That’s an accurate assessment, and probably reflects my upbringing. Both my parents worked for the federal government at various points. My dad was in Naval Intelligence, then the State Department, and later worked in the private sector. My mom worked in censorship during the war, and later in the State Department.
Unlike the Public Choice view in economics in which every government worker is simply a bureaucrat milking the system for their own private gain, my parents devoted 70 hours a week or more to their jobs and spent thousands of dollars of their own money to carry out official business overseas. They did it because it was the right thing to do.
That is why I get irritated with those (not Jim) who press the issue of personal costs and benefits as the only way to think to about human choice. For example, many economists and some philosophers argue that it is “irrational” to vote, since voting takes time away from work or leisure, and one’s vote has no impact on the outcome. This ignores the ethical dimensions of living in community and having responsibilities to others in that community.
I am not a huge advocate for Kantian ethics, but at least here it is very clear: if you cannot universalize your action without it becoming illogical, that action is not ethical. Hence, if in a democratic society everyone fails to vote, there could be no democracy and no legitimate government, so the idea of a democracy becomes unimaginable in these circumstances.
My bottom line: the Public Choice idea, taken to extreme, is that government agents always shirk, are lazy, and contrive to fix the system for their own benefit. That actually is a pretty good model when thinking about the House of Representatives! But it does not work well when considering ordinary civil servants, people in the military, firemen and women, and so on, who strive to serve honorably and faithfully, with notions of duty and virtue at the forefront, or at least alongside considerations of costs and benefits. Pluralism rules.
So Jim is right about “government failure” being a real and important issue. But so too is the exaggerated claim that some make that government and their agents are always bad.