If I had the right tools . . .

A persistent theme on the left is to compare messy reality to an ideal that Lefty believes should have been. But there is a big problem with the critique. It misses the point that if something is to be done SOMEBODY has to do it. That somebody is government and sometimes it can’t.

There are communications and organizational realities that prevent optimal results in any big organization. Even if we stipulate that everyone is honest and competent (a stretch) there are many things that cannot be accomplished by the methods suggested and some things cannot be accomplished at all - no matter how much we want them.

The strength of the private sector is that it tends to be closer to the problems it needs to solve and can better match revenues with needs and authority with responsibilty. It also has the advantage of NOT having unlimited resources, so business managers know that can't do it all. Those that refuse to take the message go out of business.

The strength of government is that it can marshal the resources of the whole society. This is also its big weakness if it tries to do too much.

Organizational problems prevent government from doing many of the things our liberal brothers and sisters demand. The most obvious are rules based bureaucracies. (Let me hasten to add that big bureaucracy is not limited to government. Any large organization that can isolate itself from market forces is tempted to create a machine bureaucracy. Big U.S. automakers were famous for having done so and they paid the price in the market. The difference for government is that it lives in a political, not a market system and it can impose its costs on society.)

The bureaucratic response to challenges is to hold meetings and make rules. Producing results is desirable, but not necessary for a successful bureaucratic career. Successful bureaucrats are aggressively timid. They will quickly stifle any innovation that might upset the current order. It is easy. Just asking hypothetical questions that involve large risks is enough to frighten most colleagues into backing off.

It is, however, a myth the bureaucracy must be inefficient. Given predictable conditions, they are very effective. But bureaucracies are not innovative and are easily diverted from results to a process or input based mission. And a bureaucracy has a disincentive to solve any problems that might eliminate the need for their jobs.

Government MUST apply bureaucracy and rules to most problems. Private sector managers make decision with less stringent rules because they have a profit motive. The decision criteria are simple: make money = good; lose money = bad; do nothing = find a new job. It doesn't matter how much interest groups claim to love them or what opinion polls say. Government managers can't have the same authority since they spend public money and the results of their decisions are judged politically. Government incentives are just different.

When lefty wants to put government in charge, he envisions a wise and benevolent administrator doing the people's business. What he gets is a bureaucratic organization with its own process rules - made worse by constant political interference and media searching for mistakes. You have a very cautious organization often more interested in avoiding the missteps than solving real world problems. And it gets worse with time as, for example, an agile NASA develops into a crippled NASA.

In other words, the bureaucratic model works when everybody can agree on both the definition of the problem goal. It falls apart when signals are ambiguous or contradictory or in the face of disagreement or discontinuous change. That is why the military bureaucracy is so good at winning wars, but less adept at the complexities of administering peace. That is why the Social Security Administration is so good at getting checks to recipients on the third of every month, but finds it so hard to reform its fundamentals.

So before you ask for government control, ask if a rules-based bureaucracy is the preferred solution. If not, think again. You need to right tools and you have to know when doing nothing is the best solution.

Posted by Jack at September 27, 2005 10:05 AM
Comments
Comment #82159

New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

I heard so many supposedly educated people, including prominent media people, demanding to know why the Federal government was not present in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the storm, busing people out of the Superdome and Convention Center.

Let’s ignore the obvious, and not mention that the Federal government may not enter a situation like that until the State government requests its presence there, and let’s instead focus on the rather obvious question of what buses?

The Federal government does not own and operate any buses, yet, (again) supposedly educated individuals wanted to know why some imaginary Federal buses where not rolling into New Orleans immediately after Katrina passed to evacuate people.

The left relies on the general ignorance of the people to maintain itself alive.

Posted by: Luis Gonzalez at September 27, 2005 11:00 AM
Comment #82163

Jack, once again your criticism of “the Left” is so vague as to be useless — unless you’re actually calling for the privatization of NASA.

To broadly state there are some things private organizations do better than the federal government is guaranteed to elicit a big “Duh” from everyone.

You’re not going to get any argument until you start throwing out specific cases.

