So my family and I just came back from a business trip to Brooklyn's Department of Motor Vehicles. Each of the three employees we dealt with were as pleasant and helpful as can be; there were no surprise setbacks along the way, we walked out of there with both of our goals accomplished (converting my D.C. license and registration into legitimate New Yorkese, for the low low price of $265), and the whole process took...five goddamned hours.
This, it turns out, is totally normal, based on the scientific evidence of my two colleagues who have also enjoyed the Brooklyn DMV. "I was there for 5 hours Friday just to change my license from Virginia one to New York," one wrote, prophetically, before I departed. "I once spent 7 hours at that same DMV getting my license switched over," another wrote at the halfway mark of my experience. "Godspeed."
The DMV-horror story is such a libertarian staple by now that it almost feels unfair. Here, let's take a walk through some past Reason headlines:
And don't forget this Reason.tv classic:
You don't have to be a libertarian to shudder at DMV horror stories, because you have likely experienced them yourself (unless you are one of these apparently lucky people who also happen to like commenting at Bloggingheads.tv). The more salient question is, why do we put up with this? And why do politicians bore us with any of their other crap while a monopoly city service sputters on with all the efficiency (but 200 times the price!) of a Soviet Bloc post office? (A similar argument could be made about the grotesquely inefficient system for allocating jury duty, as Greg Beato wrote for us last year.)
You used to see (or is it that I used to see?) a lot more concern on the liberal side of the aisle for reforming taxpayer-funded institutions that failed to deliver on their basic promises, and even some exploration of options (such as privatization) for getting government out of businesses it always seems to do poorly. I have on my desk the third edition (circa 1976) of Inside the System, a collection of Washington Monthly articles devoted mostly to figuring out why government doesn't work well. As Charles Peters (who founded the mag in 1969) and James Fallows wrote in the introduction,
The government's struggle to reform itself has been the continuing political story of the 1970's, but often the story has a familiar ending. No sooner has an agency been set up to save the environment, deliver the mails, cure the sick, or discover new sources of energy than it begins to behave like the many other government agencies, which were created years ago in similar bursts of enthusiasm but quickly crossed the threshhold into bureaucratic ossification.
Can you imagine sentiments like that emanating from the modern left? Instead, even when celebrated "wonks" like Peter Orszag suggest privatizing the Post Office once they're safely out of power, it comes with such comparative throat-clearing as "Those who believe in the usefulness of government must be vigilant about making sure all its activities are vital ones, since the unnecessary ones undermine public confidence."
Screw public confidence; let's start with not wasting everyone's time and money, just because you can't let go of services that AAA would perform 10 times better.