasons, including coziness between regulators and the industry allegedly being regulated and/or incompetence. However, depending on which report you believe, NHTSA has only two — or five — electrical engineers on staff, clearly not a sufficient number to investigate carefully and get to the bottom of a complex issue.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca (according to an article on page AA3) is cutting his budget by $128 million over 16 months through reductions in overtime and reassignment of administrative personnel to field duties.

States all over the country are experiencing their worst financial crises since, well, maybe forever. Thousands of teachers are losing their jobs, as school districts run out of money.

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, we discover that approximately half of California residents eligible for food stamps don’t get them. One of the problems: welfare offices cannot afford the staff members required to process the applicants. Lines sometimes stretch out the doors, and the telephone goes unanswered. Some applicants simply give up.

Meanwhile, millions of people look for work. No, they’re not all trained to be police officers, probation officers, electrical engineers, or teachers. But many of them could be. And most of the rest are either qualified or COULD be qualified to perform tasks that provide society with useful — even necessary — services.

If we were willing to pay for these services, we’d get not only more effective government but lower unemployment. Not a bad combination.

Ron Wolff

Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appeared. Republished with permission.


  1. says

    Ron has made yet another good point.

    But there’s a bit to be added. The issue is not always unconditional unwillingness to pay. Given credible prioritization of state and city budgets, many of us would be willing to pay, but politicians attempt neither credible prioritization nor – on the basis of it – to ask us to pay.

    75 years after this country supposedly learned the lesson of the idiocy of alcohol prohibition, their big priority so far is to be sure to continue other substance prohibitions, so that innocuous or merely self-abusive behavior is criminalized (rather than benignly neglected or medicalized)- so that we can have lots or prisons, and divert urban law enforcement to fill them, and moreover divert rural and environmental law enforcement to having to deal with criminalized cultivators and cultivations.

    The net effect of substance prohibition is multiply damaging to public policies and their finance. Instead of taxes on rural cultivation and urban sales bringing in revenue, we lose big-time in extra enforcement and prison costs and decreased work on real crime. And we establish an economic basis for criminal urban gangs. And because of this utterly crazy misallocation of current actual and potential tax revenues, the many voters who in fact would otherwise be ready to pay for truly useful services simply cannot approve more taxes to give to the same politicians that mis-appropriate what they already get.


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