Posted by: American Pundit at September 27, 2005 11:16 AM
Comment #82166

It is general. I admit it. The general leftist repsonse is to call for more government involvement. When I oppose this, leftist say it is because I don’t care about the poor or that it is based on ideology. My point is not that government should not do things like fight poverty or help people. My point is that it CAN’T. The organization is not fit for fine tuning. Government can create infrastructure that helps everyone. It cannot tune that down to the individual level. The is why the Interstate system was a success, but why we lost the war on poverty. Governments build roads; poverty depends on individual choices. The tool of big government works for one but not the other.

The bottom line is the liberal call for bigger government to solve fundamental social problem is something they can never have no matter who is in charge. The government can only help create conditions for individuals and firms to prosper. It can’t make them prosper.

Posted by: Jack at September 27, 2005 11:29 AM
Comment #82168

Mr. Gonzalez,

Your “obvious” is inaccurate. President Bush declared a federal State of Emergency in LA and MS on the Saturday before Katrina hit. That declaration gives the government the right to begin mobilizing federal resources to the area immediately. But they didn’t. Why?

Posted by: bdonin at September 27, 2005 11:39 AM
Comment #82170

Ban me? Bwaaa haaa ha ha ha ha ha!!!

Posted by: Matt Johnson at September 27, 2005 11:43 AM
Comment #82171

Ahh… Thanks Jack,

My point is not that government should not do things like fight poverty or help people. My point is that it CAN’T.

Well, you’re just absolutely wrong right there. Social Security and Medicare have kept tens of millions of Americans out of poverty for the last half-century and more.

Next! :)

Posted by: American Pundit at September 27, 2005 11:45 AM
Comment #82172

Speaking of the right tool, why do Republicans think the military is the answer to every problem?

Posted by: American Pundit at September 27, 2005 11:48 AM
Comment #82173

Luis,

The Federal government does not own and operate any buses

What about these kaki-painted buses and trucks?
Are they all in Iraq already? Are only soldiers able to drive them? After all, it’s not like they’re tanks or fighters or ships, one can drive these beasts thru pedals, gear and wheel.
Right?

With such huge military budget, one could hope such vehicules are owned by government.
Or do you mean army is not under government control?

Wait. Maybe it’s the reverse: army control government?

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at September 27, 2005 11:49 AM
Comment #82178

Jack,

I’m a proud lefty, and my response isn’t always “more government.” In fact, I’m very much against more government for the most part. I believe in privatizing anywhere possible.

The difference in ideology I have with much of the Right is this:
- The Right believes that you deregulate and cut out government as much as possible, creating a bigger pie, and to the victor goes the spoils.
- I believe that you should deregulate and cut out government as much as possible, creating a bigger pie FOR EVERYONE, and because that Pie is grown on the backs of EVERYONE that income should be redistributed equitably to those at the bottom.

Please don’t read this to mean that I am in favor of entitlements carte blanche. I believe that there must be accountability to those who receive this redistribution, which is why I would favor things like a higher minimum wage over increased welfare entitlements. Let’s encourage productivity.

Eliminating Bureaucracy means higher pay for everyone due to increased productivity. If you are a productive member of society, you will get an equitable share of the pie. I just don’t happen to think that share is quite equitable right now.

If we gave those at the bottom greater incentive to work and be productive by putting a middle class lifestyle more within their reach, I believe it would greatly reduce many social problems (drugs, single parenthood, etc.) and help promote the culture of success over the culture of despair.

Posted by: Andrew L. at September 27, 2005 12:02 PM
Comment #82182

J. Matel, all your references to Lefty are quite humorous considering Republicans have had control of Congress and the Whitehouse for 5 years and with Republican voter support (evidenced by 2004 elections), this government has grown bureacracy, the size of fed. gov.t, the size of debt and deficits.

You know who loves bigger government, more powerful government, more expensive government? Republicans!!! Their record on this is unmistakeable and they define themselves as opposite the Lefties, ergo, it would appear Republican goals for smaller, more efficient government may very well have to come from Lefties.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 27, 2005 12:16 PM
Comment #82191

AP

Social Security is going bankrupt and so is Medicare, so we have to do something to fix them. I agree that they did work, however, and I take your point. I guess I would refine a little in this sense. These programs began as very targeted and simple. As they expanded, they started to become problems. They were also not trying to change behavior. The old people just needed more money to do what they would have done anyway and what they were going to do was not a problem. The same is not true of the poor that poverty programs are going after.

