By Doug Farmer  

Governments exist to do those things the People cannot do for themselves. The original reason government was founded was security, the common defense, or “safe streets.” Our politicians can lead us in all sorts of directions, but absent safe streets, we have nothing.

My brother lives in a gated community just 50 miles from Stoneman Douglas High School, both near Miami. Not only is my brother’s community gated, but it is also staffed by guards carrying handguns. The private sector is already developing the answer to the failure of the public sector to do the job of public safety.

Most of us will never live in a gated community. We should focus on the failure of the government to provide public safety.

We know the litany: At least 45 calls to the Broward County sheriff’s department in the previous decade including one on Nov. 30 saying the suspect was “a school shooter in the making,” investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families concluding he was “at low risk of harming himself or others,” two calls to the FBI that were either disregarded or misdirected and, most disheartening, four sheriff’s deputies taking positions behind their squad cars.

The only part of the system that worked was the police from neighboring Coral Springs who disregarded the “cowering deputies” and entered the building in which it was believed the shooter was still at work.

The uniform response of all levels of government was that these failures would be thoroughly investigated. Hallelujah!

I spent 39 years in local government trying to make a dysfunctional system work. Some of the most committed, caring, creative people I have ever known can be found in government. This dysfunction or shortcoming arises from something else, a difference between the public and private sectors.

The primary difference is not the people, or the resources, or the nature of the work. Unlike the public sector, every business in the private sector knows it is going to close and go out of business. As surely as Amazon will follow Walmart, which followed Sears, which followed Montgomery Ward, which followed A & P, which followed a thousand businesses we never heard of, every business will be shuttered forever. In this cycle of life, a new business will be created with a new culture, unburdened by tradition and more in tune with the times, complete with new staffing, new energy and new attitudes offering what the people need. Sadly this “new birth” is not an opportunity available to the public sector.

This fresh start may be as discomforting as guards at the store’s doors with handguns, but no matter what the business, it will respond to the people’s needs and wants better than before, lest it expedite its own going-out-of-business sale. Just ask the A & P. That reinvention is what distinguishes the private sector. As for the public sector, 170 years ago the French economist Frederic Bastiat famously said, “Government is the great fiction.”

Doug Farmer has worked at Park Bank since 1981 and began his term on the State of Wisconsin Banking Review Board in 2003.He’s lived in La Crosse since 1971. You can reach him at

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