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"People Who Don't Believe in Government Do a Bad Job of Running It":

I've heard this refrain over and over, with regard to FEMA, the V.A., and other examples of government incompetence that happen to occur in the Bush Administration. Via commenter Justin, here's an example from "Balloon Juice": "people who don't believe in government do a crappy job when they try to run it. You can look practically anywhere in government today and find the same story -- managing the occupation of Iraq, science, women's health, disaster management."

Here are two major problems with this thesis: (1) The Bush Administration is not exactly full of libertarians; exactly who in the Bush Administration "don't believe in government"? Given that government spending during this administration has increased at rates not seen since Lyndon Johnson, the better lesson would appear to be that "throwing government money at problems doesn't make them go away." (2) We have plenty of examples of people who surely did believe in government that didn't do a very good job running it. Anyone for the late and unlamented Mayor John Lindsay of New York? The kibbutzim of Israel, which survived for decades on government subsidies, before finally abandoning their model when the Likud reduced these subsidies? On a completely different level, the commisars of the former USSR? A common belief among folks on the economic left is that good intentions lead to good results, and thus "fixing" government is simply a matter of getting high-minded people into the right positions. Surely, government can be more or less efficient depending on how it's set up, how competent the people who run it are, and what incentive structures are in place, and so on. But it's simply a fallacy to believe that the fundamental problems attendant to statist economic organization can somehow be resolved with a large dose of idealism.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. "People Who Don't Believe in Government Do a Bad Job of Running It":
  2. Socialized Medical Care for Veterans:
Jim Clay (mail):
"But it's simply a fallacy to believe that the fundamental problems attendant to statist economic organization can somehow be resolved with a large dose of idealism."

Word.
3.5.2007 11:59am
Viscus (mail) (www):
There are three claims here.
(1) Not everyone in the Bush administration is a libertarian.

Yes. This is obviously true. Conservatives outnumber libertarians. Nonetheless, libertarians and conservatives tend to share the same anti-government rhetoric.

(2) "Government spending during this administration has increased at rates not seen since Lyndon Johnson."

This is deceptive. It ignores increases in military spending and homeland security spending, which are the sources of largest increases in discretionary spending. So, what you have are increases not aimed at improving the administration of existing program, but rather aimed at funding new programs that are thought necessary after 9/11. Bush has not exactly expanded welfare or healthcare (except for prescription drugs for seniors) or anything like that, so comparing him to Lyndon Johnson is a bad comparison.

Ignoring the way that the particular spending in this administration has been allocated does not exactly tell us much about the effectiveness of spending that is allocated differently.

(3) "We have plenty of examples of people who surely did believe in government that didn't do a very good job running it."

The claim is that having someone in charge of government program with an antipathy towards is a sufficient for failure, or alternatively is a strong factor that makes failure much more probable. The claim is not that having someone with such an ideology is a necessary condition for failure.

Overall, this point is non-responsive and irrelevant.
3.5.2007 12:07pm
Tim F (mail) (www):
I think that your post misses the point for a few critical reasons.

First, there is a significant difference between social libertarianism and the economic kind. Granted that this administration has a low opinion of civil liberties. We can all agree that is putting it mildly. Nonetheless one cannot credibly deny that this government has a slavish devotion to the principle of privatizing every government function imaginable. See my more recent post and the links therein for a more thorough discussion of the point.

Spending levels is also beside the point. It is entirely reasonable for a government to privatize everything in sight, eliminate effective quality control measures (thus incentivizing failure) and still operate in such a corrupt and lax manner as to drive spending levels through the roof. The two phenomena are tangentially related at best.

Regarding the problem of too much government, see this comment in my post. We entirely agree that the same ideological pathologies which ensure failure in privatization can also doom efforts to insensibly drive things into the public sphere. The problem is not an ideological defect but a defect in management.
3.5.2007 12:10pm
donaldk2 (mail):
People who don't believe in government do not take, nor are they offered, positions requiring the management of large bureaucracies. Those who argue otherwise, as in Balloon Juice, display a cynicism about human motives that is, excuse me, contemptible.

Failure at the assigned task is due not due to reluctance to do the intended job, but due to incompetence.
3.5.2007 12:12pm
Justin (mail):
"Those who argue otherwise, as in Balloon Juice, display a cynicism about human motives that is, excuse me, contemptible."

The question isn't whether John Cole is morally contemptable, but factually correct. Do you have anything other than your own assertion on the subject to provide?
3.5.2007 12:13pm
AF:
Let A = doesn't believe in government. Let B = does a bad job running government. A implies B does not imply that not A implies not B.
3.5.2007 12:13pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Re the below: Specifically, who in THIS administration has engaged in "anti-government rhetoric?" And by how much do you expect that libertarians are outnumbered by conservatives/moderates/the just-plain-power-hungry (probably the largest group) in this administration? 100-1? 1000-1?
(1) Not everyone in the Bush administration is a libertarian.

Yes. This is obviously true. Conservatives outnumber libertarians. Nonetheless, libertarians and conservatives tend to share the same anti-government rhetoric.
3.5.2007 12:15pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Tim, to a real libertarian, "socialized" privatization is not inherently better than the government doing things itself. But if you're a power-hungry Republican Administration, privatizing through gov't contractors reduces significantly over time the power of your political enemy, AFSCME. But this has nothing to do with being for or against gov't as such.

As for spending, I don't have the figures handy, I'm sure some reader can help me, but gov't spending aside from defense/homeland security has in fact increased at levels not seen since Johnson.
3.5.2007 12:18pm
Byomtov (mail):
The Bush Administration is not exactly full of libertarians;

Oh come on. This is silly. The GOP has made hay out of government-bashing at least since Reagan. Ever heard of Grover Norquist? Fine ideological distinctions are irrelevant.

Besides this point, even if it has some validity, ignores the fact that the Bush Administration is full of incompetents. Appoint incompetents and you get incompetence.
3.5.2007 12:20pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
So I take it everyone agrees that, say, New York City under John Lindsay (or D.C. under Marion Barry), etc., were wonderfully efficient because they attracted to government service so many people who BELIEVED in government?
3.5.2007 12:22pm
Stash:
Hmm. I don't think it is inconsistent to suggest that persons who believe that government is the answer to no problem and persons who believe it is the answer to every problem are both likely to be incompetent government officials. In both cases you have someone who only has a hammer; one thinks everything is a nail, while the other thinks there are no nails. Neither is someone you would hire as a carpenter.
3.5.2007 12:24pm
Steve:
I could quote examples of Ronald Reagan's anti-government rhetoric all day, but history surely records him as a conservative and not a libertarian. Republicans have actively promoted themselves for some time as the party of "small government," and unless they intend to formally disavow that characterization, they can hardly complain when they get tagged with it.

