A Trip To The Government Store

14 Dec

Our federal government has gone to a lot of trouble to build up an image of indispensable value to protect the “little guy.” But this false mystique can be punctured by simply viewing how the government actually operates.

When we purchase products or services from the private sector (cell phones, TVs, autos, lawn maintenance, accounting service, air conditioner repairs, etc.) we have a huge variety of price and quality options. When we go to the government “store,” however, the situation is very different, because its motto is “One Size Fits All.”

Imagine that you needed some underwear and went to the government-run department store. You walk inside and notice that the interior is a dull gray color and dimly lit. Many of the shelves are empty. Since it’s your first visit and you don’t know where the underwear section is, you look for a salesperson. After a few minutes, you realize that there are no salespeople, so you walk up to the checkout area.

You count approximately twenty checkout aisles in this government store, but see only one cashier, and there are about fifteen people in her queue. Some of them are reading magazines or books, some of them are staring into space, some of them give you a look of pity.

You walk up to the cashier. “Where can I find underwear?” you ask. She waves a hand in a general direction. “Look over there,” she says curtly.

You go in that direction and, after some searching, find a table scattered with underwear, socks, and gardening tools. After you pick through the underwear you realize that all of the items are the same size, extra large, with a label that says, “Made by the USSA.” You walk back to the cashier.

“Where can I find some underwear in medium?” you ask. “And perhaps some that aren’t gray in color.”

“Whatever’s there is all we’ve got,” she says, annoyed that you’ve now twice distracted her from her work. You walk away sheepishly, thinking: okay, if that’s all that’s available, then I can alter them. You go back to the table and pick up a pair, looking for a price sticker. Finding none, you sigh. But you need the underwear and they shouldn’t cost too much, so you grab three and go stand at the back of the line.

Forty-five minutes later it’s finally your turn. The cashier glances down and then picks up two of the pairs and drops them into a large container.

“Hey,” you exclaim. “I wanted three pairs.”

“Only one to a customer per month,” she says, as she picks up the remaining package and pencils something into a large notebook. You look vainly for a scanner; apparently things are done manually here.

She pauses, waiting, and then finally says with annoyance, “Let me see your identity card.”

“Excuse me?” you respond. “Identity card?”

She rolls her eyes. “You new to the U.S.S.?” she asks. Without waiting for a reply she continues, “The price of everything here depends on how much you make each year, which is on your I.D. card. If you make more than $200,000 you’re charged the max rate for being too successful. Otherwise you get the standard rate.”

“What’s the standard rate?” you ask.

She glances down at her notebook. “Thirty dollar a pair,” she says.

“Wow!” you exclaim. “That’s expensive. What’s the max rate?”

“One hundred dollars a pair.”

“Wow!” you exclaim again, “that’s really expensive. Uh, what if I make $199,000 a year?”

“Then you’re not too successful and you get the standard rate. But I gotta see your I.D.” She holds out her hand.

“Forget it,” you mutter and walk away, deciding that going bare isn’t a bad idea.

On your way out you notice a door ajar at the far side of the building. A uniformed man is standing beside the entry. “What’s in there?” you inquire, taking a peek. You see a room that appears similar to the one you just left, except it’s larger, brightly lit with cheery colors, and the shelves are stuffed with merchandise. Although there are only four checkout aisles, there’s a cashier posted at each one. Three lanes are idle; only one aisle has a single customer. You witness the customer flash the cashier an I.D. card and then walk off with a large bag, having paid nothing.

The guard stands up straight and puffs out his chest. “This is for government employees only,” he growls. “Can I see some I.D.?”

“Forget it,” you mutter a second time, and leave.

This little vignette may sound extreme, even ridiculous, but remember the example of the old Soviet Union in a recent post? The dingy and inefficient store with limited choices and long lines as described above is, without too much exaggeration, a pretty good description of what life was like for the average Soviet citizen living in a big city (life was much worse in rural areas).

If the U.S. continues on it present path toward ever larger government, the gross reduction in the quality and variety of goods and services will not be restricted to underwear. Everything will be affected, including critical services like health care. Consider the story above a peek into our collectivist future, if we continue to ignore the lessons of history.

Next post:

The Economy Is Not A Pizza Pie

-Ed Walker


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