Saturday, January 31, 2009

Two interesting little words

Public service. Let's pause to reflect upon those two interesting words, shall we? 'Public service', you might think, is a 'service' provided for the 'public' at those times when the 'public' requires a 'service', often by people skilled in the delivery of 'services' for the 'public' - called, in the evocative language of the times, 'public servants'.

Whoa! Not so fast there with your assumptions, sonny! Just because you happen to be lucky enough to be a member of the public ('somebody who exists') don't go thinking that public services are services provided for the public. They're provided to the public, sure, but public services are actually services provided for governments, by governments; and they're not so much there to 'provide a service' as to meet economical and environmental guidelines and to satisfy the stringent regulations laid on them by governments. So you can see 'public services' are so much more important than mere services provided to the public!

Here's a fascinating example. Adelaide has recently been experiencing a whopper of a heatwave, a real bastard of a thing. Exactly the sort of time you might want a 'public service' like 'electricity', right? Wrong! South Australians have been advised not to use their air conditioners during the heatwave, out of consideration for one another. The logic goes like this, see - it would be a real bummer if the power went off while you were using your air conditioner, and if everyone used their air conditioners at once, as they tend to in the middle of a heatwave, the power might, well, go off. So to avoid the power going off, you don't turn the power on in the first place. Simple!

And what about this quirky little example, from where I live, Melbourne? It was a horrid day. We've had a record heatwave, and things just seemed to get worse and worse. Unfortunately, Melbourneans, troubled, perhaps, by the occurrence of 'pain' and 'heatstroke' when they stood in the heat, made the mistake of turning on their air conditioners as soon as they got inside. Result? By the end of the day, power had gone off around the city, and all the public transport had ceased to work. So all the hot and weary and tired commuters had to find alternative means of transport*.

Isn't that wonderful? By now, I think I've given you enough examples, and I'm able to proceed to my main point. I have discovered this: that public service is something that the public are completely free to use at all times, except when they need to. This is why electricity works at all times except when in a heatwave; and also why transport works every hour of every day except at the end of the day during a heatwave. And what a wonderful concept it is!

Imagine if the 'public service' that is so generously provided to us by the government were extended to other things in life. Doors, for instance. If we were free to use doors at any time except those times when we needed them, they'd be much easier to make. Instead of being made out of expensive things like 'door latches' and 'door knobs' and 'door hinges' and 'doors', they could be replaced by other things. Like bricks. Then we wouldn't have to walk anywhere at all, we could just sit in our rooms and, like, respirate for the whole day. Similarly, many other things, like pens, phones, fridges, cars, and houses could be made out of much simpler and less expensive materials, and we would be released from the obligation of 'using' them when we 'needed' them. I'm sure there's a government department working out a way to provide these 'public services' as we speak.

"Beats me," says the guy in Adelaide. "I was just hot and needed to turn on the air conditioner. Is it too much to expect electricity as a public service?"

And I suppose we could do more to provide services to the public as part of the 'public services' that they expect. Like build more power plants, or nuclear plants, or allowing greater competition in the energy sector, or not setting prices, and so on. We could put in more dams and energy infrastructure, and upgrade our rail systems and roads, and heck, we could even build an across-Australia broadband network while we're at it. But that sounds a little complicated. Certainly too complicated for so simple and elegant a system as the 'public service', don't you think?

I know I do.

*Thankfully, the day before, Connex had announced that all transport on Friday would be free, which was not only generous, but, in hindsight, obvious. You don't have to pay for transport that you don't use, and you can't use transport if it doesn't work! This is why we have 'public service' companies like Connex, to organise things like this for us.


Dan said...

It's all about statistics. The public service is there to produce numbers for your politicians to use to indicate activity. Otherwise, it would look like they aren't doing anything, and we can't have that can we !

The Topiary Cow said...

When some highly-paid, lobbyist-bribe-taking congressman finally keels over after a life of good living, with sanctimonious piety he is referred to as having "given his life in public service."

It makes Cow want to puke. Public Service jobs would be ones which are unpaid. If you're getting paid, it isn't public service, it a job just like any other.


m said...

I'm a Public Servant and I say schools would be great if we didn't have to fill them :D

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