As to the second point, it's such an obvious logical fallacy I'm surprised Prof. Bernstein hasn't apologized by now. The quoted statement in the title of this post quite clearly does not make the claim that people who DO believe in government will always do a good job of running it. But there are, indeed, plenty of liberal technocrats who do their jobs quite well.
3.5.2007 12:29pm
Steve:
So I take it everyone agrees that, say, New York City under John Lindsay (or D.C. under Marion Barry), etc., were wonderfully efficient because they attracted to government service so many people who BELIEVED in government?

I refer you to AF's post at 12:13 p.m. Seriously, it's embarassing that you don't get this.
3.5.2007 12:30pm
davidbernstein (mail):
I get it. I don't believe that idealism or lack thereof counts for a hill of beans in the long run of how government programs are run, though incentives provided to the relevant officials surely do. Even someone who doesn't believe in a program will run it will if he thinks it's in his interest to do so, and even someone who is idealistically in favor of a program is unlikely to run it well in the long term if there are no proper incentives in place (and, per Stash, it's not at all clear they will run in better even in the short term, if their idealism is distorting their view of things). Think about the private sector: do advertising executives "believe" in, say, baked beans? Does that mean that don't write good jingles for baked beans? Would they write better jingles for baked beans if they "believed" in baked beans, but the success of their advertising campaign was completely irrelevant to their career trajectory?
3.5.2007 12:38pm
KevinQ (mail) (www):
DavidBernstein said:
So I take it everyone agrees that, say, New York City under John Lindsay (or D.C. under Marion Barry), etc., were wonderfully efficient because they attracted to government service so many people who BELIEVED in government?


No. See Viscus ("Overall, this point is non-responsive and irrelevant," and AF ("A implies B does not imply that not A implies not B").

Arguing that people who hate government suck at running it is not the same as arguing that people who love government rock at running it. In fact, ideologues of any stripe tend to make bad leaders, because they put ideology in front of actual facts.

What's needed to run government is people with a healthy problem-solving ability. If your solution to problems in government is "less government," regardless of the actual problem, then you're not showing good problem solving skills. I believe that is one point of the original meme.

Likewise, if your solution to problems in government is "more money," regardless of the problem, see above. But belief in the power of government is not commensurate with skill in running the government, and the meme in question doesn't suggest so.

But electing, or appointing, people who dislike and distrust government into positions of power within the government starts them off at a disadvantage, because they fundamentally disagree with the utility of the tools they have to complete their job. It's like an electrician who doesn't believe that screwdrivers are useful. That is the point of the original meme.

K
3.5.2007 12:41pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Kevin, that's debatable. Put someone who doesn't "believe in government" in charge of a government program, and they may neglect it, or they may try to apply, as best they can, business-like techniques to improve it and make it less governmentish, again, depending on the INCENTIVES they are given. Put an idealist in charge of a government program, and he may neglect it (assuming that it will inherently be A GOOD THING) or he may try to improve it, again incentives are likely to determine the answer. Put someone indifferent to government in charge, and incentives will still likely dictate the outcome. Government programs, for good public choice reasons, tend to be less incentive-based than the private sector, and hence no matter who is in charge, the outcomes are likely to be worse than the same task done privately.
3.5.2007 12:47pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Oh, and what donaldk2 said. You wouldn't catch me going near a political appointment to run a government agency.
3.5.2007 12:48pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I always looked at the "People who hate government suck at running it" line as a campaign slogan for getting liberals elected. What other purpose does it serve? Once you see it that way, why does it surprise anyone that there's a conservative/liberal divide over whether it's rhetorical tripe or a nugget of golden wisdom? More importantly, who cares? It's not thought provoking, and it requires no response.
3.5.2007 12:49pm
Steve:
If you got it, Prof. Bernstein, you wouldn't have made your second point. If you want to dispute the truth of the quoted statement, you need to provide examples of people who didn't believe in government but nonetheless did a great job of running it. Otherwise, you're in pure logical fallacy territory.

Advertising is a great example since, like politics, it's all talk. But there's a big difference between politics and governance. Any lawyer knows that you can wax eloquent about stuff you don't believe in, but that's not the point. All Bush's rhetoric about being a "compassionate conservative" and wanting to use the power of government to help people doesn't amount to a hill of baked beans since, from top to bottom, his administration is staffed with Republican operatives who aren't interested in carrying out that mission statement.

FEMA is really the most obvious illustration. If you're a competent President who believes that government can help people through natural disasters, for example, you're more likely to put an experienced emergency management professional in charge of that agency. But if you see government as more of an impediment than a help, you're likely to regard the job of running FEMA as just another opportunity for political patronage.
3.5.2007 12:49pm
Spitzer:
Perfectly incompetent administrators are much more likely to screw up than perfectly competent administrators. That is a relatively simple and arguably correct point, one with which just about anyone can agree. But the left makes a fundamental mistake on the flip side of the equation by ignoring human fallibility in favor of faith in omnicompetence: assuming that all administrators are human, and humans are implicitly fallible, even perfectly competent administrators will screw up at least once in a while. If all administrators screw up at least once in a while, and if all of one's eggs are in one basket, one screw up can have devastating consequences. So faith in competence is just that: faith before reason.

The corollary is whether a system is designed to identify and correct screw ups. State-centric solutions tend to rely on a combination of political will, blue-ribbon panels, and internal investigations to identify and remedy administrative mistakes; that is to say, state-centric administrative systems tend to rely on state-centric solutions (the left hand of the government exerts checks and balances on the right hand). But, as with the initial administrative problem in this little thought experiment, state-centric solutions rely on faith over reason - faith in the left hand's competence, ability, and good faith to identify and remedy mistakes made by the right hand. If the left and right hands are both corrupt, or incompetent, or powerless, there can be no remedy of mistakes. This game can play out many more times - party 5 can watch party 4 who watches party 3, and so forth, but it all relies on good faith, competence, and power. Public choice economists might suggest that the interest and motivations of the different government actors do not precisely parallel those of the general public, or even of the other government departments being monitored. And thus the differing interests and motivations of the government departments will influence the behavior of those departments being monitored in like manner.

Competitive systems are simply better at self-regulation than state-centric solutions. Instead of the cycles and peri-cycles typical of intra-government monitoring, consumers in a competitive system do the monitoring for themselves, and their remedy is to exchange one service provider for another. One advantage of this system is knowledge: individual consumers know better their preferences and interests than companies or governments, no matter how competent or high-minded. Another is immediacy - consumers are able to move immediately to a new service provider, providing the hope of an immediate remedy. State-centric systems move much more slowly and make decisions based on a wide variety of factors, of which consumer preference is but one, and maybe not the most important one (indeed, governments in general, and the left in particular, make much hay over the individual's inability to recognize his own best interests, and the well-educated elite's better ability to do so - sometimes referred to as "false consciousness"
by Marxists; for a modern American argument premised entirely on the concept, see "What's Wrong with Kansas").
3.5.2007 12:50pm
neurodoc:
In the past 75 years, has there been an Administration that seems to be more for "special interests" over the "public interest" than the current one? Whose appointments were less reflective of merit? (Agree with them or not philosophically, no one can question the qualifications of Roberts or Alioto, but if Bush had had his way it would have been Harriet Meiers not Alioto.) That was less respectful of consensus scientific opinion, more respectful of ideologic "science"? If there has, would someone please identify it and serve up illustrative examples.

