The Washington Post

Tim Pawlenty’s failing Google Test

 If you can find it on Google, Tim Pawlenty argues, the government probably shouldn’t be doing it. Really?

”We can start by applying what I call ‘The Google Test,’ ” Pawlenty said Tuesday. “If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it.”

Not just on Google? On the whole Internet? It’s one thing to try to privatize the U.S. Postal Service. But this just sounds like a gross misunderestimation of the Internet.

Do you realize what services are on the Internet?

Every service. Want someone to dress up as a cat and come clean all the surfaces of your home? The Internet has that. I saw an ad once on Craigslist.

Want a private jet? Want a military? Want someone to deliver a package for you? The Internet can arrange it, although the package might arrive smelling a bit odd.

Yes, the test is probably supposed to be a modern-day update of Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith’s “Yellow Pages test.” But it’s completely ridiculous.

 Do you know what is in the phone book? A reasonable list of goods and services localized in a particular area.

Do you know what is on Google?


Here is a diagram I made earlier.

That goldfish might not be drawn to scale, but everything else is.

Unless you are in a region where you can’t get to Google because there is censorship, or someone has activated strict parental controls on your computer — in which case, good luck hunting for Human Centipede 2 — every good and service imaginable — and some that aren’t — can be found online. Do you want someone to paint a mural of your family dressed as unicorns? With the Internet, this can happen. Do you want someone to call your house pretending to be a Crab Person and whisper sweet nothings in your ear? The Internet can make it so.

Admittedly, neither of those are things that I want the government to be doing. That would be creepy.

In fact, most goods and services online the government should not be providing.

On the Internet you can be supplied with live tigers. You can find prostitutes. You can find “Invisible Part Sew-In” or “Tammy B. Rock’s My 5-Star Virgin Hair.” I don’t think the government should be involved in those, mainly because I have no idea what they are. And I certainly don’t want the government minding my Farmville farm! Just think of the ethanol subsidies!

But the Internet also contains things such as highway repair, crime prevention, providing for the national defense (well, private security firms, at any rate), promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. (There’s LifeLock for that!)

So when Pawlenty states a rule like this, it almost sounds as though he doesn’t want the government to be doing — anything.

Maybe the government has gotten too big. But there are some things that it would feel wrong to get from the private sector, like blather, apologies, or resolutions declaring Appreciation and Awareness Days.

Perhaps a better solution would be, “If you can get someone on Craigslist to do it, the government definitely shouldn’t be doing it.”

That might even take care of the Postal Service.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
It's in the details: Five ways to enhance your kitchen makeover
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Border collies: A 'mouse trap' for geese on the National Mall
Play Videos
Bao: The signature dish of San Francisco
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
What you need to know about Planned Parenthood
Play Videos
How to save and spend money at college
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
Europe's migrant crisis, explained