Repeat After Me ... Its Not Just One Party

Kevin Drum opines:

What happens when you combine "fast track" procurement, minimal
oversight, pork-based contracting, and a comprehensive lack of
responsibility for results? Well, you get the Bush administration, of
course. More specifically, you get the Coast Guard's disastrous
Deepwater program. Nadezhda runs through the grim details.

This is perhaps the single greatest fallacy that props up big government.  Specifically, the notion that corruption, inefficiency, and stupidity are failures in government related to certain individuals.  The implication is that if only "our party" was in control, big government would be great.  Except that both parties have had their chances in alternating fashion for 70 years (what I would call the era of really big government) and government has been a mess regardless of who has been in control. 

People like Hayek and Friedman have written who books about it, so I want try to elucidate the whole theory, except to summarize that the nature of incentives in government, particularly the big sacrifice-one-group-for-another government we have today, will ALWAYS lead to massive failures.  Period.

I wrote over a year ago that statism always comes back to bite its creators, because no matter how beautiful the machinery of government control, you can never control for the human beings who get behind the levers.  At that time I pointed to three fallacies, of which the third is particularly relevant to this post:

  • You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you
    are smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values,
    etc., and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the
    Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.
  • Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may
    feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the
    technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of
    idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the
    technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys
    take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on
    another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.


  1. TJIT:

    Interesting comment by Embedded Engineer on the Washington monthly thread

    Finally, this is NOT strictly a Republican screw-up. Deepwater started in a small way in 1995, really got rolling in 1998. It was crafted to suit the Streamlining Government approach of the Clinton/Gore administration.

    Programs under republican administrations flop, programs under democrat administrations flop. The levees in New Orleans provide a classic example of this. The solution is fewer government programs. Fewer programs = better chance of decent oversight.

  2. Ray G:

    Yes, every new revelation of a $300 hammer is treated as a "discovery" if it can be attributed to a Republican administration. Gold-plating the products purchased by government is as old as government itself.

    And what is the opposite of "fast-track procurement?" The status-quo of $300 hammers, only they take much longer to procure, and by the time the boot on the ground received the needed equipment, their needs had changed.

    Rumsfeld was able to implement fast-tracking because of the brouha created by the Humvees not being totally armored up. So he pushed through the fast-track in light of the mountains of red-tape that were revealed behind every minor or major procurement need.

    So the media complained that the troops were being neglected by the slow and cumbersome process of government procurement methods, but in the context that it had at one time been an example of efficiency but had somehow recently came into disrepair under Bush and Rummy.

    Now they are complaining that in partially fixing those same problems, they were up to no good.

    I outgrew physical altercations many years ago, so I am surprised that I still feel like punching people at times today.

  3. Ray G:

    I forgot to add one of the first recorded instances of typical government procurement results; Archimedes' bath tub and the dishonest goldsmith.

  4. Xmas:

    You should have included a link to the cartoon version of Road To Serfdom for that last statement.

  5. Anonymous:

    Minor thing - the "let me go to hell" thing actually originates with Elizabeth I and her comment to the King of Spain, "Why can your Majesty not let your people go to the Devil in their own fashion?"