An extraordinary zeal for "privatization" does not bespeak distrust, if not outright hostility, to government? (What is "socialized privatization" in the Bush context?) Break-the-bank spending is strong proof of faith in government?

Grover Nordquist, who wants to starve government of funds and "drown it in the bathtub," is a pariah, completely out of sync with this Administration?

"A common belief among folks on the economic left is that good intentions lead to good results..." Who of any political/economic persuasion believes that bad intentions do not lead to bad results?
3.5.2007 12:57pm
MnZ (mail):

But electing, or appointing, people who dislike and distrust government into positions of power within the government starts them off at a disadvantage, because they fundamentally disagree with the utility of the tools they have to complete their job.


I disagree. Electing people who dislike and distrust government might lead to a more efficient government, because they are more inclined review government programs for failures and inefficiencies. In contrast, people who support a larger government often bristle when government programs are called failures or inefficient. (Most people don't like to be told that their pet projects failed or were ill-conceived.)

If the Republicans' problem is often an unhealthy skepticism toward government, then the Democrats' problem is often an unhealthy lack of skepticism.
3.5.2007 12:58pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
davidbernstein,

Why do incentives matter?

Incentives matter because people think they do. That is, an incentive is an incentive because they provide some sort of psychological satisfaction.

If x did not care whether they own a Lexus, then providing them with a Lexus is probably not much of an incentive. But if y really really wants a Lexus, then a Lexus is an incentive. Whether providing a Lexus is an incentive and how much of an incentive it is depends on the subjective evaluation of x or y respectively.

The point is, it is one's beliefs about the value of a Lexus that makes it into a incentive. Thus, it is false to say that beliefs are irrelevant to incentives. What makes different people get up every day is going to differ.

There are such things as objective incentives. For example, basic food, basic shelter, basic clothing, and basic necessities. However, when it comes to an administrative agency, these are not the sorts of incentives that matter. Practically no one goes to an objectively desperate situation into the position of running an administrative agency. Thus, for the relevant subpopulation, incentives are subjective. That is, a function of subjective values. Do you value a Lexus or do you not? Some people could care less.

Having established that incentives themselves are a matter of belief, it seems pretty clear that beliefs matter. Given that beliefs matter, we should not be suprised that libertarian ideology or other ideologies might interfere with the ability to run an agency. If the agency fails, one will probably think, "It is not my fault. The agency was systematically doomed to fail anyway." Given this psychological out, one is less likely to do as much to prevent what you think is destined anyway.

By the way, do you think John Roberts left private practice for the same sorts of incentives that get people in marketing to make commercials? John Roberts left private practice and a lot of money behind to be on the Supreme Court. Clearly, another Lexus was not the sort of "incentive" that John Roberts was looking for. Instead, he was looking to advance his beliefs, whether about substantive law or about the proper role of the judiciary. And for that matter, do you think that everyone in marketing goes into it for money? It pays the bills AND allows you to be creative. Some might do it even if it paid much less. Based on their beliefs, values, and what is important to them.

There is no denying that incentives are important. But, incentives are also complicated.

Because libertarians do not have the right psychological incentives, they are likely to fail at running a government agency.

Imagine being a libertarian who runs a government agency so well, that the politicians decide to expand the role of government. That sounds like an ideological wound, to say the least. Now imagine running an agency so horribly, that the politicians decide to decrease the size of government. Well, that is not so bad. It certainly does not challenge one's ideology.
3.5.2007 1:03pm
Steve:
If the Republicans' problem is often an unhealthy skepticism toward government, then the Democrats' problem is often an unhealthy lack of skepticism.

There's a lot of truth to this. However, I think Clinton embodied a new paradigm, in that he was willing to discard or cut back on programs that weren't working. I can't think of any Republican parallels to Clinton offhand, though; the GOP's new paradigm seems to be a mess.
3.5.2007 1:08pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
davidbernstein basically concedes the point:
Oh, and what donaldk2 said. You wouldn't catch me going near a political appointment to run a government agency.

Why is that? Because this sort of work does not provide the sorts of rewards that you are looking for? Because running a government agency clashes with your belief systems? Even if running a government agency paid more than your salary as a GMU law professor?

Unfortunately, there are libertarians and anti-government conservatives who (1) are not as principled and (2) may not have as attractive of alternatives. They would take the job. But lack the appropriate incentives to do the job well.

By the way, in a hypothetical world where your alternatives were either (1) run a government agency or (2) live in poverty in Cuba, I think it is likely you might bite the bullet and run the government agency. Which is to illustrate that it is possible to get libertarians to run government agencies, when their alternatives are not attractive. Or their ideology is not as strong.

The thesis that anti-government types, whether libertarian or conservative, are likely to be ineffective running government agencies seems pretty strong at this point.
3.5.2007 1:10pm
Byomtov (mail):
Even someone who doesn't believe in a program will run it will if he thinks it's in his interest to do so

Only if he's capable of running it well.

Suppose the person appointing someone to run an agency doesn't think the agency can ever do a good job, just because it's a govt agency. Then the appointer isn't going to care how competent the appointee is, because from the appointer's perspective it doesn't matter. So just do someone a favor and don't worry about it. So you get Michael Brown.
3.5.2007 1:10pm
Thief (mail) (www):

Yes. This is obviously true. Conservatives outnumber libertarians. Nonetheless, libertarians and conservatives tend to share the same anti-government rhetoric.


Not exactly. Libertarians say "government is always bad, no matter who's in charge," Conservatives say "government is bad because we're not in charge." Subtle, but meaningful difference.


This is deceptive. It ignores increases in military spending and homeland security spending, which are the sources of largest increases in discretionary spending.


You're forgetting entitlement spending. Such as the $550 billion for Medicare Part D... a lowball estimate.


The claim is that having someone in charge of government program with an antipathy towards is a sufficient for failure, or alternatively is a strong factor that makes failure much more probable.


Well, if neither those who believe nor those who disbelieve in government can get it to work, then what should that tell you about government?
3.5.2007 1:13pm
MnZ (mail):

Imagine being a libertarian who runs a government agency so well, that the politicians decide to expand the role of government. That sounds like an ideological wound, to say the least.


Hmmm...or could the successful libertarian administrator use his credibility say the following? "I was able to do well here because the program was narrowly defined. A more broadly defined program would do poorly in the new areas while neglecting the old areas in which we did well."
3.5.2007 1:16pm
Goober (mail):
Sheesh. As long as the standard of rigorous proof is a couple of anecdotal examples, I pick former FEMA directors James Lee Witt and Michael Brown. Believing that government can work makes it work. QED.

