Let’s be honest: at one time or another we all buy into the myth that the grass is greener on the other side. If that wasn’t so people wouldn’t keep on changing jobs, homes, towns, partners, countries. We’re always looking out for something better. But once in a while something happens that reminds us that what we have maybe isn’t all that bad. I’ve been feeling that way this week as I watched developments abroad.
Warning: this post will be taking a tongue-in-cheek look at the US government shutdown from an outsider’s perspective. If that is a sore topic, you’re a flaming patriot, or if anything that seems to disagree with your views causes your brain to shut down, I suggest you stop reading. My regular commenters are a decent lot, but if you’re new here you might want to check out the about page and comment policy first.
It’s with mixed emotions that I’ve been watching developments in the US unfold over the last few days. First I was amazed to learn that a government could shut down. What idiot came up with the legislation that made that possible?
Amazement turned to confusion when I learned the reason was that a group of people was trying to overturn a law that would ensure affordable healthcare to people who can’t otherwise afford it. And here I thought caring for its citizens was part of a government’s job.
Amazement turned to concern and even anxiety when I found out that hundreds of thousands of people, of families, are now effectively without work or income for however long it takes to sort this mess out. At least the politicians who made it are still getting paid.
Yesterday I came across this tweet:
People don’t understand a govt shutdown. It’s simple: govt stops working. Oh, I see the problem.
— Keith Levenstein (@keithlevenstein) October 1, 2013
After having a nice laugh about it with the wife I realised, but ours is working. The South African government is far from perfect. It is inefficient (but then show me a government that isn’t) and rife with corruption, mismanagement and nepotism on all levels, but it’s working. To my knowledge it has never shut down (I don’t think our constitution even allows for such an eventuality), at least not since we transitioned to democracy in 1994, and even that happened without any services suffering any interruptions. Civil servants do go on strike. Even medical and military personnel have gone on strike without suffering any consequences, in spite of it being illegal for them to strike. But our government has never shut down.
I found another tweet, this one from SA’s most famous drag queen:
The US government has shut down. Ours just won’t shut up!
— Evita Bezuidenhout (@TannieEvita) October 1, 2013
Cue another chuckle. But compared to what I’m reading about US politics ours tend to talk about sensible stuff (even if what they say is mostly nonsense). Abortion, gun control, global warming and same-sex marriage aren’t the highly contentious election-deciding issues they seem to be in the US. Same-sex marriage and abortion was legalised here with some grumbling from religious groups but the legislation went through with relative ease and has not been mentioned since. They do not get dredged up anew with every election.
What they do talk about is corruption (how to do it better), and service delivery (or rather the lack thereof), and criminal records of police officers (don’t ask), and getting textbooks to schools (or whether burning them on big bonfires is better). But seriously, the big issues tend to be around stuff that will actually improve the quality of life of the people, about government not doing it or the opposition thinking they can do it better. And e-tolls (but we don’t talk about that). Political debate in SA is not driven by the priorities of the various lobbies (though we do have those), but by the need of the people. (Just to clarify: I’m not saying government addresses those needs, but at least they talk about them.)
I think of all the US federal government employees that now find themselves temporarily unemployed. That cannot happen over here. It would be illegal. Government employees can be sent home for, for example, safety concerns because of protests, but they always get paid, even if they’re suspended pending a disciplinary hearing.
In fact, I watch a television show in which an employee is rude to a (in my opinion deserving) customer. The manager happens to witness it, walks up to the employee and fires her on the spot. That cannot happen in SA. Try that and you’ll find yourself in a lawsuit that your employee will win so thoroughly you might end up working for her. Over here it’s multiple verbal and written warnings and then there must still be a disciplinary hearing presided over by a third party and even then the fired employee can appeal the decision and win in some cases. Our labour law (though it has its faults) give a new meaning to the term ‘job security’.
I can complain about our government with the best of them (and often do), but today I feel good about them, and about our country. It helps to gain a different perspective once in a while.
P.S. I’ve decided not to comment on the ACA itself. Suffice it to say I was deeply shocked to find out how US health insurance actually works – apparently South Africa is way ahead of America in that regard. But for non-Americans who would like a bit of perspective on this particular issue I’d recommend this post by John Scalzi and this article by Kameron Hurley.
To all negatively affected by the shutdown, I hope the guys holding your country for ransom come to their senses soon and realise that they’re actually harming the people they were elected to serve.
If you need a laugh to help you forget about the seriousness of the issue for a while, try this post by Bayard & Holmes.