Of Deserts and Bureaucracies

2015-7-30 Bureaucracy img01I was in the desert waiting, watching, praying, hoping for a miracle to come. Yes, a few months ago I was celebrating the liturgical season of Lent and looking forward to the miracle of Easter, just as were most other Christians around the world at that time. However, that is not the waiting nor the watching, praying, and hoping to which I am referring in this specific instance. No. I was simply doing all of the above in response to bureaucratic ineptitude. You see, I am trained as a massage therapist – a trade which requires certification from the state in order to make it legal for me to practice. And, despite the fact that the particular pigeon hole of bureaucracy into which I had to send my paperwork had had that paperwork since before Christmas, they still were not able to give me my certification by the date they said it should be processed. For that matter, they could not give me any kind of favorable reply on the timeline: Even a bare estimate of when I might be able to expect it seemed to be out of their depth. (Or else, they just got tired of my calling them and refused to give me an answer on that account. I could not quite tell.)

Why is the massage industry regulated so strictly, and why is it such a trial to get a license in a timely fashion? Well, this involves a bit of a history lesson and a comparison between the massage industry in the United States and the same industry “across the pond” in Europe. Massage itself has been in use for thousands of years, as indicated by ancient artwork from many civilizations depicting it being performed. In Europe, it has its roots in this ancient and well-respected tradition, being used almost exclusively for therapy. In the United States, however, things went a little awry when massage was introduced. Say the words “massage parlour” or “masseuse” and images are immediately conjured up of unsavory – usually sexual – activities happening in seedy, darkened rooms. This, unfortunately, is the heritage of massage in the United States since it was used, for many years, for purposes other than the strictly therapeutic. There were still practitioners out there who performed massage for therapy, but there were almost an equal number who practiced other kinds of “massage.” In Europe, very little of this happened to the massage industry, so they are far more open to the idea of massage and far less worried about how their bodies are manipulated during the massage. (In fact, many U.S.-trained therapists are warned that Europeans don’t understand why they need to be appropriately draped while on the table, because clients don’t have to worry about that sort of thing in Europe, and so may have to be informed about the legally-required practice when they visit here. Otherwise, a therapist may accidentally walk into the treatment room to find his European client entirely naked and uncovered!) In the United States, the government and law enforcement are still trying to clean up the industry to make it safe for people to receive therapeutic massage. Thus, the industry as a whole is now highly regulated, despite the fact that great strides have been made by the industry itself to clean house. With this bit of history in mind, it is easy to see why the government has involved itself so heavily in the regulation of the industry. However, in wanting to protect both the public and the massage therapists themselves from sexual predators, they have made the process of becoming licensed rather onerous.

In the meantime, while I was waiting for the conclusion of said process, I still had bills to pay, including the rent for the room I was going to use as my studio – a hefty $315 per month. Fortunately for me, I had another job during the school year as a private tutor, which paid enough that I was able to squeeze by in my finances. But I wondered what happens to all the other poor people out there who had hoped to receive similar certifications for their trades and who did not have an additional means of providing financial security for themselves or their families. It seemed unfair in the extreme that the government should hold their livelihoods hostage while it took its sweet time getting all their paperwork processed.

To be fair, the particular bureau to which I applied was rather swamped at the time, since California was changing regulations in the massage field at the beginning of the year, and many people wanted to get in their applications in time to be “grandfathered in” under the old regulations. Thus, the paperwork checkers had quite a bit to do, I am sure. Nonetheless, in discussing this problem with various friends and family members (and after hearing yet another of them second my complaints), I wistfully thought of how much better it would be if such a process were in the charge of a private company.

Yes! An evil, duplicitous, capitalistic company! Such blasphemy. Surely they would only be greedily concerned about their bottom line and would not take the time to really check into people’s backgrounds to make sure they were not heinous criminals? The government, although it is somewhat slow, is certain to do the job more efficiently and thoroughly than any private company possibly could. Or can it?  Let us look at these two major arguments from a logical viewpoint and see if we cannot swiftly come to an agreement about the benefits of having a private company handle such things as certifications.

First off, it is true that a private company would be very concerned with its bottom line. In fact, I would argue that this is a characteristic of at least 99.9% of private companies since, in order to exist as a private company, they must have at least a decent flow of income to keep themselves open. While this concern with a company’s income has been known to cause problems, it is of great value overall in making sure that the company operates as efficiently as possible. If they lack efficiency, customers will go to another company that they know will solve their problems in a much more effective way, resulting in quite the chunk taken out of the first company’s profits. Even the government can be a “customer” in such cases by contracting with a private company to process the licenses. If the company cannot deliver on its promise of efficiently delivering the licenses to those people waiting for them, then the government could contract with a different company. So that is problem number one solved. If people are not satisfied with the wait times, they will find somewhere else that can do it more quickly. We are an impatient race, after all.

But this leaves problem number two, of course, and it seems to segue straight from problem one. That is, if a company is trying to work so quickly, they will be encouraged to cut corners and not do thorough enough background checks just so that they can fulfill their daily quota. Now, if you seriously think that any company can really get away with fraud or dishonest practices for long, you really must consider the era in which we live. In this modern age, secrets do not stay secret for long. Just check the news channels and you find every day that some new hidden thing has been dug up for the whole world to see, largely thanks to the internet and cameras in mobile devices everywhere. A company responsible for doing in-depth background checks for massage certifications, for instance, that fails to properly do so will not be able to hide the fact that a felon here or a sex offender there happened to slip through their watchful gaze because they were not really being watchful in the first place. The company that did try to cut corners in this way would be quickly found out and shut down (again, quite bad for their bottom line), and another more honest one would take its place.

Thus, problem number two is dispensed with. We find, then, that the two most serious arguments against private business handling this sort of certification really present no problem at all when looked at in a logical fashion with economics as the background. Funny how the bottom line can actually prove to be an effective tool for keeping companies efficient and honest. Too bad the government does not have the same motivation, since they are already trillions in debt and do not really have a bottom line to look after because they just figure they can suck more tax dollars out of the citizenry. Otherwise, I might have had my certification by mid-January like I had hoped. As for me, though, I had to continue waiting in the desert, hoping for the miracle that my certification would swiftly make its appearance in my life. I could only hope, at that point, that my miracle would happen before Easter.

(It did not actually happen until April sixteenth – sixty-six business days after they had received all the pieces of my application and thirty-six days after they said they would likely have it processed and approved. By that time, I had missed the spring rush for my business, reducing my income noticeably. Thank you, government bureaucracy. Thank you very much.)

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About Luthien

Luthien is a quiet lover of the Lord, His creation, dance, music, literature, and other things too numerous to list. She enjoys learning about nearly anything, but chiefly animals are her great passion (especially anything related to horses). She also is learned in the ways of using natural medicines given by God to man and hopes to be able to better educate others in their use.

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