Another sideline – government poverty reduction programs worked more or less well until the 1960s. I think two things happened then. First, we started to fine tune and try to help individuals differentially (something big G can’t do.) Second, I think that when we got down to about 10-15% poverty we reached a steady state. There will always be some people temporarily in poverty and there are some people whose behaviors keep them there permanently.

Re wars – I don’t advocate fighting wars unless necessary. The Government does a good job of fighting wars, however. It is a big government skill.

David

Using government is tempting. Republicans also succumb. I am not happy about that. But I don’t think we need to jump from the frying pan into the fire.

Andrew

Good points. The problem is one of mechanism. The free market tends to distribute opportunity better than the alternatives. Government is a necessary part of the free market and it should play its regulatory role, but there are some things it can’t do or should I say there are some things it can’t do simultaneously. France and Germany have very strict labor laws and they mandate minimum wages etc. They also tolerate unemployment double that of the U.S. with growth rates half ours. We can work on the mix as long as we recognize the trade offs.

I would also add a clarification. There are roles for different sizes of governments. A smaller government can act more nimbly because it is more affected by market forces. Some American states and whole small countries (like Ireland) have been good at this.

But they have to recognize that no strategy works all the time and sometimes the solutions create problems. Government can persist in error much longer than private firms because it has deep pockets and it has to guard against that.

Posted by: jack at September 27, 2005 12:48 PM
Comment #82192

“If we gave those at the bottom greater incentive to work and be productive ….”

Andrew,
As opposed to? A greater incentive to stay on welfare?
Just increasing min. wage will not do it. People are cut off from the welfare system and government health programs too quickly when they do decide to get a job.
People should be allowed to receive help with food stamps and health care. A single dollar earned over limits can cause one to lose all government benefits.
As their income rises the benefits should be lowered. As it is now, it’s all or nothing. In or out.
Health care should never be taken away unless the job includes health benefits.
How many people DON”T go back to work because they would lose the government health benefits and would never be able to pay for their own AND a part time job OR TWO does not come with benefits?
Instead of just ‘nationalizing’ health care, it should begin in the manner I am describing. From the BOTTOM UP. Not all of us need the governments help with health care. Not all of us should get it.
The same government that helped provide the loopholes for businesses not to provide healthcare insurance DID NOT fill the gap for those of us who would end up without it and have to take the chance that we won’t get a catastrophic illness or have a terrible accident.
The answer is not a National Healthcare System for everyone.

Posted by: dawn at September 27, 2005 1:06 PM
Comment #82201

If I (the right) only had a brain…

It’s amazing how “conservatives” think it’s more important to prevent welfare from getting to the poor and giving tax cuts to the wealthy than it is to than it is to balance the budget or keep our rights to privacy.

Posted by: Dave at September 27, 2005 2:03 PM
Comment #82202
People are cut off from the welfare system and government health programs too quickly when they do decide to get a job.

I agree with this. However, my opinion on it goes even one step further. I don’t believe that ANY of these benifits should be available UNLESS you have a job.

Obviously there are people that are not physically or mentally able to work. I won’t argue that we should take away the benifits of these people. They are the folks for which I believe many of these programs were designed for. I don’t (and I don’t believe that there are many other who do) mind paying taxes to help these folks out. However, there are many who are perfectly capable of helping themselves if given the chance.

For instance, I can completely agree that a single mom that has 3 kids and not much education probably will need some assistance. And honestly, I don’t have any problem giving it to her. But I don’t believe that she should be able to sit at home and watch soaps all day while collecting welfare, food stamps, WIC, Healthcare, etc… Instead, she only gets this help if she is employed. Then, take away the welfare portion of this assistance(it should be replaced by the wages from her job anyway). Then use that welfare money to assist this mom with childcare costs while she is working and also some sort of career training so that she can learn a real skill. Keep the food stamps, WIC, healthcare (if it is not provided by the company she works for) etc until, as Dawn said, she is able to provide fully for herself.

