For all the times I have talked up public institutions this semester, they sure do suck in practice. No, I am not talking about historically public states like the Soviet Union—right now, right here, governments kind of suck. Public institutions have a pretty bad track record as of late. In the United States, everywhere from police departments up to Congress has been looked on disdainfully recently. Globally, news about undemocratic elections, abuses of power and just general incompetence have been coming around again and again. Did you know that Ukrainians just elected a comedian who plays the president on television to be their actual president? That’s the level of exasperation people have reached with government.
And private groups are no better. I’ve constantly talked about how many times companies have maliciously or ignorantly damaged the environment, caused unrest and ruined people’s lives. Make no mistake, either: These problems are related. However, it’s not an issue of purpose that’s the problem. It’s a problem when organizations—public and private—become too big for their own good. It almost seems as though the problem is not reducible only down to public versus private interests but also to a matter of size.
From this angle, we can consider the problems in our society as coming not from overzealous regulators or selfish capitalists but from bloat in all its forms. Perhaps people feeling voiceless in government and powerless against companies are really complaining about the same thing. I’m not usually one for horseshoe theory, but “both sides” have a knack for putting people on hold, not listening to issues and other bureaucracy.
These are all beliefs that people on the more libertarian or anarchist ends of the political spectrum would likely agree with. To a certain extent, it has merit. However, decoupling this problem from the issue of public and private relations fails to realize the true intentions of each.
Both public and private institutions tend to work best when they are smaller and more specified. While they then have less power and reach, it’s easier to suit the needs of a close community. The problem is, while smallness and public values can coexist, the same cannot be said with private interests.
Public groups, in the ideal setting, exist to serve. The very reason that governments are a thing is to organize and unite people. This can work at a small scale. The mission of private groups, though, is to grow. Capitalism demands that all companies self-invest and coalesce. It just makes business sense. A difference in values is at the heart of the public-private debate, and every issue between them reflects this.
However, this difference shows why localization and business are fundamentally incompatible.
This isn’t to deny the existence of small business, but we instead see how all are either in a stage of growth, have reached their maximum potential or are not acting ideally according to the system. Capitalism wants big, centralized businesses.
With this in mind, we see how the libertarian mindset is flawed. We can’t return to a state of free markets unencumbered by oppressive forces because other companies are (or will become) those oppressive forces. However, local governments can and do exist ideally. While they may be frustrating at times due to a general lack of talent, at least they make sense.
Corruption is everywhere, and it feels like people worldwide are growing disillusioned towards it. While this is a good thing, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Public institutions can still work on both a small and large scale. We just need to work on the checks and balances to keep these levels in line.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.