The Organization of No

Government bureaucracies do not exercise power by allowing activities to occur - they only have power, and thus have reason to justify their continued funding and jobs, when they say no.   Every incentive that they have is to say no.  When a government agency allows progress to proceed smoothly, it is doing so because some person or small group is fighting against the very nature of the organization.  Anyone who believes otherwise about government agencies is challenged to go build and open a new restaurant in Ventura County, California.  Here is the latest example:

The [weatherizing] program was a hallmark of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a way to shore up the economy while encouraging people to conserve energy at home. But government rules about how to run what was deemed to be a ''shovel-ready'' project, including how much to pay contractors and how to protect historic homes during renovations, have thwarted chances at early success, according to an Associated Press review of the program.

''It seems like every day there is a new wrench in the works that keeps us from moving ahead,'' said program manager Joanne Chappell-Theunissen. She has spent the past several months mailing in photographs of old houses in rural Michigan to meet federal historic preservation rules. ''We keep playing catch-up.''

And of course, even in a skeptical article about a "stimulus" project, no one ever mentioned what productive activities the $5 billion was being used for by private individuals before the government yanked it away for this little catastrophe.

By the way, the overblown rhetoric award has to go to this:

''This is the beginning of the next industrial revolution with the explosion of clean energy investments,'' said assistant U.S. Energy Secretary Cathy Zoi. ''These are good jobs that are here to stay.''

Given that the first one was about steel mills and railroads and oil and electricity, if this new industrial revolution is all about caulking, I think I am getting nostalgic for the first one.


  1. morganovich:

    it seems to me that the one counter example to this is when the government can get private sources to pay for something that the government wants.

    thus, we get a resounding "yes" on CRA where low income housing policy was paid for by the private banks.
    i fear this is a model that will be emulated.

    consider the parallels between forcing lending at near prime rates for subprime borrowers and community rating of healthcare while capping prices.

    the best part is, when the inevitable failure comes, they get to blame capitalism and regulate!

  2. kebko:

    I remember thinking something along these lines when then-Texas governor Bush refused to call off a couple of questionable death penalty cases. What's the point of being the big boss if you're going to let someone live just because of some reasonable review of the facts? Any functionary can do that. Only the big man can put you to death regardless of the facts. Sadly, we saw this mindset continue to play out in his presidency. Arbitrary rule is power.

  3. Evil Red Scandi:

    These green jobs just aren't all they're caulked up to be.

  4. Ian Random:

    Although I hear that public research crowds out private research, I'd rather this money be spent on pure theoretical energy research like polywell fusion or thorium reactors. At least that way you aren't emboldening bureaucracies that interfere directly with the private sector.

  5. Dimitri Mariutto:

    ....this new industrial revolution is all about "caulking" the taxpayers.

  6. epobirs:

    This is the same idiot Ventura County bureaucracy that recently had a conniption fit because a hardware store was in the habit of putting out coffee and doughnuts for their early morning customers. We're talking about a box from a local shop and a Mr. coffee machine but the county wanted them to install a full restaurant quality kitchen if this practice were to be allowed to continue.

  7. Scott:

    kebko - go read the Texas constitution. The governor of Texas can't pardon someone like the governors of other states can.

  8. chris from oz:

    This is how we do green jobs in australia;

    THE Government’s suspended home insulation program faces the scrap amid new concerns the number of homes requiring remedial work could reach 250,000, soaking up all the money left in the scheme…

    That suspension, which was followed by the removal of the high-profile minister in charge of it, Peter Garrett, came after the program encountered severe problems, including four deaths, 120 house fires and more than 1000 electrified houses.

    More than $1.5 billion has been spent already and there are now concerns the repair bill for roof inspections and the replacement of botched insulation will consume what money is left in the scheme - an estimated $800 million.

    Comment from me; Peter Garrett is our minister for environment the main reason for this is he was the frontman for a band called Midnight Oil who sang anti capitalist/mining/US songs, admittedly he has a law degree but it easier to get one of them than become a plumber.