Somewhat more seriously: Prof. Bernstein predictably misses the point. The idea isn't that all libertarians intrinsically aren't any good at governance, but that a certain type of rightist thinking is highly correlated with poor governance. Specifically, conservative politicians who believe that government never works, and that the only function of government programs is wealth transfer and incumbency protection, rather than the public justifications put forward for those programs, are likely to view government programs merely as excuses for patronage. The fact that this outcome betrays the normative aims of libertarianism doesn't stop it from relying on libertarianism's positive descriptions of government.

The most available example of this is the Bush Administration (I'm sure there are others but I have billable hours to attend to), which appears to view the federal government as having no real purpose more dignified than regulating stem cell research or preventing family members from making end-of-life decisions and thereby appeal to the cultural right of the electorate. And what you get when you start out with this perspective is a federal bureaucracy staffed with ideological and party loyalists rather than technocrats actually interested in doing the people's work.

Contrariwise, if you start out with the Clintonian third-way perspective, you're likely to get government programs that actually do work and get them administered by bureaucrats who are interested in making them work.

But point taken, Prof. Bernstein: Karl Rove isn't a libertarian, and what about the kibbutzim, after all.
3.5.2007 1:16pm
Justin (mail):
"Oh, and what donaldk2 said. You wouldn't catch me going near a political appointment to run a government agency."

Okay, maybe you, but to argue this point in general, you probably need more than your own assertion that you'd reject a job you haven't been offered. Under the same premise, people who didn't believe in regulation wouldn't become government regulators. However,

"By May 2004 Bush had appointed over 100 former lobbyists and company lawyers to head agencies that regulate industry and the environment." Don Monkerud, The Environment Burns While Bush FIiddles, Z Magazine Online.

http://zmagsite.zmag.org/JulAug2006/monkerudpr0706.html

"[FDA General Counsel Daniel E.] Troy is one of more than 100 high-level officials under Bush who helped govern industries they once represented as lobbyists, lawyers or company advocates, a Denver Post analysis shows.

In at least 20 cases, those former industry advocates have helped their agencies write, shape or push for policy shifts that benefit their former industries. They knew which changes to make because they had pushed for them as industry advocates. Anne C. Mulkern, When Advocates Become Regulators, Denver Post.

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0523-02.htm

Now, granted, there are at least theoretical differences between managers and regulators. But there's no reason to believe those differences are relevant. Furthermore, many of these people mentioned are managers - Thomas A. Scully's job is definitely management of a public program(head of the Centers for Medicare &Medicare Services), as is the management of J. Steven Griles at the Interior Department.

Furthermore, when you're willing to appoing people like Michael Brown to run FEMA (perhaps because nobody else that you're willing to appoint - that is, republican contributors and ideologues, is interested in the job for the reasons you mention) and then you get management failure for *that* reason, wouldn't the same argument apply?
3.5.2007 1:18pm
neurodoc:
DB: "Even someone who doesn't believe in a program will run it will (sic) if he thinks it's in his interest to do so..." (emphasis added)

I don't highlight this to call attention to the un-PC use of the masculine forms (they/their would be unobectionable, she/hers PC); I highlight it because of the shocking, at least to me, notion that to see a government program run well we should hand it over to someone who "thinks it's in his interest to do so." Public service is in truth only public in the sense that one's employer is the public at large, not in the sense that one has committed themselves to work in the public interest without consideration of self-interest?!

For various reasons, I try to suppress my liberal latencies, but this thread is bringing them to the surface.

(BTW, kibbutzim did not serve the collective interests of Israeli society, and their inability to keep up in more recent times without subsidies proves it?)
3.5.2007 1:20pm
Justin (mail):
Thief reminds me of an important point (which happens to contradict his position). The fact that this administration is willing to subsidize, or otherwise provide revenue (that we may or may not have) to private companies is not relevant to the fundamental question that John Cole has, which is whether the problem goes back to GOP ideologues who believe that the government cannot MANAGE organizations and programs effectively. In that light, the focus that DB and others have on EXPENDITURES rather than, say, on non-military government jobs or organizations, seems wrong.

Take out the handouts, the subsidies, the tax breaks, the contracting and outsourcing, and the military spending, and I wonder how much is left relative to previous administrations.
3.5.2007 1:22pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Thief,


Not exactly. Libertarians say "government is always bad, no matter who's in charge," Conservatives say "government is bad because we're not in charge." Subtle, but meaningful difference.


I think that conservatives would differ with this mangling of their point of view. Conservatives really do believe in smaller government too. And not just because they aren't running it.

Second. I mentioned the prescription drug benefit in a previous post. At $55 billion a year, that pails in comparison with, for example, the cost of the war in Iraq and increases in Homeland security. All this libertarian bashing of the White House on spending has been unfair. But, should we be suprised that libertarians who distort conservative positions on the issues, also distort the record? I think not.


Well, if neither those who believe nor those who disbelieve in government can get it to work, then what should that tell you about government?


Of course. If people in the USSR who really believed in government (and by the way, were psychopathic paranoid murderers, but that is all beside the point... the thing that matters is that they were for the government) couldn't make it work, then no one can.

This is nothing more than extreme libertarian ideology speaking. Government works and it doesn't work. Depending on context. But like I have said, that is too complicated for small libertarian thinkers to handle. All that nuance. It just is too painful for someone who wants to be able to say either (1) government always good or (2) government always bad. I hate to burst your simplistic libertarian bubble, but that isn't the way the world works.
3.5.2007 1:24pm
Stash:
I think Prof. Bernstein is correct that it is all about incentives. Hence, if a position is framed as a sinecure where performance is unimportant, it is far less likely that an appointee will perform capably. I am from Chicago, where "ghost-payrollers" are a recurring scandal. This is the most extreme example of an incentive system that is primarily geared to political loyalty, as opposed to a commitment to competent government. It is arguable that an administration that views government as generally doing things it should not be doing, but has concluded that it is not in its best interest to reform government to stop the practices, would take the view that it has far more "meaningless" slots to reward the loyal than an administration that believes government participation in these areas is important. My point is that under the Professor's analysis, the focus should be on how a particular set of beliefs affects the incentive structure, rather than how an individual's political outlook affects performance.
3.5.2007 1:31pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
MnZ,

Your just full of wishful thinking. First of all, improving government is not always synonymous with decreasing it. So, already, you are admitting that the libertarian has a bias, and therefore is likely to fail to look at the evidence in a balanced way when making decisions. That is not good.

The appropriate philosophy for running a government agency... pragmatism.

Why? Because you look at the evidence from multiple perspectives and you don't discard evidence irrationally because you don't like the answer.

Libertarians or small government conservatives running government agencies is bad news.
3.5.2007 1:35pm
MnZ (mail):

I am from Chicago, where "ghost-payrollers" are a recurring scandal. This is the most extreme example of an incentive system that is primarily geared to political loyalty, as opposed to a commitment to competent government.