Voila, you have a productive member of society that may actually use their new found self worth and skills to make a better life for themselves and their family.

Or, keep it the same as it is now. That way they can pass their knowledge of how you can do nothing and the government takes care of you anyway on to their kids.

Call me cold or whatever you like but IMO for many (not all) poverty is a social disorder. Change in behavior is all that is needed to correct much of it. And if the “Parent” is going to be the federal government then that “Parent” needs to stop enabling and start helping to correct the problem.

Posted by: BradM at September 27, 2005 2:13 PM
Comment #82203

Today Bush said that he wanted to look into having the military take care of things. Now who’s looking at bigger government?

Posted by: chantico at September 27, 2005 2:27 PM
Comment #82242

Jack,
If I had the right tools is a good title, but like the left, the right misses the point also. Neither the Democrats or Republicans have used the political power of our local, state and/or federal government to do what is in the inherent best interest of All Americans. Instead, they want to get into the “Blame Game.” “I’m right, your wrong. No, I’m right, your wrong” is what you expect from our children, not our elected officials. From Social Security to FEMA’s response to a natural disaster is only the tip of the iceberg on the issues. The Left wanting to have the government control our lives and the Right believing that it is All Men for themselves. However, none of them have presented a workable solution to the problems that America has faced for the last 40 years.

No, your title is a good one, but you failed to show the difference between the bureaucratic problems caused by the Democrats and those of the Republicans. The strength of government is not that it can marshal every resource in our society, but the Leaders we elect to hold the public offices and the vision that they have for America. This “Vision” is what has been lacking from President Bush’s Agenda even before he took office in 2001.

How do we as a society fix poverty? Welfare does not work, Education is a joke, and good paying jobs can not be had be all in the Capitalistic system that we have. So, instead of engaging into a real debate over the issue, both the Democratic and Republican Leadership keep wanting to blame each other and push forward programs that do not get to the root of the problem, yet cost taxpayers billions of their tax dollars. No, Social Security, Poverty, and our National Debt can be solved at the same time without costing a dime. In fact, if it was done correctly All Americans would prosper. For by the very definition of the word poverty is the lack of sufficient resources required to maintain a certain stand of living. Thus, education of how to make money is paramount if our society is going to solve the problem.

However, the Democrats want to appease the Poor in America by offering more and more and the Republicans wants to oppress the Poor in America by keeping wages low, regulating investments, and slowing down the economy to keep unemployment low. Katrina brought this problem back into the media limelight and what has been President Bush’s response? Have our government “B.S.“ so that they can bailout the corporations for their lack of foresight. For example; After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, we knew that buildings and homes built along the coast needed to be built to withstand a Category 5 Hurricane. Yet in 2005, we found out that the Billions of Disaster Relief and Recovery funds spent over the last 13 years in the Gulf States have not produced a single building that could withstand a Category 3 or 4 Hurricane. Why is it that neither a Democrat or Republican said one word about this major problem?

No, before the Republican party can blame the “Left” it needs to make sure its’ own Right Hand is clean. Bureaucratic models only work well on paper, it is up to our Elected Leadership to use the “Common Sense” endowed to them to make the correct decisions at the correct time that makes our government and private sector work.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at September 27, 2005 5:52 PM
Comment #82243

Jack,

A bureaucracy is a bureaucracy - large corporations are just as prone to having huge inflexible organisational structures as government bodies are.

I’m sure anyone who has worked for a huge multinational will testify that the people at the top often make bizarre and seemingly counterproductive decisions the same as Governments do.

Corporations are often just as inflexible and slow to react as Government - just look at how MacDonalds or the large British and US car firms went sleepwalking to their own destruction, and only some of them manage to turn it around.

You have to look at the behaviours of individuals and like-minded groups within the organisational structure - I would say that they are very similar in both cases. People are out for themselves, to increase their own power or wealth, not usually that of the organisation as a whole. They try to push forward their own ideas and dogmas, and their glory is acheived by the acceptance of their ideas generally.

