The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Inefficiency of Cheap Grace

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The city of Atlanta recently announced that it was going to privatize its parking enforcement. As of November 1, ParkAtlanta, a privately-owned company, took over responsibility for enforcing the city's parking meters and ticketing, as well as the booting and towing of illegally-parked cars. The seven-year contract guarantees the city a $5.5 million paycheck each year, meaning a $38.5 million boost for the city, in addition to getting rid of the hassles of maintaining its own publicly-funded force. Atlanta is only one of many cities that have recently adopted the private option. Cities that have been privatized in whole or part (including Anaheim and Baltimore), have seen remarkable reductions in cost as well as an increase in annual revenue. While not everyone is convinced that the private option is the way to go, no one can argue that it is less efficient.

In fact, some even argue that the private companies' high efficiency is a good enough reason for NOT adopting it. The host of an Atlanta morning radio program and many of his listeners were in agreement recently that November 1 would spell the end of expired-meter "grace" and the dawn of a getsapo-like parking police "reign of terror." Listeners called in from all over the city, relating horror stories of privatized parking attendants writing tickets and having vehicles towed to the shadier side of town with apparent malevolent glee. When the co-host of the program dared to suggest that when a parking meter expires, the car IS technically illegally-parked, she was berated as being a clueless suburbanite who reveled in seeing cars ticketed and towed. It was all rather interesting to listen to on my way to work that morning.

Since I am not a usual participant to these morning debates, I wasn't prepared with the phone number to the station. I wanted to call in to the host and ask him a few questions of my own, but he was too busy decrying the Nazi regime of private meter-maids to give the phone number for the studio. So I decided to write this article instead, because I think the host's nearsightedness in the area of parking efficiency is shared by many, many others.

The first question I would have asked the host if I had been able to call that morning would have went something like this: "Have you been to the DMV lately?" Most of us have been the victims of the DMV at one point or another in our lives. If you live anywhere near a major city, you know just how frustrating a simple trip to renew your driver's license can be. A visit to a major metropolitan DMV is a case study in government inefficiency. I have yet to talk to anyone who looked forward to going to one. I have known people who have driven twenty-five miles away from Atlanta in order to experience small-town incompetence, rather than enduring a half-day (at best) of big-city incompetence. But why would I ask the morning radio host, who is on a kick over private parking enforcement, if he has been to the DMV lately? Because it provides a counter-example and an agreed-upon standard of governmental ineptitude.

You see, because I am relatively certain that the radio host would not be a fan of the DMV, this would pave the way for my next question: "Would you be in favor of privatizing the Department of Motor Vehicles if the company doing the privatizing could devise and deliver a far more efficient system?" Supposing the radio host hasn't quite figured out where I'm going with this, I would then ask: "Are you telling me that you are in favor of governmental inefficiency when it works in your favor (in the area of parking tickets) but are opposed to it when you go to get your license?" To this question, the answer is obviously yes. His praise of governmental inefficiency in parking enforcement is only because he directly benefits from it by not having his car ticketed or towed immediately after the meter expires. However, when this same level of inefficiency is displayed at the DMV, it frustrates him, because it forces him to waste a large chunk of his own time standing in line and signing paperwork.

I am in no way saying that this radio host is unique in his beliefs. Actually, I think he is stating a rather common belief. Most of the readers of this site would claim to be in favor of privatizing much of what the government—local, state, and federal—does. Government inefficiency is so high because government is involved in so much that it has no business being involved in. Rarely is the inefficiency of the bloated bureaucracy of government an advantage. The area of parking enforcement in Atlanta (before Nov. 1 that is) is a rare exception. Some of us, like our beloved morning show radio host, have come to EXPECT a certain level of inefficiency. So much so that when that inefficiency is taken away and replaced with an efficient system of justice and fairness ($1=60 minutes; 61 minutes=1 ticket), we act as if we have somehow been cheated. Such is the selfish heart of sinful man. Grace, even when granted due to bureaucratic incompetence, is not viewed with gratitude, but with righteous indignation. How dare the government take away the grace of their inefficiency and replace it with a private system of efficiency and fairness.

But isn't this the same way that unbelievers characterize God as being unfair for sending sinners to hell? God sent His Son to the cross to pay the death penalty demanded by your sin and mine. God generously offers grace to self-righteous sinners, but being self-righteous sinners, we only take it for granted. If we don't take God up on His offer of grace, we will be left with a system of justice and fairness. God offers grace to the "imperfect" and justice to the "perfect." "Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'" (Matthew 9:12-13). How many will protest God's system of justice and fairness as being too restrictive, too difficult to maintain. Having spent a lifetime taking His grace for granted, many will find God's system of perfect justice at the end of their lives to be not quite what they supposed it to be. Having become conditioned by a paltry view of grace as being synonymous with inefficiency, many believe that they will somehow slip into heaven on a technicality, or a misplaced piece of paperwork, or a lazy parking attendant. Their cheap and shallow view of grace comes from a cheap and shallow view of life—a life that revolves solely around themselves. When justice and fairness enter this equation of cheap grace—i.e. when they really experience a system where the sanctions equal the violations—self-righteous sinners are the first to call foul. "He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it" (Mt. 10:38-39).

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