New Socialist Man, Chicago Style

My wife and I were tooling around Bolingbrook, IL looking for a place for her new medical practice (to open shortly after a space is leased, more about that later) when we saw him. He was a government worker, pulling down christmas tree lights that had been put up on the corner of I-55 & IL-53 and with us stuck at a red light, he was our temporary entertainment.

Yank those lights! Rip that branch! One string that was serpentined across the front came down. A second string proved more challenging for our public servant as it was actually wrapped around the tree. After a brutal tug shook the entire tree, confirming that he would have to circle around the tree to take it off, he proved his membership in the vast collective of New Socialist Man. Rather than walk around the tree, he cut the wires.

My wife and I looked at each other in shared disgust. We didn’t have to say it. Our mutual look said it all. We talked about it anyway.

Any East European admiration for efficient US government is entirely misplaced. It really is true that there is zero difference among government workers across the world. They’re all New Socialist Men, at least on the job. Waste is their watchword, sloth is their middle name, and carelessness with other people’s money is their reality.

9 thoughts on “New Socialist Man, Chicago Style”

  1. TML: While I agree that these episodes are enfuriating, I think “zero difference” is too strong. There must be a village or town government in Bolingbroke, and a complaint could be made. And if this was perceived as a pattern it could become an embarrassment for the local government. This is, of course, far, far less responsive than a market signal, but democratic processes do sometimes work and citizen complaints do sometimes get responded to. And if you are going to be moving there, you might as well start being a squeaky wheel. I live in Oak Park, and the citizenry is very vocal if they don’t like something. It works tolerably well.

    So, I think it is not really exactly the same as some guy in communist Romania.

    All the foregoing aside, that is pretty disgraceful.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with you. What you witnessed may have been the complete opposite – the overreacting “market man”.

    Keep in mind that the entire string of lights is probably worth all of about $10. My own (limited) experience with would lead me to expect a government worker from many parts of the world to expend the better part of a day trying to salvage it – efficiency be damned!

    Meanwhile the market based laborer has had it drummed into his head that his time is much more valuable than a few $ worth of material – so much so that he is probably a little too quick to give up on the material.

  3. Lex – I agree that the feedback mechanisms in a democratic republic are quite superior to a totalitarian society. That is not what I’m talking about. Government workers who are conscientious, hard working, honest, and efficient are working uphill. A coworker at a landscaping company who saw that sort of thing would stop it for fear of losing the contract. The worker who cut the wires was not working alone. His coworker said nothing.

    Lenny – Let’s say that the christmas lights were, as you say $10. Let’s furthermore stipulate that he’s earning $30 an hour ($60k a year). To equal the material cost, it would have taken 20 minutes of his labor to equal the value of the lights. The time between when he first yanked it and when he cut it was about 20 seconds. For that material/labor calculation to have been appropriate, his salary would have had to have been $30 a minute/$1800 an hour/$3,600,000 a year. I find that unlikely, even for hyper-market man.

  4. Believe it or not, I saw the same process and asked a worker about it. They were using pole pruners to snip the wires (after unplugging them, of course). They pointed out that the light strands had been in the trees for months, and had thoroughly tangled themselves in the branches. You’ve untangled last year’s mess yourself – imagine doing it from a cherry-picker in a freezing wind. Salvaging the light strands would have meant likely damage to the trees and hours of dangerous work.

    The process I find inexcusable is when landscape maintenance crews yank out daffodils, small shrubs, and perennials when they stop blooming. Hello? Plant annuals if you don’t want them for more than one season.

  5. Any East European admiration for efficient US government is entirely misplaced.

    It’s all relative. I bet they’re even more inexcusably wasteful and uncaring in Eastern Europe.


  6. Bolingbrook?

    You’re near my area, I’m off of Cass.

    Waay back when I was working in 1993, my boss (owner) had his local landscaping company put up 8 strings of Christmas lights at his home – $800 I seem to remember.

    I asked my contact what they did w/them after? Just toss them.

    I was in the wrong business.

  7. In general, private workers are more efficient than government workers, for the obvious reasons. But there is an awful lot of inefficient behavior in business, too. Systems and procedures seem to be increasingly rigid, and often designed with little thought for either the employees who must use them or for the end customers.

  8. RE: your wife’s medical clinic. Has she considered opening a cash only medical clinic. I know this doctor fairly well and he seems to be doing well: The basic idea is that by not accepting any insurance or medicare and demanding payment at the time of service, she can dramatically cut her fees (50%). Your wife will have much lower overhead (i.e. not paying staff to file claims/run down delinquent accounts, etc). The emergiclinc was on the cover of the Wall Street Journal sometime ago. I would encourage your wife to get in touch with Dr. Berry.

  9. Mitch – I knew a fellow in landscaping who took such throwaways home, fixed them up, and sold them on the next year. He said it was nice side money. The case in point (ie the subject of my rant) was all at ground level and would have merely meant that he’d walk around. It’s not only the lights he ruined but he was abusing the tree. He was yanking hard enough to shake the whole tree, hard enough to bring branch ends off along with the lights.

    Erik – My wife actually knew about emergiclinic. She’s very much in favor of lowering overhead. The particular demographics of the area made her decide to go another route, doing her own billing and heavily computerizing the process of record keeping from start to finish.

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