Frustration and Ideology

red-tapeRadley Balko “got a little more libertarian” yesterday after a frustrating experience with his income taxes.  Essentially, his e-file was rejected because of an invalid Social Security number which wasn’t invalid at all, the Social Security office wouldn’t help him by phone, and the office was closed by the time he got there.  And he figures he’ll wind up with a late filing penalty when all’s said and done even though it’s the government’s fault.

Frustrating as hell, to be sure.  Like a typical dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Still, I’m not sure what this has to do with libertarianism, unless it’s of the extreme, anarchist variety.  Most libertarians support the existence of a government to provide minimal services — courts, roads, an army, and the like — and understand that they’ll have to pay some minimal taxes for that.  And, while there’s a strong libertarian argument against both the Social Security system and national identification cards, there’s nonetheless a practical reason to have some identifying code to distinguish people of the same name living in the same town.

So, in the end, Radley’s just upset about the nexus between government power and  government incompetence.  But that’s not an ideological position, at all.  Authoritarian states can be quite competent and a very weak state (anarchy plus the barest essentials) could be quite incompetent and frustrating to deal with.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Government, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dan says:
  2. c.red says:

    Skimming quickly through the comments at Balko’s post at about comment 20 or so was a helpful post with a link to Intuit’s web help page describing the programming issue (by Intuit) and a solution to it. Also as several people point out, he could avoid the whole thing by simply printing out his returns and mailing them.

    Rather than look for solutions the author and most of the commentors assume this is some sort of government foul-up or conspiracy to ruin their lives. So we get a hysterical little rant that has no basis in reality.

    Hmmm, somehow that seems vaguely familiar in the context of the modern political discourse…

  3. john personna says:

    I believe many countries have e-file run by the government, with government responsibility.

    This seems an opportune time to mention that the US transition to e-file of course benefited established players, like TurboTax (now a division of Intuit). It is an example of successful rent-seeking.

    Now … the interesting shoe to drop is “who’s bug was it?” I predict fingers pointing both ways.

    IRS TurboTax

  4. john personna says:

    Geez, c.red does the footwork while I pontificate! Good work.

    I would not be forgiving of Intuit if they did not have big red notices on the e-file option.

    (BTW, completetax works)

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Every experience like Balko’s reinforces the deserved stereotype of government incompetence. The institution has few incentives for efficiency and hard work. There can sometimes be incentives for poor service.

    Each instance of government failing it’s citizens can be an argument for smaller government. Our problem is the government uses those failures as a reason for more government (larger budgets, more staff). The performance of the IRS and SSA in this case reflect on the performance we can expect from HHS and any new agency dabbling in health care reform. If the track record of existing agencies is so poor it support the basic libertarian argument of less is better when it comes to government.

    This has a lot to do with libertarianism and it’s ideology.

  6. grampagravy says:

    I deal with S.S.A., I.R.S., and recently spent 4 years dealing with D.O.E. online. It’s been my experience that being thorough and timely myself eliminates the necessity of being “frustrated” by the “incompetence” of these government agencies. Somehow, “I couldn’t get this done my way at the last minute” doesn’t strike me as a reason to tear down the government.

  7. sam says:

    Every experience like Balko’s reinforces the deserved stereotype of government incompetence.

    Yeah, like nobody’s ever been fvcked over by the incompetence or sheer greed of an insurance company or credit card company. You know, life might a tad simpler for libertarians if they gave up their peterpanism.

  8. Brett says:

    And, while there’s a strong libertarian argument against both the Social Security system and national identification cards,

    Not from me. I like the idea of having a national ID card, particularly a photo ID. It would be useful to have some type of picture ID widely available other than Drivers’ Licenses.

  9. James Joyner says:

    I like the idea of having a national ID card, particularly a photo ID. It would be useful to have some type of picture ID widely available other than Drivers’ Licenses.

    I tend to favor them in lieu of state-issued drivers’ licenses. Maybe that’s because I moved so often and find getting new DLs when the old one hasn’t expired annoying.

  10. Matt says:

    The biggest shock I had when moving to Texas from Illinois was the DMV thing. In Texas they call it the Department of Public Services and there’s only 1 for the entire city and surrounding areas. It takes about 3 hours to get anything done (if you arrive relatively early otherwise longer). You also can only do license related activities as title/taxes are at the courthouse or another DPS building a couple blocks away. Meanwhile in Illinois I could do everything from license to Title transfer in as little as 15 minutes. Seems to me the process is only as efficient as those in control want it to be..

