The Outstater: Why Government Fails
It is good every once in a while to push personalities and ideology out of the way and look at public policy in its purist form. It is bad for the blood pressure to always be imagining little Stalins, Trotskys and Obamas lurking in the back desks of the county planning department (although history tells us they surely are there).
So the work of a favorite analyst, Chris Edwards, is always welcome here. He has a gimlet eye for the misaligned incentive or the good intention gone awry. Most recently, he put down the reasons why government always falls short. Here are the nuggets, applied not just to the federal government but state and local ones as well:
- Government policy relies on top-down planning and coercion. “That tends to create winners and losers, which is unlike the mutually beneficial relationships of markets. It also means that government policies are based on guesswork because there is no price system to guide decision-making. A further problem is that failed policies are not weeded out because they are funded by taxes, which are compulsory and not contingent on performance.”
- Its officials lack knowledge about our complex society. “That ignorance is behind many unintended and harmful side effects of government policies. While markets gather knowledge from the bottom up and are rooted in individual preferences, the government’s actions destroy knowledge and squelch diversity.”
- Legislators act counter to the general public interest. “They use debt, an opaque tax system and other techniques to hide the full costs of programs. Furthermore, they use logrolling to pass harmful policies that do not have broad public support.”
- The bureaucratic system rewards inertia, not the creation of value. “Various reforms over the decades have tried to fix the bureaucracy, but the incentives that generate poor performance are deeply entrenched.”
- Government has grown unmanageable in size and scope. “Each increment of spending has produced less value but rising taxpayer costs. Failure has increased as legislators have become overloaded by the vast array of programs they have created.”
Edwards reminds us that both private enterprise and government bureaucracy fail, but only the government fails more and corrects itself less. He quotes the British economist Paul Ormerod on the point: “Governments of all persuasions appear chronically unable to admit that any single aspect of their policy has failed.”
The result, whether it be in Washington or in Indianapolis, is stifling obstruction of the economy and of the society. It isn’t a matter of following our particular vision of a better world. The fact is that bigger government doesn’t work — for anybody, regardless of personality, religion, race, sex, immigration status, carbon footprint, tattoo placement, ideal weight or ideology.
And that is why, dear friends, we work for public policy that prunes rather than merely reorders, policy that ensures government will be neatly trimmed to the smallest possible size in every place and in every time. — Craig Ladwig