Actually, a commitment to competent government and hiring based on political loyalty are not mutually exclusive. However, they are very expensive when done together
3.5.2007 1:42pm
Stash:
"Actually, a commitment to competent government and hiring based on political loyalty are not mutually exclusive. However, they are very expensive when done together."

Absolutely correct, or our system would be hopeless. The question is what the incentives there are to perform. If it is clear that one does not need to show up, metaphorically or literally, one can expect less competent performance.
3.5.2007 1:48pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
MnZ,


Actually, a commitment to competent government and hiring based on political loyalty are not mutually exclusive. However, they are very expensive when done together


Which means they are mutually exclusive, because a competant government is an efficient government.

I think the argument that these are not mutually exclusive exists when there are more willing and competant candidates for jobs than positions available. Then, choosing a willing and competant candidate that also happens to be a political supporter is not inefficient.
3.5.2007 1:50pm
Thief (mail) (www):

I think that conservatives would differ with this mangling of their point of view. Conservatives really do believe in smaller government too. And not just because they aren't running it.


They say that... and then they get into positions of influence and government, and it's like they've gotten a hold of Sauron's Ring. At first they say, "well, government isn't quite so bad," then it's "see, it's doing some good things," then it's "government is always a force for good." (Remember "Compassionate Conservatism?")


Second. I mentioned the prescription drug benefit in a previous post. At $55 billion a year, that pails in comparison with, for example, the cost of the war in Iraq and increases in Homeland security.


Add on No Child Left Behind. And steel subsidies. And agricultural subsidies. And earmarked/pork-barrel spending. $1 Billion here, $2 Billion here, and pretty soon you're talking about real money. And this has nothing to do with conservative or liberal. Everyone does it. That doesn't make it right.


This is nothing more than extreme libertarian ideology speaking. Government works and it doesn't work. Depending on context.


It's more likely that government would work better if it wasn't expected to be and do everything and satisfy every whim of society. Government is good at commanding, controlling, compelling, and coercing. (Name the government agencies you trust most, I guarantee you that these are their jobs.)

Quite frankly, government sucks at caring. People care. Government doesn't. It's simply too big to notice the average person, and incapable of applying anything but the most rudimentary, mechanical levels of common sense when dealing with edge cases. And when government is made to take care of people, the actual care of the people always takes second place to maintaining and expanding the power and prerogatives of the government agencies designed to care, and the bureaucrats running them, even when it's about government taking care of its own (cf. the recent Walter Reed flap.)
3.5.2007 1:52pm
MnZ (mail):
Viscus,

First, my example was not about decreasing government rather it was about limiting the expansion of government.

Secondly, I really don't see why liberal administrators would a priori be any better than libertarian and small government conservatives. Liberal administrators have a bias toward increasing the size a government. This potentially causes at least two problems. First, liberal adminstrators are inclined to blame failure on a lack of funding rather than their own administrative failings and/or the ill-concieved nature of the government program. Second, liberal administrators would be inclined to expand their programs reach into new areas at the expense of their primary charge. In both cases, the selfish interest and ideology of the liberal administrator coincide.
3.5.2007 2:02pm
A.C.:
Let's define some terms here. I assume that even the libertarians here think we need courts, so can we take them out of the "government" category for purposes of this discussion? Same with a legislature of some kind and some sort of overall executive, plus modest staffs for all of the above. Then there's the military, which presents its own unique set of problems.

What's really being discussed here is the "fourth branch," the big administrative agencies run by political appointees. And those are such a mixed bag that I'm not sure we can generalize about them. Some aren't all that controversial, and they seem to end up run by technocrats regardless of administration. Some, however, end up in the ideological cross-hairs of one side or the other.

I'm not sure if the competence of administrators is the main problem in such agencies. My experience is that the FACT of being pulled this way and that, getting reorganized every few years and having all kinds of projects cancelled before they are done, is far more important than whether the politician at the top believes in a given conception of the organization's mission. Nobody (and by that I mean the career staff) can do good work when that is going on. And I say that regardless of whether the "pull" is towards my preferred policy or away from it. The worst of all worlds is never being able to finish ANYTHING.

And then there are things that the federal government probably shouldn't be messing with at all, but that's another matter. Not being able to finish anything might be a plus in an agency with an assignment like that, but I've never worked in one. What I've seen has been competition among different objectives within a broad policy area.
3.5.2007 2:11pm
BobNSF (mail):

the GOP's new paradigm seems to be a mess


Yes, and it costs four dimes and doesn't work as well as when it cost two...
3.5.2007 2:36pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Let me propose another way of thinking about the problem: The government as cash cow. Clearly the Bush-Cheney crowd have treated the US Treasury as their cash cow, to give out fat contracts to their friends and allies. Their ingrained Norquistism leads them to conclude that the money would be wasted anyhow, so might as well give it out to people like them and there is no need to check if the job was done.

On the other hand we got Marion Berryism, where the cash goes in the form of jobs to friends, but the salaries are the thing, and no one cares if the job is done. Two seemingly disparte attitudes that have the same result...disaster.

An interesting contrast is the situation forever in Chicago where jobs are given out as favors, but city services are delivered, or the situation in the Clinton administration, where the major outsourcing started, but performance was enforced. Note how this can rapidly morph into cash cowism when the wrong people are elected.
3.5.2007 2:45pm
CJColucci:
Fair point. Let's look at the incentives that might motivate "nonbelievers." Nonbelievers might well believe that the government shouldn't be doing what they have been put in charge of doing. They may, therefore, decide to cut back on enforcing laws they don't believe should have been enacted -- the incentive being a prestigious position, a not very strenuous job, and the opportunity to become a hero to fellow non-believers. They may well be utterly cynical and use the program they are in charge of as a source of patronage, the incentives for which are, I trust, obvious enough. They may come from an industry particularly concerned with what the agency does, or that contracts to perform services the agency oversees, and have an obvious interest in feathering their own future nests. There's an incentive for you. None of these is an incentive to do a "good" job, at least good in the sense of efficiently carrying out the agency's mission. But they are very good incentives to want these jobs, and, often, incentives to do a "bad" job.
Other than pride in one's work, whatever it may be, what is the comparable incentive for a nonbeliever to do a "good" job at a job he doesn't believe ought to be done?
3.5.2007 2:45pm
Brett:
An observation, quite tangential to the ongoing conversation: I find it hilarious that so many in this thread seem to believe that this:

Contrariwise, if you start out with the Clintonian third-way perspective, you're likely to get government programs that actually do work and get them administered by bureaucrats who are interested in making them work.


is true. Government programs during the Clinton administration worked? Really? By what definition? I suppose one might argue that some programs worked better than they currently do under Bush, but that's setting the bar mighty low.
3.5.2007 3:35pm
SP:
None of Bernstein's critics have bothered to address the point that Bush is appointing people for patronage, not because they believe in government or don't believe in it. So "QED" all you want, but the reason "Brownie" got the job was because he was a friend of a friend, not because he met an ideological test. This does not reflect on conservatism as a philosophy but on Bush being a boob.
3.5.2007 3:36pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
In fact, ideologues of any stripe tend to make bad leaders, because they put ideology in front of actual facts.

