How Neighbors are Better than Government Services

Jennifer Pahlka is the creator of Code for America, a fellowship that organizes independent technology and design professionals to develop apps that creatively solve efficiency problems in government.

Her theory?
“A neighbor is a far better and cheaper alternative to government services.”

She recognizes that government is inherently inefficient. She also recognizes, and has proven with Code for America, that private voluntary action is efficient.

One of her examples is of an app designed by a Boston bureaucratic office.
“Boston doesn’t just have a call center. It has an app, a Web and mobile app, called Citizens Connect. Now we didn’t write this app. This is the work of the very smart people at the Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston. So one day — this is an actual report — this came in: “Opossum in my trashcan. Can’t tell if it’s dead. How do I get this removed?” But what happens with Citizens Connect is different. So Scott was speaking person-to-person. But on Citizens Connect everything is public, so everybody can see this. And in this case, a neighbor saw it. And the next report we got said, ‘I walked over to this location, found the trashcan behind the house. Opossum? Check. Living? Yep. Turned trashcan on its side. Walked home. Goodnight sweet opossum.'”

Her conclusion? We should become “bureaucratically active” in order to change the game of government. Bureaucracy is inefficient. Private voluntary action is efficient. Our current system of governance is bureaucracy. Therefore, let’s volunteer to participate in bureaucracy!

Such an enormous logical gap!

This is akin to Communist China applying limited “capitalism” to its economy while prohibiting who can engage in that economy and how. This is akin to NAFTA applying “free trade” that is anything but (to paraphrase Ben Powell, it doesn’t take hundreds of pages of regulations to say, “let’s just trade.”). The root problems are not solved. The problems are compounded.

The Code for America apps are exceedingly clever. They demonstrate the efficiency and natural brilliance of spontaneous order. The nature of government is to stifle spontaneous, voluntary behavior. Why? Because government operates on control.

The United States were deliberately constructed to minimize control by establishing mere framework within which individuals could voluntarily operate without being violated by others. We’re light years away from that concept now… in fact, in many ways we are less free than China, Cuba, or Russia. How? Bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is fundamentally opposed to voluntary action. Bureaucracy is governance by non-elected officials. Those officials are paid by funds taken involuntarily from private individuals under threat of imprisonment and/or theft of property.

In the Boston example the solution is simple. Question: how much waste went into the Office of New Urban Mechanics? Every penny invested into the system that enables the freedom of opossums is taken forcibly from individuals. This sounds dramatic, but let’s get real – it is dramatic.

Pahlka is 100% correct in her assessment: “A neighbor is a far better and cheaper alternative to government services.”

So let’s empower neighbors. Let’s release Code for America apps – and others! – into the open market. Let’s create private, voluntary mechanisms to allow people to govern their own lives and solve local problems. Do not shackle these mechanisms by bureaucracy. Pahlka proves that it can be done.

Do it.


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