    Also remember we only have 22,000,000 population in OZ and I think only about 7,000,000 of them are full time employed tax payers

  9. rxc:

    As a former nuclear energy regulator, I used to get about one request every other week from either nuclear utilities or one of the three nuclear suppliers to approve something new. Either a new analytical method, or a new material, or a new way of assessing the safety of some aspect of nuclear power plant operation. Some of them were good, some were bad, and some were indifferent (i.e., they really had no safety significance). I was not opposed to these proposals, as long as the proponent could show that they did a reasonable analysis of the effects of the proposed changes. I did not require absolute assurance of safety, but I did not allow proponents to slide through with BS, either. And when there is a lot of money at stake, the BS can get deep. Which is why it is important to staff the bureaucracies with people who understand the technology/business/financial methods that the regulated industry is using. You cannot replace the experts with paper pushers or (shudder) lawyers or even contractors. If you depend on contractors for your expertise, you have no idea whether your contractors are telling you the truth, or whether they know what the truth is.

    I remember one request to change a number in our regulations that had absolutely no controversy - everyone in the industry supported it, we (the regulators) thought it was reasonable, and there were no "external interest groups" who even understood it, much less opposed it. It took 2 years to change, because of all of the legal hoops and reports we had to write, and environmental assessments (no significant impact, but you have to document it all), and the required public notice and comment periods. And all the public meetings with various oversight committees. It is the lawyers and the politicians and the financial people who have driven us to this situation. They think they don't need to understand the technical details as long as you have a good process and auditing controls to make sure that everything is "transparent". But transparency is no good when the details are submerged in pages of fine print and no one really understands hohw all that fine print actually works.

    There are still some regulatory agencies that understand their technologies/industries, but they are under pressure to downsize and become more "results oriented", without acknowledging that the results may sometimes include major crashes.

  10. IgotBupkis:

    > I remember thinking something along these lines

    Indeed, kebko -- This is clearly ALL Bush's Fault!!!


    Earth to kebko -- Earth to kebko: Bush is gone. For over a year now. The mindless hate can subside. Let go.


    I want a webapp that allows me to bitchslap really stupid people.

  11. IgotBupkis:

    > These green jobs just aren’t all they’re caulked up to be.

    And when they lose their green jobs, well, by all means -- "Let them eat caulk".

  12. Spartan79:

    About 20 years ago I purchased a building in a small town in Michigan to use as my first out-of-garage office. The building used to be a gas station, so the seller and I agreed to split the cost of an environmental assessment, which was accomplished in about a week. Result: a clean bill of health; the original gas station operator had been very conscientious, and had not dumped used crankcase oil out back or had leaking bulk storage tanks or any of the other nightmares that some old gas stations can exhibit. Cost of assessment: about $4,000. We then submitted all the required paperwork to the DNR for the permit state law permitted the agency to issue absolving seller and buyer of any future cleanup liability, once the environmental assessment with satisfactory results was produced. Weeks went by, and after repeated phone calls a pencil-neck DNR inspector showed up and roamed around the property with a clipboard. Several weeks later we got a letter back from the DNR informing us that several minor changes would have to be made to the property to obtain the permit, including the covering up of a oil-change pit in the garage (which had tested clean). The environmental consultants and my attorney both assured that there was zip nadda zero legal basis for the demands, and that court would probably, in a few months and after the expenditure of several thousand dollars of legal fees, issue an order for the issuance of the permit. Since the total cost of the demanded modifications was less than $750, I swallowed my pride and complied. The DNR hack came back out a few weeks later, smugly surveyed the results of his little display of bureaucratic tyranny, and assured me that the permit would issue shortly. It did, about a month later.

    He won, but at what cost. I have never, ever voted for a tax increase or a tax increaser since, and never will, and have vigorously communicated my views to all who will listen in the intervening decades. We have to kill the beast. It cannot be controlled.