Kevin,

I don't see a lot of historical evidence of this. It strikes me that the possession of firm ideas makes a leader more successful (as a leader) since he is more likely to attract followers than some weedy pragmatist who has no idea in advance where he's going.

"A man who believes something is ready and witty, because he has all his weapons about him. He can apply his test in an instant." Chesterton - Heritics

I don't know why the "study of ideas", ideology, has such a negative rep with some. The posession of an ideology is matter of efficiency. You don't have to formulate your own positions on vector control districts, the UN Space Treaty, antidisestablishmentarianism, representational vs nonrepresentational art, unitarianism vs trinitarianism, the filioque controversy, punctured equilibrium, etc.

It would be an awful lot of work without a set of ideologies.
3.5.2007 3:36pm
ed o:
Chicago-how are the public schools doing there in terms of the delivery of services? any budgetary overruns occurring on things like Millenium Park? all the books balancing financially? any "affirmative action" dollars going to white owned businesses? living in Illinois, I have a hard time keeping a straight face when I read such posts.
3.5.2007 3:43pm
Byomtov (mail):
the reason "Brownie" got the job was because he was a friend of a friend, not because he met an ideological test. This does not reflect on conservatism as a philosophy but on Bush being a boob.

Please see my 1:10 comment. I think it is plausible that someone who doesn't think the govt is ever going to do a good job is more likely to select unqualified appointees.
3.5.2007 3:47pm
Seerak (mail):
If one were to suggest that perpetual motion machines don't work because so far because of the lack of belief in them, they'd be laughed out of any serious discussion.

How is this any different?

David B. writes: "A common belief among folks on the economic left is that good intentions lead to good results".

Correct. The underlying premise that leads to this, to be specific, is the lack of belief in objective reality. Here is my favourite illustration:

Imagine that two people want, in all sincerity, to make ice cream.

The first person, we'll call him Aristotle, uses milk, sugar, cream, and vanilla. He uses those ingredients because he first chose to observe what ice cream was, i.e. he learned about its nature and that of its constituents.

The second person, we'll call him Immanuel, chose to use charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur. He did so because he thought it was his intentions that mattered. What do you suppose he ended up with? Gunpowder!

If objective reality is morally relevant, Immanuel is still *responsible* for his failure and its explosive results, regardless of what he meant to do. We would rightly hold him responsible for wishful thinking and for ignoring the facts.

Why don't we do the same for the Left? Their ideas invariably result in the same disasters over time, to the degree of consistency with which they are tried, and yet every time disaster results, they pass it off as a failure of implementation, not a flaw in the very concept? E.g. "Soviet Russia failed because it never implemented 'real' Marxism", or the failure of socialized medicine in Canada/Tennessee is Canada/Tennessee's fault, or Immanuel's failure to get ice cream out of sulfur and charcoal is somehow due to an error in how he mixed them... or a lack of "belief" (he didn't really want ice cream bad enough).

How many more times must socialism, on any scale, be tried before we realize that the very concept is unworkable -- and immoral?
3.5.2007 4:00pm
Justin (mail):
"This does not reflect on conservatism as a philosophy but on Bush being a boob."

Accepting your argument, that wouldn't do much for DB's argument that Walter Reed, ran by Bush the boob, is proof that government health care is ineffective.
3.5.2007 4:35pm
Mark A. Flacy (mail):
Sweet Jesus, the entire lot of you aren't arguing about the important point.

There's a gigantic Federal bureaucracy whose sole purpose in life is to provide professional and competent execution of federal government policies. It isn't easy to get rid of those guys and gals.

Where the devil are they? Why aren't they doing their bloody jobs?
3.5.2007 4:41pm
ed o:
we have, in this country and in the world, people who will blind themselves to the moral and fiscal corruption of the UN because of some fantasy as to the idealistic nature of the institution. the ideal UN would solve the problems of the world, therefore I cannot criticize or otherwise recognize the warts of the real world one. they really really believe in the UN. yet the UN remains the same old corrupt and unsound institution despite having folks who believe in it. how is this possible with the premise being batted around here?
3.5.2007 4:41pm
Randy R. (mail):
Examples: The SEC has been hobbled throughout this administration due to a lack of resources and lack of management at the top. The senior officials don't like the fact that the SEC is the nation's top agency for regulating Wall Street, and hence they don't do much at all.

This is why it was left to the various state attorneys general to enforce securities law, particularly Eliot Spitzer in New York. He is now the governor.

This is probably the best example of putting people in charge of an agency that they think shouldn't do much. However, the same can be said of tose fellows who came from industry to regulate the environmental practices of their former bosses. I don't recall the specifics, but they certainly didn't vigoursly inforce the law.
3.5.2007 4:43pm
Nate F (www):
"How many more times must socialism, on any scale, be tried before we realize that the very concept is unworkable -- and immoral?"

Yes, what a disaster socialized medical insurance has been in virtually all of Western Europe. *Eye roll*.
3.5.2007 4:45pm
CJColucci:
The posession of an ideology is matter of efficiency. You don't have to formulate your own positions on vector control districts, the UN Space Treaty, antidisestablishmentarianism, representational vs nonrepresentational art, unitarianism vs trinitarianism, the filioque controversy, punctured equilibrium, etc.

All of that presupposes that you need to "formulate . . . positions" on any or all of the above, and that this "need" is so pressing that you must satisfy it even at the cost of basing your position on some over-arching "ideology" that probably is next to useless for the purpose. Representational v. non-representational art: you like it or you don't. There's no disputing matters of taste. If you want to say something more than "I do/don't like it" and want what you say to be considered worth hearing, you don't need an "ideology," you need to have some understanding of art. "Punctured [sic] equilibrium": if you're not a biologist, you have no business having a "position" on it. You may know as an educated reader that this is a theory some biologists endorse but is a matter of professional controversy, and if so, good for you, but unless you're a biologist (or something close), nothing you think you have to say on the subject is worth a damn, whatever your ideology. The two religious concepts: you can know historically what the controversy is about, but as far as taking a position goes, you have two choices -- believe what your particular religious sect (or the one you move to) believes or recognize that there is no ascertainable truth of the matter and move on. Creed may help you formulate a position if you feel the need, but ideology doesn't.
Some things can't be carried on a 3x5 card.
3.5.2007 4:47pm
...Max... (mail):
What, 50-odd messages on such a topic and this quote did not appear??

"Democrats are the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it"

[P.J. O'Rourke]
3.5.2007 5:15pm
Lior:
Re: Kibbutzim

In fact, communes are highly successful operations as long the members are all volunteers. The reason the Kibbutz movement is in deep troubles right now is that, unlike the founders, second and third-generation members did not join because they believed in the principles, at which point the edifice crumbles.

Re: Who should be running the government

I think capable people who don't believe in government should be our first choice for people to run the government. Such people are more likely to restrict government to the things it needs to do.

