You are not the customer

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on

Virginia Legislator Nick Freitas recently said on Instagram that government agencies are actually very responsive to customers and have great customer service. 

“The problem,” he said, “is that you aren’t the customer.” He is. As a legislator, he has access to amendments and budgets. He can determine the funding and support that these agencies receive. So in return they are very responsive to him and other legislators.

“When I call, they pick up the phone pretty quick,” he said. “They know you don’t have a choice. Because their budgets are funded by your tax dollars which you don’t have a lot of control over.”

We applaud his candor on Instagram, while also feeling repulsed by the sentiment. Government agencies are funded by taxpayers. Government services are provided to taxpayers. As taxpayers, we should be the customer. And yet, as Freitas notes, we have very little control over where our tax dollars go. That really creates a disconnect between these agencies and the people (taxpayers) who actually fund them.

Here are some examples of government-provided services with one-star “would not recommend” service:

Education – famously ranked #42 in the nation, South Carolina’s “free” government-run education system is plagued by mismanagement, rich in un-spent funds and poor in service quality and outcomes. High school graduation rate is 82%, below the national average of 86% and students come out of college in South Carolina with an average debt of $32,635. Ranked 41st in higher ed,  our students have higher debt, and that’s after taxpayer funding. Then again, we taxpayers are not the customer. Our students aren’t the customer either. State education agencies respond quickly to legislators. So what has the legislative branch done? They’ve restricted what can be taught (link), what libraries can keep in their collections (link), and suggested full-time employee benefits for School Board members (link). These activities mean less freedom and more government.

Crime & Corrections – closely tied to the low rank in opportunity (#38), the crime and corrections ranking of #46 is weighed heavily by the poor performance of corrections activity. Juvenile crime numbers (likely related to poor education performance) are above the national average, as is the poverty rate. These data points are related. When people can’t establish gainful employment, and can’t make ends meet, they turn to crime. The only service for preventing, investigating, and reducing crime is state agencies. Then again, criminals aren’t the customer. Victims aren’t even the customer. South Carolina’s ridiculous civil asset forfeiture practices make it clear that state agencies are not servicing the taxpayers. One report (linked here) summarizes South Carolina’s practices as being driven not by safety procedures, but by profit incentives. It’s legal, state supported piracy.

Endless required services such as county tax payment, motor vehicle and driver registration, and business and professional licensure are executed by state agencies with no incentive to treat citizens courteously or complete services expeditiously. We are not their customers.

So how can we, as citizens, get better service from state agencies? The SCLP recommends two strategies:

First, take every complaint to your council member or legislator and ask them to make calls or investigate on your behalf. Ask them to hold these agencies accountable during budget reviews. Ask them to implement real performance metrics to demonstrate agency efficacy and responsiveness.

Second, elect individuals who will repeal onerous legislation that complicates life for these agencies, and for us. (ie: Legislation like this which repeals the professional licensure for blow-dry hair styling.) Elect individuals who will dismantle the ogre of state bureaucracy and restore freedom to the people.

You are not the customer. So talk to the people who are. Find your legislator here. Tell them to represent you and other citizens. Tell them to use their budget power to improve the performance of state agencies at all levels.

Ready to really get in the game? Run for office. Click here to learn how to run as a Libertarian and how the SCLP will support you if you do.

Donate to get more Libertarians elected. We need all the help you’re willing to give. Volunteer for a campaign or give to the party. Donate now.

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