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Is Government Too Big? Order a Pizza!

September 2nd, 2021 by dk

The images and stories coming from Afghanistan are heartbreaking. Can we put them out of our minds for just a couple of minutes? There’s a larger lesson to be learned here for our government. It involves Joey’s Pizza in Springfield.

No, I don’t have a plan to airlift pizzas to the airport in Kabul, though that might not be a bad idea. I’m thinking about thousands across Oregon who may soon be facing homelessness. They too might benefit from one of Joey’s Beer Drivers Specials, but that’s honestly not my point here. I’ll get to Joey’s in a minute. I promise.

President Biden met with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in the White House on June 25. Ghani reportedly had only one immediate request. He asked that the United States begin leaving his country quietly, so it would not look as if America lacked faith in his government. Our sudden departure could create chaos in the streets.

Now we know what Ghani must have known all along. We’re a lumbering giant who cannot do anything quietly. Every move our government makes causes chaos in the streets. We don’t know how to adjust our strategies to the size of our influence. Ghani effectively tied Gulliver down for an extra two months while planning his own quiet departure.

On some level, Biden must have known it too. Our society is built around personal choices. Our execution will always be messier than what a totalitarian regime can offer. That’s not because we lack total control. It’s because we refuse to exert total control. Most of the time, messiness flows from our strength, not from our weakness. (This bungled operation might be an exception.)

Regardless, we need to learn some new tricks. Every government ending is likened to a cliff. There are many ahead: Pandemic unemployment benefits, student loan forgiveness, mandated foreclosure forbearance, a moratorium on evictions. Each will be felt as another abrupt exit.

You can expect stories of people who were overlooked, who are suddenly suffering, who needed just a little more help to get on their feet — just like the Afghan army! Every withdrawal will look heartless someplace. There will always be bad optics.

We should be able to means-test each benefit program, scaling back support but protecting the neediest. But those who game the system guarantee more bad optics. We used a birthday lottery system for our last military draft. It was heartbreaking to send young men into combat based on chance, but it wasn’t unfair and there were no collective cliffs.

Joey’s does something slightly different. (I always keep my promises when pizza is involved.) They offer everyone an almost-half-price pizza every month, based on the first letter of their last name. On the 11th of each month, I get a special deal because K is the 11th letter in the alphabet.

Could the federal government use Joey’s method, curbing benefit programs gradually but still predictably? We need some new thinking to avoid the next cliff and the cliffs after that. A good pizza might help us reach some different, softer conclusions.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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