Report fraud, waste, and abuse to this hotline……but why?

Report Fraud Waste AbuseRecently, I was sitting at a stoplight, lost in thought, when I glanced forward at the truck in front of me and noticed a sign that read, “Report fraud, waste, and abuse XXX-XXX-XXXX.” A rusty dolly was secured on the back of the truck but in front of the sign, partially obscuring the sign and making it hard to read.

But, why is the sign needed? First, it occurred to me that I only see such signs on government vehicles. Are government organizations the only ones that care about rooting out fraud and waste? The obvious answer is no, but why do we not see such signs on delivery trucks for various companies? Surely, they want to reduce fraud and waste as well.

One possibility is that businesses care about this issue, but they handle it internally. Since firms have a profit motive, it is in their best interest to nip wasteful behavior in the bud. It is in their self interest to keep a watchful eye on their operations. Of course, if this is true, it implies that government bureaucracies do not have the same incentive. Which is true, of course; the government has no profit motive because they live off the largess of the public. Waste not, want not is not a bromide with which they are familiar.

The second possibility is that the sign is there for the consumer (aka voter, citizen). Fast food restaurants are known for posting signs in the restroom that say, “Employees Must Wash Their Hands Before Returning to Work.” However, the sign isn’t for employees – they already know they have to wash their hands – it is for customers. The manager wants the customer to read the sign and think, ‘hmm, I guess all the employees are washing their hands so I don’t have to worry about food poisoning here!”

In essence, the sign is for peace of mind for the customer. So, the fraud and waste reporting sign could be there because they want the public to call in, but not likely. Think about it, what kind of fraud and waste am I likely to observe while sitting at the stoplight – and of the kind so serious that I would get out my cell phone and call the hotline?

Or, more likely, it is for the voter. In essence, the bureaucrat is wanting the voter to think, ‘hmm, they aren’t wasting my tax dollars, this agency has it under control.”

So, next time you are at the light, look for the sign. You may want to call, but then again, there probably isn’t any need.

Two poems richer

Credit: See-Ming Lee

Credit: See-Ming Lee

I don’t know why I did it, other than because I wanted to, but I read a poem by William Carlos Williams to my economics class. I rationalized it because we were discussing economic policy during the Great Depression, and I remembered a poem by Williams, “To a Poor Old Woman,” and I just needed to share it that day. That reason was good enough, so I read it to them.

It did fit with the lecture, but what I wanted to accomplish was more than bring the Depression into view, I wanted to provide stark relief. And, I wanted to share some art. So, I told them about the poem, how Williams wrote it during the Depression, and how its simplicity allowed the reader to feel the goodness of a simple pleasure, by a simple woman. In my mind, it is simply a beautiful poem.

There is a hint that Williams is somewhat condescending to the poor old woman and her simplicity, but I think he more or less is just relating what he sees; he sees a poor old woman enjoying a cheap pleasure, a bag of plums, which is probably the greatest luxury she can afford.

The poem, like most poems, is best when read aloud, so I read it to my class. I saw that the students could smell and taste the plums too. It is a powerful poem. Its words evoke sights and sounds that can really be enjoyed.

One of my students liked the poem well enough that he went to the library and pulled a collection of Williams’ poems off the shelf. He read through them and liked some, didn’t like others.

But, I asked him If he found any poems he liked. And, he said that he did find two poems he liked. “Great,” I said, “you are now two poems richer.”

Don’t be troubled by a few missteps; no one bats a thousand all the time.

Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee, Plums at the NY Farmers’ Market, Creative Commons ASA License 3.0