And They’re Right

Paco has an image of a Newsweek cover that has Obama as a left-wing Shiva.  He rightfully makes fun of the “it’s too much even for The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived, so America has really become ungovernable,” but I believe that there is a marked portion of truth in the statement.  Not that Obama is The Smartest Man Who Ever lived, or even that America is, as such, “ungovernable,” but the federal government is where GE was 40 years ago.

I’ve written before about how the federal government is like a late-industrial conglomerate.  Companies would reduce risk by expanding into unrelated industries, so you could smooth out bad years in one field by hopefully having a good year in a different field.  The problem here is that the executives lost the ability to put all of the pieces together.  You had people who were pretty good in their own fields, but there weren’t any people who could put it all together.  When the dog food, light bulb, cash register, air conditioning, and brake pedal division chiefs of SuperBigCo got together, they all argued that they needed more funding, and there wasn’t anybody at the top who could make correct, valid decisions on what to do.  As a result, instead of having five separately-funded, independent companies that could all succeed, and far from having spread out your risk, you were actually tethering lots of companies together, so that if you make a mistake in one, you take the whole thing down.  This is why companies which were highly horizontally integrated went out of vogue and into bankruptcy.

The federal government is in this boat.  A modern President is not necessarily supposed to be an expert on everything under federal purview, but is supposed to be able to balance the needs of all of the different divisions under his control.  The thing is, I seriously doubt Obama even knows the names of all of the departments, sub-departments, and sections under which he has authority, much less what they all do and how they are all supposed to operate.  There is absolutely no way that any man could handle everything associated with being a modern President, and that is yet another reason why we see government failure.  Unlike markets, there is no governmental competition and no knowledge aggregation mechanism which allows dispersed individuals to act in a way harmonious with the actions of others.  Instead, the model of government is command and control, so it all depends upon the top knowing enough.  But the top governmental officers don’t know nearly enough to control things effectively.

There is only one way to make America “governable” again, and it doesn’t involve culling ideologies or political parties.  It involves scaling down the federal government.  Let’s start by getting rid of 2/3 of governmental responsibilities, regulatory bodies, departments, and pieces of legislation.  2/3 is a number I pulled out of a hat, but it’s probably a good starting point.  That way, the President and the remainder of his cabinet can focus more effectively on the remainder of the government, thereby being able to make better decisions.  As it stands now, there is simply too much going on for any man.

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4 thoughts on “And They’re Right

  1. Absolutely right. The only other way to make things work would be to give the VP more defacto power — although giving Biden any power at all frightens me more than any other scenario. Even then, I don’t think the presidency is even a two man job, though.

    A few months back, when he was running for President, Ron Paul said he essentially wanted to keep five cabinet posts — State, Defense, Treasury, Education, and a fifth one I can’t remember (Interior?). I agree with that.

    • I kind of liked a wild idea that neither man would have gone for: Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney as President and Vice President. Thompson would be the Idea Man and Romney the day-to-day details manager in that relationship. But still, the core point is that 2 couldn’t do the job, or even a set of 5 or 10 people. The number of people it would take to run an organization of the federal government’s size is large enough that these people could not thereby coordinate their expertise and we end up with exactly the same situation.

      I don’t think Paul would keep Education around. I would keep State, Treasury, War (no playing around with euphemisms here), Justice, and maybe Interior. You could make a case for DHS as well, though I’d change a lot of how they operate and try to scale back some of it. Otherwise, there’s a lot of scope creep going on.

      • Forgot about Justice. The only reason I’d want to keep Education around is to ensure consistent federal funding for higher education. If we have to subsidize something, I’d rather it be education.

        I’d like Thompson and Romney, but neither of them has a foreign policy background, so you’d need an awfully strong SecState, like Zombie John Q. Adams.

  2. Huh, replies only go two layers deep, it seems…

    I was thinking John Bolton for Secretary of State. His mustache alone would cause dozens of nations to cower.

    Subsidies to federal education just mean that prices of federal education rise. It’s “Hey, look the government is giving most students $5000 more a year. Let’s raise tuition by $5000 a year in response!” Higher education has a rather price-inelastic demand due to federal subsidies and educational requirements for most jobs exceeding a high school diploma level. I’d much prefer the federal government entirely out of it. If individual state governments want to do it, that’s a bit of a different story—at least there’d be some more competition and freedom to move to states that had lower taxes but didn’t have the subsidies.

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