  11. Matt says:

    Forgot to mention that I’ve NEVER stood in line longer then an hour in the Illinois DMV..

  12. James Joyner says:

    Forgot to mention that I’ve NEVER stood in line longer then an hour in the Illinois DMV..

    I’ve had mixed experiences. Virginia’s — at least in Northern Virginia — are bloody awful. If you can get out of there under 4 hours, it’s a minor miracle. Once you’re in the system, you can do most things online, thankfully.

  13. Not from me. I like the idea of having a national ID card, particularly a photo ID. It would be useful to have some type of picture ID widely available other than Drivers’ Licenses.

    Every year, the Social Security administration accidentally declares several hundred people to be dead who aren’t. The process of being reinstated can take up to two years.

    Now imagine if during that time, it was against the law for you to work anywhere?

    During a recent test of the e-Verify system, there was an 8% false positive rate (people were identified as non-citizens who are). In a nation of 300 million, that’s nearly 20 million people unable to work.

    And yet people think national ID systems are GOOD idea?

  14. James Joyner says:

    And yet people think national ID systems are GOOD idea?

    We’ve got at least 51 ID systems now, run by the several states and the District of Columbia; more if you count the possessions, territories, and whatnot.

    A flawed electronic database with inadequate correction measures is obviously a tremendous problem. But it’s a separate issue from having a single card vs. 50-odd cards.

  15. anjin-san says:

    What does this prove? I have been working with a USPS business analyst on a project. He is very responsive and turns things around quickly. Does that somehow mean we need more government?

    On the other hand, recent “customer service” experiences with AT&T and Comcast have left we with a strong urge to jump in front of a moving train.

  16. Matt says:

    Oh god comcast….

  17. But it’s a separate issue from having a single card vs. 50-odd cards.

    Joyner is obviously not an engineer. They aren’t separrate issues because the existence of those 50 odd separrate systems keeps society from becoming uniquely dependent on any one of them. It’s an inherently safer design then a national ID card.

  18. anjin-san says:

    More on Comcast. Recently moved and upgraded our equipment. Took almost a month to get service in our new house “construction” was necessary. One hours work for 2 guys. Half a dozen missed deadlines to have our service up. Customer service told me “the installers are contractors, we are not responsible if they don’t do what they tell you they are going to do”.

    So, almost a month with no broadband. If not for Blackberrys we would have lost it.

    Went to the local office to return the old DVR box. 24 people in line. One clerk waiting on them. I kid you not. And lets not even talk about their billing practices.

    The private sector can screw things up every bit as well as the government.

  19. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Balko’s beef appears to be with Intuit, not with the IRS. Perhaps he became a little more Libertarian today because that’s what closed-minded intellectually dishonest people do by default, facts be damned.

  20. Rick DeMent says:

    Right because customer service at large commercial institutions is so much better. Press “1” if you would like directions … Press “2” if you would like to hear about our special offers …Press “3” if you are ready to buy something. Press “4” if you want to hear about all the wonderful things we are doing to try and figure out how to offer you customer service … Press “5” if you want to take a survey on our customer service … Press “6” if you want to hear our infrequently asked questions … Press “7” to hear our menu choices again … Press “8” to give yourself something to do…

  21. Franklin says:

    I should note that Michigan’s version of the DMV, called the “Secretary of State” office here, is very, very efficient now compared to everything I’ve heard about other states. If I recall correctly, this should be credited to Candice Miller (R), as it improved vastly soon after her election to the position back in ’95 or so.

    Government can be done right, especially when there’s an election directly tied to correcting poor results.

  22. Rick DeMent says:

    If I recall correctly, this should be credited to Candice Miller (R), as it improved vastly soon after her election to the position back in ’95 or so.

    I think you recall incorrectly, the Secretary of State model that MI employs has been one of the most efficient state service delivery models I can think of going back to the 70’s when Richard Austin was SoS. Having spent about 17 years living in 5 other states (leaving b4 Miller took over) I can tell you that MI’s approach to DMV services as well as all of the other things the SoS office handles (business licenses and services, voter registration, notary public … and more)has no peer in any of the states I have lived in.

    The worst was a toss up between Ohio and Georgia.