Since no one has 20-20 foresight, some of these ideas will turn out to be right, and some will turn out to be wrong. The people who decided to turn Nokia into a mobile phone manufacturing company, or decided that Apple should start making personal stereos are now very rich. Similarly in Government, two leaders in British history who will go down as great are Margaret Thatcher (even though I don’t think she is, history probably won’t agree with me) and Clement Atlee. Thatcher presided over a decrease in Government and entrenched power, and Atlee massively built Government up (and created the National Health Service in the process).

Change is always painful for large bureaucracies whether public or private, but human nature causes changes to be forced upon people because no one was ever remembered as great who left things exactly as they found them. Since our theoretical knowledge is poor, sometimes we will be right, and sometimes wrong. The day one theory or solution turns out to be right all the time (or even in general) is the day we pack up the polling booths and let a computer “manage” the world.

Erm, I think I’m kind of agreeing with you after all that!

Posted by: Paul at September 27, 2005 6:08 PM
Comment #82252

Luis Gonzalez
The left relies on the general ignorance of the people to maintain itself alive.

How True!

American Pundit
Well, you’re just absolutely wrong right there. Social Security and Medicare have kept tens of millions of Americans out of poverty for the last half-century and more.

Next! :)


Then why does the left keep saying that people on Social Security and Medicare are living in poverty?


Posted by: Ron Brown at September 27, 2005 6:48 PM
Comment #82269

Right on Luis. I agree 100%.

Posted by: steve at September 27, 2005 8:39 PM
Comment #82270

Paul

We probably do agree. I noted private bureaucracies parenthetically. The auto industry was my example.

Bureaucracies work in many cases. They just can’t deal with personalities and individuals who for good or bad reasons won’t follow the rules.

Posted by: jack at September 27, 2005 8:41 PM
Comment #82272

BradM, that’s a ludicrous idea. It is akin to saying to you can only see a doctor if you are healthy. I know this is part of the Republican philosophy, like you can only have a loan if you don’t need it, but, really… By your standard the million put out of work by Katrina should not now receive assistance. Absurd on its face.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 27, 2005 8:50 PM
Comment #82356
The same government that helped provide the loopholes for businesses not to provide healthcare insurance DID NOT fill the gap for those of us who would end up without it and have to take the chance that we won’t get a catastrophic illness or have a terrible accident.

Bravo! Spoken like a true Democrat, dawn! :)

The answer is not a National Healthcare System for everyone.

Of course not. The answer is affordable health care — just as Senator Kerry described it during the campaign.

BTW, if a person has a full-time job, but still needs food stamps and government health care, that’s a big problem. A liveable minimum wage is the answer there.

Posted by: American Pundit at September 28, 2005 9:53 AM
Comment #82381

J. Anthony Matel,

“When lefty wants to put government in charge, he envisions a wise and benevolent administrator doing the people’s business. What he gets is a bureaucratic organization with its own process rules - made worse by constant political interference and media searching for mistakes.”

You give this administration way too much credit.
You really think we have any expectations from the Federal government?
Wise? Benevolent? Doing the business of the people?
You’re joking right?
The media does not have to search hard for mistakes made by the Bush administration.
A horse judge in charge of FEMA?
An lawyer who has fought against environmental policies in charge of the EPA?
Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?
Handing out vaguely written no-bid contracts to the vice presidents “former” company and other friends of the administration?
Appointing Bolton, who hates the U.N to be the voice of America in the U.N.?
A VET in charge of womens health issues at the FDA?
Do you think G.W. takes the twins or his wife to the S.P.C.A for physicals?

Posted by: Andre M. Hernandez at September 28, 2005 11:47 AM
Comment #82408

ANDRE

I actually was not talking about the media looking for mistakes in this administration. Bureaucrats fear all exposure of mistakes. This has not changed during this administration and will not change under the next. It is the nature of the system.

Government is a very specific tool. It works well in lots of place and it does not work in others. This is not about Bush. I studied ancient history. As near as I can tell, ancient Babylonian and Egyptian bureaucrats had pretty much the same incentive system.

Posted by: Jack at September 28, 2005 1:13 PM
Comment #82410
BradM, that’s a ludicrous idea. It is akin to saying to you can only see a doctor if you are healthy. I know this is part of the Republican philosophy, like you can only have a loan if you don’t need it, but, really… By your standard the million put out of work by Katrina should not now receive assistance. Absurd on its face.

