"Government is like a vending machine. You put in money, and you get out goods and services," according to Donald Kettl, policy expert. And then when you don't get what you want and the machine has taken your money, you get frustrated and want to shake and kick it. You are left powerless.
While the function of government to provide goods and services may be necessary, the problem today is that it's too sophisticated, complex and more bureaucratic. So, when it doesn't work, there are no ready avenues for redress. If we have a grievance with government, we are left shaking and kicking the machine, and walking away frustrated and angry. What is even more frustrating is we often have no choice but to get the service or goods from the faceless bureaucracy — the vending machine. It's like being at the old Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), remember, where we would stand in long lines for hours, going through one line, and if we guessed wrong or did not have our papers in order, we had to go through another line? We left tired, confused and without what we came for.
Can you imagine what it's like to have to depend upon a bureaucracy to obtain the necessities of daily life many of us take for granted, like food, shelter, clothing? That's what many poor children and families must endure who have to depend upon bureaucracies for subsistence. If we are to eliminate poverty, we must maintain the dignity of every individual and offer hope by having expectations. Everyone has something to contribute. We seem to have lost the empathy and compassion we once had where we looked after each other — the basics we learned in our churches and homes. It starts by providing services for those in need with the same respect all of us expect when we obtain a service. To do less is to relegate an individual to a state of helplessness and loss of hope.
As the late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy once said, "We need to create new remedies to deal with the multitude of daily injuries that persons suffer in this complex society simply because it is complex. I am not talking about persons who injure others out of selfish or evil motives. I am talking about the injuries which result simply from administrative convenience, injuries which may be done inadvertently by those endeavoring to help — teachers and social workers and urban planners."
Eliminating poverty requires our bureaucracies to change the vending machine culture and provide services; and be held accountable for providing service that promotes self-respect and allows for quick redress of grievances. That's what we should expect from our government, whether rich or poor. It's our government, we pay for it and we ought to get our money's worth — good customer service and redress from any wrongdoing. No one should have to kick the vending machine to get their money's worth.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.