Have you ever received one of those class action notifications in the mail? The sort that says you may be eligible for compensation because some Big Company allegedly wronged you and thousands of others? The sort where you end up with eleven dollars and thirty-four cents or, worse, a voucher for some small amount of compensatory service?

We all know who the real beneficiaries are of those class-action suits: the lawyers and firms who prosecute (and defend) the cases. The system pays salaries and funds careers.

Yes, class action lawsuits serve a purpose. They enable small fry to hold big fish accountable for wrongdoing, but it does seem that the small fry who seek benefit from the system often gain very little.

Keep all this in mind as you consider this story, about a student loan forgiveness program that isn’t producing the hoped-for results. 28,000 have applied to the program, including the story’s lead character, whose tale seems ideally suited for it. Yet, because of the program’s arcane and byzantine requirements, only 96 applicants have had their loans forgiven. The lead character was not one of them.

Meanwhile, the program requires people to process those 28,000 applications, people to supervise the processors, people to supervise the supervisors, accounting staff, human resource staff, payroll staff, top-of-the-chain executives, office space, custodial staff, HVAC technicians, IT technicians, computer hardware and software, electricity, heating, air conditioning, water/sewer service, and so on and so forth.

How much bang for your taxpayer dollars are you getting here? You may care, or you may consider it noise, in the grand scheme. After all, even a nine-figure government program costs you, personally, less than a cup of coffee.

Want to know who does care? All those government-employed people who rely on this program for their salaries and careers. Whether they produce actual results or not, they get paid.

Do we blame them for such inefficiencies as what we are witnessing in the student loan forgiveness program? They certainly didn’t pass the legislation that funded it, nor write the rules that produced the results, but it is a rare public servant who risks his job and career when it comes to simple government waste and inefficiency. And, for every one that does, many who’d be more than happy to simply collect the paycheck, no matter how little real result it generates, are ready to take his or her place.

This single instance isn’t an indictment of all government programs. But, it does serve to illustrate the twin adages of “devil is in the details” and “government programs are often judged by intent, not results.” It also reminds us that people are far less prudent when it comes to other people’s money. Indeed, this is the time of year where “prudence” becomes an alien word to bureaucrats, as they look to burn whatever unused budget they have left, on whatever they can get away with, lest some higher-level bureaucrat conclude that they didn’t need all the money they were given and therefore give some of it to someone else next year.

A politician’s first priority is getting elected. An incumbent politician’s first priority is getting re-elected. That lesson easily translates over to the bureaucracy, where it is job security that trumps every other consideration. That job security derives from maintaining the appearance of activity (especially well-named activity) and from keeping or adding budget in order to build fiefdoms (much easier to cancel a program that supports 5 workers than one that supports 500). Taxpayers’ interests inevitably take a back seat, and success or failure seems only to be judged when a scandal big enough to make the papers erupts (see: New York City’s Housing Authority debacle). And, even in drastic failure, we are told that more money is always the solution. Sure, we may get an occasional head on a platter, but that never changes the culture.

Don’t think big government can be “done right,” if only we can get good people into high office. Instead, demand smaller government. That way, at least, the failures, blunders, and inefficiencies will do less harm.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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