Daily Archives: December 17, 2012

How do you explain our inefficient government?

An anonymous comment on yesterday’s post raised a recurring issue.

I have some experience with life in both Hawaii and Oregon.

In my mind, Oregon is run like Germany, and I mean that in a complimentary way: In the public sphere, everything works, everything is clean, people are invariably polite, conscientious and efficient.

Hawaii, on the other hand … well, Hawaii is more like Bangladesh or Uzbekistan.

I think there’s a lot of truth to this observation. The big question is–Why?

My working theory is that we’ve inherited this inefficient, backward, unhappy bureaucracy from Hawaii’s plantation era, when the major interests ran their own fiefdoms and weren’t much interested in funding a vibrant and effective public sector. Major landowners and the interlocking power structure they were part of pressed to keep property taxes low because it was in their own interest. Better an underfunded government than an effective one, from their point of view.

It continues today because we accept it as the baseline condition, it’s “normal” and, perhaps, because we’re just too far in the hole to dig ourselves out. Look at the deferred maintenance in our schools and university. It’s unlikely we’ll ever catch up. Add in other government buildings, parks, streets, and the rest of public sector, and triage is the only strategy that seems realistic.

I’m trying not to rant, but really to come up with a theory that explains why this part of governing in Hawaii seems impossible to get onto the right track.