David, the absurd idea is continuing to hand out tax payers money perpetually to people that have no intention of ever bettering their own position. Partly because the system makes if difficult to do so and partly because they don’t have the self worth and drive to do it. Help should be available, but it should only suppliment someone who is contributing to the world around them.

Regarding the Hurricane. Apples and oranges… The people that are displaced by the hurricane should get federal assistance to try and rebuild their lives. However, there should be a dollar limit and a time limit. And, people that lost their jobs because of it should be receiving unemployment benefits. Which, in the state that I live in anyway, are temporary and completely different than welfare. Regardless, this is not at all related to my comments above.

I stand by my thoughts. Assist people that need it but don’t forever give handouts that become entitlements to people that refuse to contribute.

Posted by: BradM at September 28, 2005 1:15 PM
Comment #82424

Ha. I might have something to say about “Right Tools”, but then, I’d surely end up breaking the cardinal, time honored WB rule.

Posted by: Adrienne at September 28, 2005 2:01 PM
Comment #82425

BradM said: “Assist people that need it but don’t forever give handouts that become entitlements to people that refuse to contribute.”

I actually agree with this, BradM. Assistance should be temporary, but, it must be coupled with opportunity to independence. What good is it to send a person needing assistance to Antarctica, giving them 3 months of assistance and then saying, OK, your on your own now. There are no jobs, no opportunity to survive and sustain oneself in Antarctica.

Similarly, folks with disabilities (served by Soc. Sec. disability insurance) and Medicare recipients (the bulk of whom are near the end of their life and productive capacity), or locked into neighborhoods with family and friends where no opportunity exists for bettering education or higher paying jobs, are all in need of assistance. Your prescription seems to indicate that they should just die, commit suicide, or emigrate in order to stop being a drain on the society.

Nazi Germany took that reasoning a step further and murdered such folks guaranteeing they would not be a cost to society. Do you not see the consequence of such a belief? And do you not see the potential breeding ground for domestic terrorism or revolution should this society reject those who for whatever reasons, are no longer productive, or sufficiently productive to be independent?

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 28, 2005 2:02 PM
Comment #82494

David

— What good is it to send a person needing assistance to Antarctica, giving them 3 months of assistance and then saying, OK, your on your own now. There are no jobs, no opportunity to survive and sustain oneself in Antarctica. —

This seems to be an argument based on misdirection not facts. Most welfare reform policies that time-limited benefits, were for much longer than 3 mos., and they insisted on enrollees actually doing something to improve their opportunities (job, school, literacy). Finally after that preparation, they were asked to create their own opportunities, something that most functional members of society are capable of doing.

— or locked into neighborhoods with family and friends where no opportunity exists for bettering education or higher paying jobs, are all in need of assistance. Your prescription seems to indicate that they should just die, commit suicide, or emigrate in order to stop being a drain on the society. —

This seems argumentative to the point of being self-defeating. Those that are “locked into neighborhoods with family and friends where no opportunities exist” are there in most cases because of the help that the government provided in the past. This is the entire point of the conversation. That if you continue to help without expectation of some change in behavior or motivation, not only will the person receiving the help not improve, but their legacy will be to prove that change unnecessary.

There have been numerous dissertations written about the cycle of poverty with prescriptions from the left and the right for solving the problem. Few have been implemented until so recently, that there is no honest way to yet measure the efficacy. My bet though is that any that rely on government to create the opportunities will end up back where they start.

Posted by: rob at September 28, 2005 6:22 PM
Comment #82883

Jack,

You would be amazed at how many non-republicans feel the same way about Public Assistance as you do.
This is a situation(Post disaster financial aid) that should have been part of the planning for terrorist attack and natural disaster response preparation. We now know that this administration is very unprepared for any disaster. I’m not going to go into where the billions of dollars for Homeland Security have gone to, so I’ll get back on track.
If the government wants to make changes to the Welfare system that would wean those who have become dependent on it towards independence so be it. Now is not the time though, because you have cases that vary dramatically due to the hurricanes. You have people who have been displaced hundreds of miles from their homes.

Posted by: Andre M. Hernandez at September 30, 2005 1:34 PM
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