As far as I can tell, most of the republican party fervently believes that the US Federal Government is solution to all evils (in no particular order consider NCLB, Medicare, the on the war on drugs, banning on-line gambling, bringing democracy to Iraq, giving a specific federal court jurisdiction over specific claims relating to a specific person etc).
3.5.2007 5:16pm
Randy R. (mail):
And in addition, Republicans believe that the federal government can help your marriage, encourage chastity among unmarrieds and can shove gays back into their closets.
3.5.2007 5:37pm
SP:
"Please see my 1:10 comment. I think it is plausible that someone who doesn't think the govt is ever going to do a good job is more likely to select unqualified appointees."

Maybe, but does it make sense in this context? FEMA has a budget that is going to be spent anyway. And Lord knows politicians love votes - one reason Bush implemented that stupid drug plan. So, does it really make sense to have a leader appoint an incompetent person simply because he dislikes government, when the office in question is basically the photo opportunity kind of office you would WANT to have a competent person in charge of? It is not like anyone is going to vote for Bush based on a pledge to kill FEMA. Department of Education? Maybe, but then Bush actually flirted with significantly increasing that Department's budget.

As you well know, the actually truth isn't that Bush and Cheney were sitting around thinking of what idiots they knew that they could appoint to drive every agency into the ground. The truth is, someone knew someone and Bush to return a favor appointed this clown. I suspect Bush spent all of two minutes on the decision.

I'd add that Kathleen Blanco is - gasp - a Democrat and didn't exactly acquit herself well, in part because she wanted to be the one to look "responsible." An ideology of government had nothing to do with her rationale.
3.5.2007 5:38pm
SP:
"Accepting your argument, that wouldn't do much for DB's argument that Walter Reed, ran by Bush the boob, is proof that government health care is ineffective."

How many people at Walter Reed did Bush appoint? Maybe two? Most are military personnel and doctors. So, yes, it would concern me that lifetime civil servants apparently can't run a damn hospital.
3.5.2007 5:40pm
Justin (mail):
SP,

Assumedly, George W. Bush, or his appointees, appointed the people in charge of Walter Reed. If that's not true, then I'd be interested to see that.
3.5.2007 5:50pm
Centrist:
SP:

How many people at Walter Reed did Bush appoint? Maybe two? Most are military personnel and doctors. So, yes, it would concern me that lifetime civil servants apparently can't run a damn hospital.

I guess you missed the part of the story that included lots of long-term employees leaving a year ago after the gov't awarded a juicy contract to manage the facilities to a company run by some ex-Halliburton execs.
3.5.2007 5:54pm
MnZ (mail):

I guess you missed the part of the story that included lots of long-term employees leaving a year ago after the gov't awarded a juicy contract to manage the facilities to a company run by some ex-Halliburton execs.


So the problems at Walter Reed did not begin until a year ago?
3.5.2007 6:23pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
There's a gigantic Federal bureaucracy whose sole purpose in life is to provide professional and competent execution of federal government policies. It isn't easy to get rid of those guys and gals.

Where the devil are they? Why aren't they doing their bloody jobs?
Probably a better description is that there is gigantic federal bureaucracy whose primary purpose in life is to grow and provide security for those so employed.
How many people at Walter Reed did Bush appoint? Maybe two? Most are military personnel and doctors. So, yes, it would concern me that lifetime civil servants apparently can't run a damn hospital.
Why do you think he even appointed one of them?
Assumedly, George W. Bush, or his appointees, appointed the people in charge of Walter Reed. If that's not true, then I'd be interested to see that.
Ok, maybe, just maybe, the Pentagon, under Rumsfeld et al. had a say in appointing the general in charge, who has since been removed. One of hundreds, if not thousands, of similar appointments. Remember, the guys at the top there were not political appointees, but rather possibly put into that position indirectly by political appointees. And everyone below that? The Administration had essentially zero influence on their appointments. Indeed, many, if not most, were already there, and will be there when Bush leaves office. That is how our government works - the vast, vast, majority of the employees are at one location administration after administration, often through their entire careers. DOD at least rotates most of its uniformed personel. The civilian employees? Forget it. And just try to fire one of them.
3.5.2007 6:51pm
Steve Reuland (www):
This basically sums things up, I think:

When DiIulio would raise objections to killing programs—like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax credit for the poorest Americans, hailed by policy analysts on both sides of the aisle, that contributed to the success of welfare reform—he found he was often arguing with libertarians who didn't know the basic functions of major federal programs. As a senior White House adviser and admirer of DiIulio's recently said to me, "You have to understand, this administration is further to the right than much of the public understands. The view of many people [in the White House] is that the best government can do is simply do no harm, that it never is an agent for positive change. If that's your position, why bother to understand what programs actually do?"


It's one thing when liberals say that anti-government sentiment is causing the Bush administration to govern incompetently. It's something else entirely when a senior White House adviser says it.
3.5.2007 6:52pm
SAO (mail):
Hey David,

Didn't you just make a glaryingly obvious error in your last attack on "statist" economies? You'd think it might be in good form to go back and correct yourself before spouting off again.
3.5.2007 7:24pm
Malvolio:
The appropriate philosophy for running a government agency... pragmatism.
I love pragmatists. They are economic equivalents of breathatarians: you'd really like them to try to apply their philosophy just so you could watch, but they are never quite stupid enough to try.

What would be the pragmatic, non-ideological way to run, say, the FBI? Clearly, respect no law or principle that says in the way of arresting criminals. Miranda restrictions, Fourth-Amendment protections, all that crap? Unrealistic, ideological clap-trap.

What would be pragmatic health-care? A rigid triage system. Minor injuries are ignored, more serious ones treated, and very serious ones, palliated. Infanticide and euthanasia are very cost-effective. Anything else is woolly-minded ideology.

I could go on, but I think my point is clear: pragmatism (like its more rigorous cousin utilitarianism) tries to achieve "good" results by throwing away any meaningful definition of the word "good". A "pragmatic" FBI (that is oppressive and intrusive) or a "pragmatic" health-care system (that leaves expensive individuals to die) would be bad not because it would necessarily fail to achieve its own mission, but because it conflicts with our ideologically defined, but dearly held, values.

Fortunately, pragmatism tends to fail even by its own standards. Does anybody actually believe that the Clinton-era departments were well administered? Not, I would think, anyone who remembers Waco, the Cole, Elian Gonzalez, or Ira Magaziner. Maybe Clinton wasn't that pragmatic after all. I guess pragmatism, like Christianity, has never failed because it has never been tried.
3.5.2007 7:50pm
Byomtov (mail):
As you well know, the actually truth isn't that Bush and Cheney were sitting around thinking of what idiots they knew that they could appoint to drive every agency into the ground. The truth is, someone knew someone and Bush to return a favor appointed this clown. I suspect Bush spent all of two minutes on the decision.

