Hate or love capitalism or "private enterprise," even in its "monopolistic" nature, I cannot help but contrast -- favorably -- my neighborhood supermarket to the pathetic performance of the Federal/District of Columbia Government at this time of paralyzing snow storms in Washington, D.C., where I live.
Granted, consumers often wonder what they actually eat when they purchase "food" at supermarkets.
But the performance of a local DC supermarket -- and its day-to-day staff -- during the current weather crisis is, indeed, more than commendable, at least from the perspective of this average Washingtonian living near the UDC/Van Ness "public transportation" metro station, where escalators fail to function on a regular basis (thank God I can walk to the supermarket).
For the past week, most of DC has been at a standstill, with street unploughed and public transportation unreliable if not dangerous. And yet, for the most basic of necessities -- food and water (OK, I meant wine) -- the supermarket has been open, preventing panic buying. Its workers in my neighborhood were housed, an employee I spoke with informed me, in a nearby motel, for days on end.
I just called the supermarket now, in this vicious blizzard and yes, an employee politely said her store was open.
Try calling the Federal or DC government to get the same, prompt answer, for a pressing need.
At the supermarket store near where I live, for the past challenging week, its employees have been calm, patient, and understanding. And I don't think it was simply because they were getting overtime.
They were better organized and energized. Try that with your typical GS-9.
I think of Katrina -- a complete breakdown of Federal/local government support in times of crisis -- and also think of my days, too many years ago, involved in the so-called "Cold War" as a student/diplomat in Eastern Europe and the USSR, when the Soviet bureaucracy was incapable of handling -- yes, food supplies during snow storms -- in its state-owned stores.
And, anarchist-leaning that I am, I can't help but say: Thank God we've got people outside of government (why can't they be in government) who know how to run an organization critical to the needs of ordinary people in difficult times!
Just think -- Washingtonians and maybe others reading this note -- how many of us would want the District government to handle food supplies at a time of emergency? (Kudos to the Pentagon in Haiti, by the way, at least judging from media reports; how the military's performance actually was like on the ground may be another matter).
P.S. I'm reminded of my favorite anecdote as a Foreign Service officer abroad (I was in the "public diplomacy" career path for over twenty years, mostly in Eastern Europe), regarding an oversize, bureaucracy-overwhelmed US Embassy supposedly run by the State Department:
JOURNALIST: Madam Ambassador, how many people work here?
ANSWER: About half of them.