Larry Elder

The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the bureaucrats.

A few months ago, I met a contractor in a bar. He told me about his business, and I asked him how many people he employed. He said, "Forty-nine. If I have one more, then the federal Family Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act kick in. Then if somebody goes out, I have to hold his job open for months, whether I can afford to keep him or not. That's bull----." So here we are. A man that wants to hire more people refuses to do so, because an additional hiree takes a hammer to his profit margins.

I recently visited a friend who lives in the Bay Area. I got through security at Los Angeles International Airport, even through my carry-on toiletry bag included hair paste, toothpaste and deodorant. All went through the security screening, no problem.

On my return flight through San Francisco Airport, however, security made me open my toiletry bag, and I received stern instructions to -- in the future -- place stuff like shampoo, hair paste, toothpaste, sunblock and deodorant in a zip-lock plastic bag. "No one told me to do that on the way up here," I said. The security screener said, "Those are the rules. Somebody simply didn't follow them."

Not long ago the government released results of a test run last year to determine the efficiency of airport security at detecting fake bombs. The Transportation Security Administration report reveals that screeners at Los Angeles International Airport failed to find fake bombs in 75 percent of tests. Chicago O'Hare screeners failed more than 60 percent. But only 20 percent of the bombs made it through security at the five U.S. airports allowed to use private firms to run their security screenings. Contractors for those five airports are reimbursed for their actual costs, with profit from awards based on performance. San Francisco, coincidentally, uses private screeners, while Los Angeles uses government employees. So which screeners were more efficient -- government employees or private ones?

Now consider health care. Great Britain's taxpayer-funded National Health Service (NHS) covers the medical needs of every British citizen in the country's population of 61 million. Yet 60,000 Britons traveled abroad for medical care in 2006. Another 70,000 are expected to do so this year. By 2010, experts estimate the number to increase to 200,000. Credit the frustration of interminably long wait-lists and inadequate care. According to the London Times, the NHS "is in deep trouble, mired in scandal and incompetence, despite the injection of billions of pounds of taxpayers' money."

What about government "disaster" relief? After the September 11 attacks, the Small Business Administration lent $1.2 billion dollars to more than 10,000 companies claiming to be hurt as a result of the terrorist hijackings. Four years later, $245 million -- or 20 percent of the loan money -- was in default. The loans written off by the government included $992,000 to an Atlanta hotel, $620,000 to a Maine broccoli farm, $985,000 to a Florida boat dealer, and $38,900 to a Lubbock, Texas, computer store.

By contrast, the typical private sector non-performing loans percentage is 1.5 percent for FDIC-insured bank loans and 4.3 percent for credit card loans. If a bank CEO delivered a non-payment rate over 20 percent to his board of directors, well, can you say, "You're fired"?

Government agencies like FEMA go from inefficient over-action to inefficient under-action. After California's 1994 Northridge earthquake, FEMA sent thousands of homeowners unsolicited checks up to $3,450 because they lived in zip codes supposedly hard-hit by the quake. When criticized, FEMA defended their generosity and denied making mistakes in the giveaway, because they "received very, very few calls from people who felt they didn't need the aid." You think?!

Why the reluctance to rely on private charity?

Before Hurricane Katrina struck, Home Depot's "war room" transferred high-need emergency items like batteries, lumber, flashlights and generators to distribution centers around the strike area. Afterward, Home Depot teamed up with the Red Cross and handed out much-needed items, including pet supplies.

Wal-Mart handed out $30 coupons to Katrina evacuees, and refilled medication for patients with containers from valid prescriptions. Using its huge database of consumers' past purchases, Wal-Mart determined which goods people needed most after a hurricane. Because of its advance logistics planning, the retail giant quickly moved in to hard-hit areas with mini Wal-Marts, handing out goods. The hurricane shut down 126 Wal-Mart facilities. A little over a week later, the company re-opened all but 14.

More government or more private sector -- you choose.

Larry Elder

Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an "Elderado," visit