Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Government Will Make You Happy

Should we outsource the operation of the Passport Office to Mossad? According to their website they 'plan and carry out special operations beyond Israel's borders'. It's just a thought: after all, they seem to have the, er, technical capabilities.

But perhaps I'm going too far: sure hasn't the The Department of Foreign Affairs warned employees at the Passport Office they may not be paid from today if they refuse to attend to the public counter. And mummy won't read them a bedtime story either. That'll whip 'em back into place to be sure.

But it raises a bigger issue: why does the state need to employ people directly to operate the Passport Office? Sure, there are security and other concerns: but the state regularly uses private operators to provide security-critical services (e.g.: special DNA analysis laboratories). The protocols and procedures for ensuring the proper protection of privacy and security are well established. And the nice thing about outsourcing to private contractors is that you can fire them if they don't do the job you're paying them to do - rather than pretend they 'may not' be paid.

And there's an even bigger issue: does letting the government do more for us make us happier? 'It depends' is the short answer. According to a recent paper by Zohal Hessami, there is a U-shaped relationship between government size and well-being: people are happier at below average levels of government spending (relative to GDP and other measures) or at higher levels, but are much less happy around the middle.

Given that Ireland is unhappily caught in the middle, and in danger of becoming what Lord Tebbit calls (in the case of the UK) a land of quangocrats and hereditary welfare junkies, then perhaps now is the time to move decidedly to the, er, 'left' of the U-curve? We might all be happier for it. Especially anyone in need of a passport.

Picture cred: Niall Carson/PA Wire

3 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree more Gerard. But you and I had better run for office, because there's not a single Irish politician who's interested in doing anything about it!

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  2. This is not related to your central point Ger but I see a crafty little game going on here:

    1. 2 of the 3 passport machines in this country are currently down (one has a fault and another was flood damaged on the 16th)

    2. The gvmt issued an ambiguous statement the other day warning people that the passport office would be closed from 13.00 on Friday. People took this as a warning of indefinite closure (this is the explanation for the panic, according to the representing union).

    3. The minister is calling the machines a 'red herring'

    Perhaps there is a very clever communications specialist advising the government here.

    Industrial action has being made look particularly malicious in this instance and I dare say that public perception will carry over.

    The solution? It could have been countered with the following statement:

    "We aim to preserve the high standard of essential services. Technical difficulties will lead to delays and as such, work stoppages will be temporarily postponed as the good folks in the Passport Office attempt to deal with the backlog"

    Was it an unwillingness or a lack of intelligence within the ranks of the public service that let this one slip by? Perhaps both.

    One can prove one's worth in the face of challenges. All this would have required is an admission of delay (due to a 66% loss in capacity) followed by a clear act of prioritisation - temporarily, 'high quality service' would take precedence over pay disputes.

    If it's a microcosm for how the country will deal with the wider crisis then we've got very little hope.

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  3. I haven't read that paper but surely one needs to distinguish between sheer size of government as measured by say expenditure/gdp and functionality i.e. what the government does or intervenes in? A government could be very interventionist without spending a penny, so to speak.
    I like the idea of out-sourcing the Passport Office to Mossad: you'd think twice about complaining about the service 'though. Oy vey.

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