Faculty/Staff Column: Government shutdown and the value of inefficiency

Faculty/Staff Column: Government shutdown and the value of inefficiency


Nelly Mathov, 79, holds a sign while protesting against the government shutdown outside the federal building in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. President Barack Obama summoned congressional leaders to the White House on the second day of a partial government shutdown that has furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers and closed military cemeteries as far away as France. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Mr. Robert McCreary, NPHS Social Studies teacher


Bob McCreary is a Social Studies teacher at North Penn High School. The Knight Crier welcomes submissions to the Faculty/Staff Columns section from all interested faculty and stafff of the NPSD.

Since the NFL season is now in full swing, let me start with a sports related question.  If the Eagles needed a quarterback who can run on a particular play, would they take out Michael Vick and replace him with a big, slower lineman?  Of course, the answer to this absurd question is no.   In sports and in business, the most important job of the coach, boss, owner, etc. is to place people in positions where they can be successful.  That means having a good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of your players and/or employees.  Putting people in positions that do not coincide with their strengths is not only unfair to the person but unfair and counterproductive to the team or company as a whole.

Unfortunately, Americans today don’t seem to consider this obvious fact when it comes to solving the problems of our country.  Since the Great Depression and especially since the mid-1960’s, our knee jerk reaction to any problem is to ask the government “what are you going to do about this?”  But is our government best suited to fix the major problems we face?  Our Founding Fathers did not think so.

The Founding Fathers had a great deal of personal experience in dealing with a government that felt it alone should be “fixing” the problems of the colonies.  The Revolution and the creation of our Constitution was the result.

Our Constitution was specifically designed to protect against the government from becoming too influential in the lives of American citizens.  To make sure of this, the Founders inserted numerous checks and roadblocks into the system to insure that our government did not have an easy time just doing what they wanted to do.  Creating three equal branches and giving each specific powers to keep the others in line stemmed from this.  Giving some powers to the federal government and the rest to the various state governments was another example.  Making sure all revenue bills start in the House of Representatives was another.  The thinking on this was that if the government is going to collect and spend the people’s money, the House (the part of Congress that is most closely connected to the people)  is going to be given that job in order to better protect the interests of the people.  All these built-in checks and balances on government power were specifically and purposely inserted into the structure of our system to make it more difficult for the governing class of people to expand their power and infringe on the individual rights of Americans.

Today, this built-in inefficiency of doing things at the government level irritates many Americans.  Our modern society is a very fast paced one in which, almost daily, new technology is introduced to make our lives more efficient.  Computers allow us to write papers more efficiently than if completed on a typewriter or by hand.  Email and texting allows communication to occur more efficiently than writing letters.  Virtually all new technology is created to make our lives easier and more efficient.  When modern Americans see government in action, they see absurdity.  They see a government slow to take action.  They see political infighting and turf wars between the branches.  They see gridlock, shutdowns, and an endless array inefficient behavior as inconsistent with the real world.

And the Founding Fathers couldn’t be happier about it!

They are happy because it was their intent to create a system that was slow moving and methodical in its process.   This was not done to anger Americans.  It was done to protect their interests.  A government  with built-in roadblocks that was slow moving would force people to think long and hard about handing over important issues and additional powers to the government.

The government shutdown is understandably producing more cynicism in our government officials.  However, in my opinion at least, calling for changes in the “system” to make things more “efficient” is a dangerous road to travel down.  History books are teeming with examples from  kings, dictators, and the like who were very “efficient” in their decision making.  Unfortunately, the rights and lives of common people almost always suffered as a result.

It may be frustrating but the system is working as intended.  Like people and other institutions, our government has strengths and weaknesses.  If they are proving ineffective in dealing with an issue, maybe we should question whether they should be dealing with it at all.