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.
10 thoughts on “On greener grass and all that…”
I love seeing this from an outside perspective. Sometimes outsiders have the best view. I try to stay out of politics as much as possible, because even mentioning the words ‘shut down’ in the clinic I work in right now will just cause an explosion of opinions and ranting. But mostly, because it stresses me out.
My Mom and Dad both work for the federal government, and are sitting at home right now rather than working. My brother is an active member of the Army and unfortunately, has an even worse deal. He is being forced to go to work, but not getting paid at all. Sure, when the government decides to make a decision (which will most likely be to postpone the decision making to a later date so we can do all of this all over again) he will get back-payed for the work that he did. But that doesn’t make up for the income he isn’t receiving right now to support his wife and two kids, or the government programs like WIC (that is shut down right now) that they go through to get the things they need (like diapers and formula) because they can’t afford it on the salary he is making in the first place.
Basically, it all just sucks. Luckily, I am at work right now. But I work in a physical therapy clinic. Our patient load has gone from 30 patients a day to the 3 we saw this morning because no one knows that their health insurance will end up paying for, and since they aren’t working right now, they can’t afford to pay for it themselves. So, how long until I am out of a job because the clinic isn’t making enough money to pay me? It’s a vicious circle, but it is a circle that we put ourselves in. We elected these officials in Congress. We voted for them to be the best people to represent our respective states, so really… whose fault is it? I sure as hell don’t know!
Sounds like maybe I need to move to SA!
I can’t express how much my heart goes out to all those stuck without income because of this mess. I don’t think it’s the voters’ fault. It’s the lobbies and big corporations who provide funding for these guys to get elected and effectively own them as a result. It doesn’t really help if you have a vote but there’s no one decent to vote for, does it?
Think carefully before you move. In many respects the US is better than SA. Cars are much cheaper there, for example, and friends of mine recently moved there because their kids can get a much better education in public school over there than they can get here in most private ones. And if we get into a crime rate comparison we don’t look all that good. I wasn’t joking about criminal records of police officers – in the past month almost 200 police officers were arrested on criminal charges ranging from petty theft to violent crime. Makes you feel so safe at night.
Welp, maybe I will just move to Canada then 🙂 But probably not. I do love being an American, really I do. I just want to punch Congress in the face sometimes. Also, every American who blames absolutely everything on the President. I might not have a Political Science degree, but I do have a History degree and a decent understanding of how our government works. The President doesn’t make all of the decisions, and he isn’t even a member of Congress. It’s just a big mess, but hopefully they will realize the effect this shut down is having on the people they were elected to represent.
Also, everyone is just really pissed that Congress is still getting paid. Like REALLY pissed. It’s kind of a big deal. As it should be.
Maybe your guys’ police force just does a better job? Like, maybe our police just suck at being police so they can’t recognize when their fellow officers are breaking the law so no one ever gets charged? Probably not? Haha Just trying to look on the bright side for you!
Well, a few weeks ago the minister for police appointed a new commissioner for the Gauteng province…and fired him a few hours later when she found out he had a pending criminal charge against him. Some of our police force have actually served jail time.
I also find it ridiculous that they’re still getting paid. Though I have read some members of the senate have decided not to draw salaries for the duration of the shutdown.
Seriously? Is that not something they would check before appointing someone in the first place? That is scary!
And yes, some of them have! Which is a great thing, as long as you don’t think too hard about it probably just being a ploy to secure a re-election. Oh, politicians.
I actually wrote a post on this just today, but this post brings up something I kind of skipped over. In the U.S., a huge part of the political debate is about the proper role of government. One side argues that the best way for government to help people is directly, by creating programs and regulations and the like. The other side claims that the best way for government to help people is to get out of the way because the population can take care of itself better if they are given the freedom to do so. (Exceptions are made for national defense and other things that can’t conceivably be decentralized.) This means putting power in the hands of citizens and states instead of the federal government.
What you’re seeing in the public debate is a clash between two concepts of what government is supposed to do and two versions of what it means to serve. I’m not convinced that the public debate is what’s really going on behind the scenes, but that’s another topic.
I read your post, but didn’t really have anything to contribute. This is merely based on what I see through the limited lens of the media, so thanks for explaining it a bit more.
The whole system seems terribly complicated to me. I can understand the need for decentralisation in a country that size, but you end up with such extreme legislative differences between states, moving from one to another (or even just driving over state lines) is like visiting an entirely different country.
Whatever the story behind the debate is, I see (and most of the commentaries I’ve read in the non-US media describe it this way) is a bunch of people hurting the country’s citizens because they can’t get their way. I could very well be wrong in this interpretation, but that’s the image that is being projected to the world.
NZ is very similar to SA in these ways. No corruption here but conceptually similar approaches to government, healthcare etc. I must admit I have trouble fathoming the US system sometimes.
I’ve always wondered about their political system, what with only two parties, primaries, voting for the actual president, etc. It just seems so complicated. Theoretically any citizen can run for president but practically it’s simply impossible. They can save billions as a country by just changing their electoral process.
But I never realised just how bad their health care system is. I’ll never complain about SA’s health care system again (at least not for the next few weeks).
No corruption, huh? Well, in SA you don’t get ticketed while waiting to turn left. In fact, in some places you can double-park three cars deep without getting a ticket 😉
Oh, that wasn’t corrupt. It was official! 🙂
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