Saturday, March 7, 2009

Life in the USDMV

At the end of a discursive essay on private sector fears of an overweening state Victor Davis Hanson tells this story, which many Californians would find familiar:
n a world of government employees there is no real redress of grievances, but real difficulty of accountability (what government employee fines the government-employed bus driver for violating state law concerning driving while on a cell phone?). My latest example was Thursday afternoon.

As I drove out of the parking lot of the San Jose parking lot, of the six exit pay stations, only one was open. But at the window, a city tractor and a city pick-up were parked and idled blocking the exit. The drivers were both out and talking to the parking attendant about their “lost” ticket. After watching them all nonchalantly talk—joined by the other parking attendant with his booth closed on “break”—I got out and asked the four ‘what’s up’?

You know what followed—abuse, yelling, ‘how dare you question us!’, etc. A number of backed-up drivers like me now got out and were yelling back, and finally the city employees moved through and unblocked the exit while the idle attendant ran back to open a second station to handle the irate idling cars. Total elapsed time? 24 minutes of waiting. Imagine four employees blocking the only way out the San Jose parking lot, while cars line up, their drivers watching the four josh around and apparently laugh at the fee-paying customers.

First of all, I love the image of the professorial Hanson getting out of his pick up and asking some obnoxious public employee union layabouts "what's up?" Second, I had a similar thing happen when I used to ride the bus. My regular line passed a transit point where drivers would switch buses. But if the driver who was going to take your bus was late, that was too damn bad. One day I finally got annoyed after cooling my heels for 10 minutes and approached a few MUNI employees having a grand old time while my bus idled. I got the same reaction as VDH. Offense was taken. Jibes were thrown. Hackles were raised. I resolved from that day forward to save my pennies until I could buy a car and get off that merry-go-round, which I did. F--- the gov't.

Hanson raises a more serious point, however. Where do we go for redress against the gov't when it fails in its tasks or causes harm? I am not talking about failures like the Viet Nam War or the Great Society. I mean what happens if the city bus driver hits your car? Or your child? What if the gov't botches a sewer repair and wrecks your basement (which happened to a client of mine)?

ordinary people are often unaware of the concept of sovereign immunity, which is based on Ye Olde English concept of "The Sovereign Can Do No Wrong." This has usually insulated the gov't from tort liability, among other things. CA has "reformed" sovereign immunity to allow injured people to sue the state or municipalities, but the statute of limitations is a vanishingly thin six months. Any lawsuit must also be preceded by long administrative claims, something the typical pro per defendant would be clueless about. Sovereign immunity is useful as a means to prevent raids on the treasury, of course. But, if gov't is going to insist on doing more and more of the private sectors jobs, the ability of people to find redress for their grievances and injuries will be unexpectedly stunted. If the gov't is going to "run" healthcare, are patients going to be able to sue government doctors for malpractice? I'll bet they won't

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