Yes. I think that's right, and that illustrates my point. I don't claim that there was an effort to appoint incompetents, just that no thought was given to the importance of the job. Suppose Bush had spent more than two minutes on the appointment. Maybe he would have thought, "FEMA is not the biggest agency around, but when it's needed, in the case of natural disaster or the like, it's really important that function well. There will be lives at stake. I'd better get someone good in there."

But he didn't think that. Why? Just possibly because he didn't think about the job of the agency, or that govt would have an important role to play in responding to disaster. In other words, he didn't think that a government agency was important or useful for what it was supposed to do. He saw it only as a place to stick someone as a political favor. When the President is as cynical about the role of govt as that, the quality of his appointments will not be high.
3.5.2007 8:00pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Malvolio: you have defined "pragmatism" into something it isn't. Pragmatism, according to Webster's definition, is "a practical approach to problems and affairs."

Nothing in the definition says that a pragmatist cannot operate according to rules that are already in place, which is what you posit when you give the example of a pragmatic FBI agent who ignores the Constitutional and statutory restrictions on his or her job to get the bad guy.

A pragmatic FEMA director, for example, might look at whether it would be cheaper and more cost effective for the US government to house Hurricane Katrina victims in hotels or in mobile homes. A knee-jerk anti-government ideologue, or one looking to favor cronyism and reward political friends, might buy the mobile homes to avoid spending money on "subsidize housing," without looking into which saves taxpayer money in the long-run.
3.5.2007 8:54pm
juris_imprudent (mail):

Because libertarians do not have the right psychological incentives, they are likely to fail at running a government agency.

Could someone please provide the name of the libertarian that has been running ANY federal agency at ANY time the past 7 years?
3.5.2007 10:03pm
juris_imprudent (mail):

I think it is plausible that someone who doesn't think the govt is ever going to do a good job is more likely to select unqualified appointees.

Eh, and what exactly were Bush's libertarian creds going in? I remember him making a lot of noise about "compassionate" conservative, not small-govt conservative. Libertarians used to feel some kinship with small-govt Republicans - there just don't seem to be many of the latter around these days.
3.5.2007 10:08pm
Wild Pegasus (mail) (www):
The leftist trope that a free-spending, war-mongering, liberties-hating shithead like Bush is some sort of libertarian ideologue is a riot.

Bush loves the state. His cronies and advisors love the state. He comes from a family that made its bones (heh heh) through the state. He is a scion of the elite political class, the people who profit from the state. In no universe does he hate the state or wish to dismantle it.

Bush may be a bad manager of government, but that's not traceable to a hatred of the state, because, frankly, he loves it. The more sensible reason he's terrible is that he and his advisors don't understand the fable of the goose and the golden egg.

- Josh
3.5.2007 10:15pm
K Parker (mail):
Eli,
Clearly the Bush-Cheney crowd have treated the US Treasury as their cash cow, to give out fat contracts to their friends and allies.
You got some citations for that?
3.5.2007 10:44pm
Malvolio:
Nothing in the definition says that a pragmatist cannot operate according to rules that are already in place, which is what you posit when you give the example of a pragmatic FBI agent who ignores the Constitutional and statutory restrictions on his or her job to get the bad guy.
Well, that's sort of impractical, isn't it? Obviously, if he follows rules that keeps him from, say, beating a confession out of a guy he knows is guilty, that bad guy gets away.
A pragmatic FEMA director, for example, might look at whether it would be cheaper and more cost effective for the US government to house Hurricane Katrina victims in hotels or in mobile homes. A knee-jerk anti-government ideologue [...] might buy the mobile homes to avoid spending money on "subsidize housing," without looking into which saves taxpayer money in the long-run.
It isn't clear (to me) why our theoretical pragmatic civil servant would or should diligently uphold the rule against torturing suspects yet cheerfully discard the one against subsidizing houses. Certainly the arguments for and against seem roughly the same: adherence to a principle versus short-term gain.

Note too, the Mr. Cooke's recommendation in this specific case is wrong, or at least has gone badly wrong in the past. The government of Hong Kong, in response to another disaster (the Chinese Civil War), decided it would be cheaper and more cost effective to ignore its famously libertarian principles and provide subsidized housing to refugees. 50 years later, the government is gone, but housing is still subsidized! Similarly, New York City imposed rent control in response to World War II housing shortages, and 62 years after VE day, rent control still burdens the New York housing market.

So, pragmatism, in those cases, and many others, ends up being pretty impractical. Perhaps, like Communism, we just have to try it one more time.
3.5.2007 10:47pm
therut:
As a physician who has trained in VA hospitals as a Resident. (Ask any of us who have done so and you would probably 95% of the time get the same reply) I find this whole VA Wash. Post story to be HILARIOUS. VA hospitals are an eye opening to what socialized medicine is like. Oh, they are wonderful places to train but most of the care is by Residents and most of the attending physicians are sub par. (NOT ALL). The Staff who are .gov employees sit on their butts and if asked to do something you are probably going to hear with a snear "That is NOT in my job description". Something I have NEVER heard in private practice from anyone. Plus, I had the funding situation explained to me one time. You see you spend every penny your dept. gets every year no matter if you need to or not and you always ask for more funding the next year cause if you do not spend it or do not ask for more your funds may get CUT. Can't have that now can we???? You admit people and keep them hospitalized longer than needed and use the OR for outpatient procedures so you can say you are running the ship at full speed ahead. You should see how some of the money is wasted I mean "spent" on usless crap no one ever uses. This is nothing but a political story. Nothing new here just move on along. LOL. Of coarse it is Bushes fault. The VA hospitals have been run effectively before he came to office. Yea Sure.
3.5.2007 11:24pm
Proud to be a liberal :
But a big part of what was going on at Walter Reed was Rumsfield's decision to close the hospital. Once it was going to be closed, a decision was made that there was no point in spending money for capital improvements.

The question is did it make sense to close Walter Reed while at the same time conducting a war which is resulting in a very large number of severely wounded veterans.

That is a policy decision made by President Bush, Rumsfield, etc.

You cannot close a facility while continuing to admit many more.

Also, there needs to be a plan for what to do with wounded veterans. The care for seriously wounded veterans is going to be expensive, whether it is provided in va hospitals or in private facilities.

Bush's problem is that he wants to cut taxes while running an expensive war that is creating additional long term costs.

The next question is how to provide care after our wounded vets return to their homes in rural areas that lack needed services.

Whatever one's beliefs on government's role, presumably we can all agree that the taxpayers should pay for the costs of high quality care for veterans wounded in service to their country, whether in private or public facilities.
3.5.2007 11:56pm
ambrose (mail):
I hate to confuse you folks with the facts, but Walter Reed is not a VA hospital. It is an Army hospital. The VA is one of the best hospital systems in the world and is a completely different organization. Rand Corporation study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
3.6.2007 4:06am
Justin (mail):
This seems surprisingly on point (from Balloon Juice)

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans—restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .
3.7.2007 9:50am