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Brief and Direct: Public Program vs. Private Product

A Tuesday morning thought experiment

What would have happened a few weeks ago had Obamacare been a product offered for sale by a private company, rather than the government? I don’t mean ‘who would be fired,’ although we could ask that, too. I mean, what would the company have done in the face of an obviously disastrous rollout? And how does it differ from what the Obama administration has done?

First difference: It would not have been rolled out with so many known problems. That’s one reason companies don’t announce big new product introductions or upgrades months in advance. They announce them officially as they roll them out. The Obama administration in contrast continued headlong over the cliff.

Second, had major problems been discovered after rollout, the product would have been pulled back immediately, and the website access to it would have been closed for remodeling. Obama chose to keep it open and insist it just has a few “glitches.”

Third, the questions being asked would not have stopped with “Whose fault is it,” but would have included “Why has so much gone wrong so fast? What do we have to CHANGE to fix the problems? Are the factors behind the problems incidental, or intrinsic to the product?” The Obama administration’s response has been to assume they are incidental problems that can be solved by ‘more of the same’ and working harder and longer. No thought has been given to intrinsic problems with the underlying product.

Finally, there would be an all-out attempt to fix what went wrong, no matter what it was, and a decision would be made to make small changes, big changes, or to scrap the product.  With Obamacare, the only object of attention has been the website and its developers and the Secretary of HHS.  No attention has been directed at whether the program itself is ever going to be workable, or whether it even can be workable.

Think back to the introduction of New Coke, and the Edsel, and bacon added to almost anything. The first two were launched with every expectation of success, yet they failed rather quickly and were cancelled because consumers weren’t receptive. The third just sort of snuck up on us, and in the face of all the fear of fattening, ‘bacon-y goodness’ caught on and spread. Now there are even bacon-maple donuts and bacon-flavored ice cream, with their own fans.

The point: Private enterprise can react quickly in the face of adverse customer reaction. Government enterprises are authorized by legislation and funded by more legislation. They are extremely slow to change. They are staffed by (sometimes) huge bureaucracies that have a vested interest in keeping the program alive, and a significant ability to affect the ‘keep or kill’ decision, if such a decision can even be considered.

A private firm can react quickly. Governments can’t. The private firm has one goal–to be financially successful. When a new product has trouble, the trouble isn’t just blamed on the delivery method–the product itself is examined. The government has many conflicting goals. There is a strong incentive to find a simple, impersonal aspect of the product and blame everything wrong on that, and there is practically no incentive to examine the program itself. The result is slow and ineffective reaction to both adversity and success. The Obamacare website is still in the same state of disarray it was weeks ago, and now the promised November 30 fix deadline is expected to be adjusted backward.  But the website is just the delivery vehicle; the real problem lies within the product that defines the size and shape of the box.

Obamacare is a perfect example of why government enterprise is an oxymoron, and it’s a perfect illustration of why most all parts of American life and business should be left in the private sector. The public sector, by it’s very nature, can’t avoid doing it worse.

 

Cross-posted at TerriersOfTheRight.

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