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No incentives

There is a clear cut line between things that government can offer and things that government cannot offer for its citizens. Wheelan, the author of the well expected book called Naked Economics uses few examples. One particular example that intrigued me was the example of DMV. Of course, the government has no incentives to increase the number of clerks to hasten the service, nor would they try to it make the place look fancy. Since the government has complete control of DMV, they do not care about providing better service to its customers.

This example story reminds me of problem that I face with the custom agents every time I return to United States for schooling; the lines at the custom--it's too long. They don't care if you were in line for 2 or 3 hours. But what's worse are the custom agents. They never smile. Instead, they yell at all the immigrants and international students who can't fill out the "right form."

Their conducts are usually inhumane. Don't get me wrong because I love studying in United States and I honor the privilege to stay here. But I have to say that the attitudes that some custom agents have absolutely unkind, parsimonious, heartless and even sometimes cruel. So every time I go through custom, I have the worst experience of my life.

United States is not the only country that has terrible custom service lines and custom agents that have the worst attitudes, either. I've lived in England, Switzerland and Singapore. I go in and out of Japan on many occasions. I've also visited many countries in Europe and Asia. And each time I visit each countries, I go through customs and an ordeal with custom agents.

Please note that I am an innocent Japanese citizen and I have never brought anything illegal in or out of the aforementioned countries. But I still get the same type of treatment. I'm stuck in the line for at least a half hour; I get yelled at, glared at, stared at, humiliated at, etc. Of course, every one should be suspected at the custom gates; people aren't as innocent as they look. But they are pushing the line between humiliating people and inspecting people.

Why aren't the custom agents trained, and why aren't the lines made shorter? It's because they don't have any incentives to do so. Everybody has to go through the custom anyway. Having us be in the line for more than half an hour and being humiliated at does not stop us from going through it. It's a law. Sure, their service has changed from filling the form to checking our fingerprints (in some countries) but it's only to their convenience, not ours. They obviously don't care about how we feel, they just want to get the whole thing over with (while having fun humiliating and intimidating us).

I might get arrested for saying these things but this captures and illustrates Wheeler's central messages extremely well. I concede that the custom is a necessary government controlled evil. Other things would simply not work if the government was not in charge of them. They think they are doing us a favor but the effect is of course a reverse: we hate them with passion.

I repeat what I said the beginning: There is a clear cut line between things that government can do and offer and things that government cannot do and offer for its citizens. Yes, the government can issue me a student visa. Yes, they let me in and let me pursue my profession and let me do other things that I enjoy. But no, they cannot offer me good smiles. No, they cannot make the line go faster. No, they cannot offer pleasant experience at the custom gate.