Jonathan Kraut | The Hidden Purpose of Local Government

Jonathan Kraut

Schools, roads, medical resources, law enforcement, the court system, and even street lighting are all concerns we expect our local officials to effectively and efficiently provide. Long ago I believed local government embraced only cost-effective policies and expenditures for the common good. 

While our cities and counties are providing community services, structure, and allocating for costs that support our local benefit, the “efficiency” piece is missing. It appears many local government officials act as though their primary role is not to support the community but rather to hand out taxpayer money to the needy and that addressing the common good is but a cover for that hidden purpose. 

In the mid-1990s while teaching and living in Phoenix, my employer, a college, was asked to conduct a study related to the causes of welfare fraud. I headed the study, which revealed that significant welfare fraud was condoned and perpetuated by some local social workers who supported a non-enforcement philosophy. It was clear many social workers felt they were employed specifically to protect the underclass, comprised mostly of unskilled minority families, who otherwise would be on the street living in poverty. 

Embracing this philosophy meant that significant fraudulent claims by those living on the edge of poverty were not halted nor prosecuted. 

A large meeting was held with the more than 30 county welfare supervisors to review the study findings. The focus of the meeting seemed to be more on the buffet-style breakfast than on the content of our discussion. After presenting the study findings, not only did I get a cold reception and pushback from the group, but apparently afterward the study was buried and nothing changed.

Zoom ahead to two weeks ago. 

I am waiting for three hours at Magic Mountain to get my first anti-COVID vaccine. I had nothing better to do while sitting in my car but to count the number of staff directing parking and security folks — more than 100. Call it OCD.

The site had 10 general lanes with tents at the end and two more lanes for special medical care at the actual vaccine dispensation site. Each lane had four tables, each table was staffed with three — a person on a computer who compares your driver license with your online registration, a person who writes your name and date of birth on a shot record card, and a person who injects the shot itself. I estimate about 120 folks in all. 

These three jobs at the tables could be conducted by one person — staffed by about 50, not 120. Security and parking jobs were double what was needed as well.

Among four cars moving at a time to under the tented area, each by a table, we sat for 15 minutes. All at once, shots were given. Obviously that day the goal was to slow down the line as to issue 1,500 vaccines, not the 4,000 that a five-minute rotation would yield. 

Rather than have a full-capacity staff for a 4,000-shot day of 150, and 75 for 1,500-vaccine days, the 250-plus manpower was far in excess of the need.

This excessive manpower deployment seems intentional — to siphon an extra $1 million a month simply to give out extra jobs.  

Some of the personnel working the Magic Mountain site were just staring at their cell phones, at least one was shopping on her county computer for luggage, and clearly half represented an under-skilled and marginally employable population. While many on site were competent, professional and alert, a significant number really didn’t have much to do and likely lacked the mindset needed to succeed on the open job market.

This echoes the tone of belief that the secondary purpose of government is to offer funds to the underemployed that I experienced at the Phoenix welfare agency meeting.  

Handing out taxpayer money to the needy is not socialism — don’t confuse government subsidies and handouts.

Socialism is defined as “a political organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

These handouts and providing unneeded jobs disincentivize ambition and perpetuate dependency.  

Likely the other four L.A. County “vaccine supersites” run the same game — giving out twice as many jobs as actually needed. 

Wouldn’t it be wiser to take that million a month for each of the five sites and use these funds to help build the skills and develop the mindset needed by many to earn a professional pathway forward? Isn’t efficiency a government goal? 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the COO of an acting conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.       

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