Rubber Chicken, Small Government
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Once at a rubber chicken dinner, one of those events where you pay too much for a plate of terribly average food for an audience with a public official, I got the chance to ask a question of Andrus Ansip about county governments. I wondered why he wanted to ax them.
He answered with a litany of their sins, including duplication of local government functions and boondoggles where certain county officials had been caught wasting public money in exotic locations.
Recently Justice Minister Kristen Michal raised the topic again, or poured gasoline on the fire, depending on your perspective.
But whether cuts are at the county-level or not, there is certainly merit to the idea that government in Estonia must shrink. As Forbes.com writer Daniel Mitchell pointed out on the recent occasion of the Krugman-Ilves Tweet-off, "…government is still far too big in Estonia. The public sector consumes about 39 percent of economic output, almost double the burden of government spending in Hong Kong and Singapore."
I'm not expert enough to know the best place to cut, but I recently spent two hours sitting in the corridor at my city district (linnaosavalitsus) government office. What I witnessed was an endless coffee break, a parade of officials entering and leaving their offices, locking their doors just to walk to the bathroom, going down the hall to wash their hands, chat with their colleagues. Nowhere present was the hum of work, that feeling you get in a place where the wheels of industry are being churned. I couldn't help but imagine the pleasure of "transitioning" those people to the private sector.
Some worry that the absence of government in the countryside will contribute to the absence of life in the countryside. As a serious birder, I visit the countryside several nights a week where I sit in silence and watch and listen for, among others, Acrocephalus palustris, the Marsh Warbler. In addition to the birds, I have also observed village life over the past ten years. There's no question it's dying.
It's perhaps callous to observe that fewer people make more room for birds, but that's how I feel. If there's no living to be made in the countryside, then we must move to the city. There may be a solution, but it certainly isn't government. If we have to, let's all move to Tallinn for jobs. And let's scrap as much government as possible, including as much as possible on Toompea.
I understand the bigger issue isn't making the cutbacks - they've eventually got to happen - but rather the timing. Smaller government, and the lower taxes that go with it, can mean trouble for a broader economy, and shrinking a government in a weak economy is delicate surgery.
But Estonians are tougher than their western sissy counterparts. As they've told the foreign press countless times: We've lived through worse. So I think I'd take out the ax and just start chopping. Starting with any district government employee who locks his door to visit the bathroom more than once in any given hour.
George von Gernet is a freelance writer. He admits to having voted for Ronald Reagan at least twice.