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The Two Functions
of Government

by David Stanowski
18 October 2013

All democratically elected representative governments end up performing two functions; the legitimate process of self governance and the illegitimate function of dispensing favors to the politically connected, i.e. Crony Capitalism. In other words, promoting the general welfare, versus promoting the welfare of certain groups and individuals.

Expecting government to confine itself to its legitimate functions in a world made up of flawed and imperfect people is unrealistic and na´ve, so the best we can hope for is government that at least performs its legitimate functions reasonably well and keeps the dispensation of favors under control.

The legitimate functions of local government are fairly limited. It should build, maintain, and manage the infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, street lights, traffic lights, storm sewers, water, sanitary sewers, sewage treatment, etc.), provide public safety (police, fire, EMS, local courts) and supply some amenities (parks, green space, libraries, theaters) once the basics are taken care of.  


When local government fails to do an adequate job of performing its legitimate functions, the Crony Capitalism component becomes much more obvious and annoying. Crony Capitalism is certainly made worse in this city by a deeply entrenched good-old-boy network and a building and zoning code that would make Soviet central planners envious of the favors it requires to navigate it.

However, is this city government really much worse than the typical city government, or does it just seem that way, because people have lost the perspective to compare it fairly to other city governments? The answer seems to lie in evaluating its two separate functions. Crony Capitalism in the City of Galveston may not be all that much worse than most other cities, but it is certainly made much more obvious and annoying by the constant reminder that the City fails to maintain its infrastructure.

In other words, if the streets were paved, we wouldn’t notice the favoritism nearly as much. 


How much time and money does our City government spend managing the legitimate functions of government and how much time and money do they spend making deals (SUPs, variances, waivers, TIRZs, and backroom deals) and increasing their own payroll and benefits?

Driving up and down most city streets answers that question. When it rains, it is even more obvious!

The amount of time and money spent by City government on the Public Housing rebuild over the last few years has been an enormous drain on its resources, and it has little to do with the legitimate functions of government. This is Crony Capitalism at its worst; the rebuild is simply a series insider deals being made to benefit special interest groups that do not create a general benefit to the City.

Where are all the new streets, curbs, sidewalks, and sewers that the City was supposed to receive in return for the Gang of Five overturning the wishes of the voters? 

Is our government worse than most?

Yes, because it fails to perform its legitimate functions successfully, favoritism is rampant and painfully obvious, and it doesn’t know how to make deals that have at least some benefit for the average citizen.


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