Americans can find it difficult to find accountability with government or businesses:
Democracy’s ideal is built on a foundation of accountability. In the past, many, if not most, of the decisions that mattered to our lives were taken by people and businesses that felt close to us. That’s not the case anymore. Now all roads seem to lead to bad hold music.
Whenever we encounter a problem we didn’t create—like my outrageous electricity charge, or vacations ruined by an incompetent airline, or hospital-billing errors, or a mix-up at the IRS—all we can really do is go online for a customer-service number and cross our fingers that, by some miracle, the call won’t consume the entire day, or worse. When a person coping with cancer treatment spends hours on the phone with her insurance company or Medicaid, she may wonder why her society is so cruel, or so incompetent, or both. And she may start to see the appeal of a demagogue who promises to deliver simple solutions: the “I alone can fix it” candidate…
In the European Union, if an airline causes a flight delay of more than three hours, it has to pay you 250 to 600 euros, depending on the length of the flight. In the U.K., when a train is more than 15 minutes late, I can go to a website and, in a few minutes, demand financial compensation.
For the most part in America, when you screw up, you pay, but when corporations or governments screw up, nobody pays. Even when protections do exist, they’re difficult to navigate, or are unknown to most citizens. Other democracies have made clear it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not rocket science to solve such maddening everyday problems, and American democracy would be better off if the government devoted more effort to it.
Government could indeed be more on the side of residents rather than the side of corporations and itself.
But, I wonder if a good number of Americans would see this as an inevitable function of the size of government or business. When these actors become large, it can be harder for decisions to be made and mistakes righted. Big government and big business become caught up in trying to achieve their own goals rather than caring about the little people.
There is a long history of this thinking in the United States. How much should the federal or state government control? Do the best ideas come from established entities or from startups and more nimble organizations? It is also part of the appeal of suburbs to many where residents can have more access to and more participation in local government and decisions. One perception is that local governments have to make things work for everyday life to go on.
As sociologist Max Weber noted, bureaucracies can be efficient and necessary in the modern era but they can also lead to an iron cage. Can governments that clearly work for the people reduce this feeling of the iron cage?