Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting My Passport

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On Friday, I had another opportunity to experience first hand what things look like when government tires to run things like a business. We are planning a family trip to Australia next June, and want to get our passports early. So clearly, to make sure we aren't delayed, getting our paper work in order now is required. It seems outrageous that we have to plan so far in advance, but who would argue that we are not prudent to do so. I had an appointment for 10:30 a.m., but when we arrived there is no separate line for people with appointments, so I can't really say how that should have worked. Fortunately there was only one person ahead of us in line.

We had taken our passport pictures, carefully following directions as to dimensions and carefully stapled them to our application. However, we were told that because they were paper pictures they could not be used. No where is the type of paper to be used explained on the State Department web site. The postal worker explained that because the word "photograph" was used, I should have known to use photographic paper. I will let the reader be the judge. So as not to delay our application processing; we acquiesced to having our pictures taken on site at $15 a pop. How they decided on that price is unknown.

We had very carefully filled out our forms and were ready to sign. However, my 17 year old son was told, to "spell out his full name in cursive" rather than sign the form, despite the form's instructions that those over 16 sign a particular line. We also had to submit original birth certificates, which we are assured will be returned to us in six to eight weeks. Hopefully, we won't need them before then.

Finally it came time to pay up. Now in principle, I don't complain about paying for government services for which I am the direct beneficiary. It's the way I had to pay that amazed me. Credit card payment was only available to pay for the pictures and "processing fee" of $25. The passports had to be paid for by check, and one check for each application. I ended up making four payments. What business operates that way?

And I am not really angry, mind you, I just point this out, because even when Government tries to be business like, operating a fee for service operation, it just can't be. The pressures are different, the incentives are different, so it ends up operating differently.

The lesson for health care is that the public option will probably be a huge flop, if it is not subsidized, because the government won't be able to compete as a service provider. But that very fact will cause the bureaucracy running the public option to lose money. Then the President and the Democratic Congress will say, "We need more time to establish the public option." They will start feeding the future Health Choices Administration cash, the same way they do for AMTRAK and the Post Office. Logic and experience tell us that the President is not telling the truth when he says that the public option won't be subsidized. Only when the government has a monopoly, like my example with my passports, does their business model work.

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