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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6939/the-cant-do-government/

The Can’t-Do Government

August 5, 2007 by

On The Washington Post, John McQuaid has determined that the United States is now the can’t-do nation. He starts by mentioning the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis and wonders whether there has “ever been a period in our history when so many American plans and projects have, literally or figuratively, collapsed? In both grand and humble endeavors, the United States can no longer be relied upon to succeed or even muddle through.”

McQuaid then continues to list a number of examples that show that the “United States has become become the superpower that can’t tie its own shoelaces.”

  • Remaking the Middle East
  • Medical care for veterans
  • General foreign policy matters
  • Defense from terrorism
  • Managing natural disasters (Katrina in particular)
  • Health crisis (such as the avian flu)
  • Rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure
  • Intelligence

Does he fail to realize that these are all giant government programs? The can’t-do attitude is symptomatic in politics and not in the market, where they have to do or die, quite literally. The state is not driven by the same incentives and since they can tax and confiscate, they lack the ability to economize and rationally allocate resources.

McQuaid, interesting enough, then claims that

In a sense, big government has failed. The bitter disputes over the Great Society-era programs fractured the nation’s rough political consensus, and the purpose of government itself became a battleground. The ongoing political knife fights cumulatively damaged the government agencies that depend on some insulation from the fray — which is to say, most of them. In the case of the New Orleans levee system, for instance, pressures from state and local agencies and limited money from Congress pushed engineers to relax safety standards and err on the side of cheapness.

And finally, he blames some of the problems on outsourcing: “Outsourcing eliminates incentives to perform well and shields contractors from accountability.”

And the incentive to perform well exists in government? Has it ever existed? And are politicians not shielded? Is McQuaid serious? The government financed the bridges in Minneapolis. Regardless of whether it was built by a “private company” (a questionable name since the funding is public) or directly by a state agency, it’s still another government program. Moreover, politicians, central planners and bureaucrats are generally very well shielded from liability. Even the police has no legal right to protect us and therefore cannot be held guilty of not saving our lives and property.

McQuaid ends his awkward call for accountability not by suggesting that we dismantle that which doesn’t work (oh, the horror that would be!), but instead proposes that we “assemble our national will, power, technical expertise and vision.” In other words, more of the same. More socialism.


Mark Pribonic August 5, 2007 at 11:16 am

Mr. Mcquaid glaringly ignores perhaps the biggest failure of all in recent times; government-run education.

CRC August 5, 2007 at 12:26 pm

I am waiting (actually I think it has already begun) for this latest example of government failure to be used as justification for more government…”We need more money!”…”We need more inspectors!”…”We need more (government) oversight!”…this is why this failure occurred…not ENOUGH government.

RogerM August 5, 2007 at 3:05 pm

Mcquaid seems to think that government failure is a recent problem. Can he name a major government success?

Thomas Dilorenzo details two centuries of government failures in “How Capitalism Saved America.” Many states (Okla. included) have clauses written in their constitutions that forbid the state from engaging in business enterprises. Dilorenzo writes that this happened because Abe Lincoln persuaded the state of Illinois to get involved in business enterprises and bankrupted the state. Several other states followed suit and also failed.

But Mcquaid’s problem is the problem of the majority of citizens: they worship the state. They see working for the government as like entering the priesthood, except that entering the priesthood of the state somehow cleanses one’s motives and increases one’s intelligence and wisdom infinitely. The state is pure and good in all that it attempts, so if it fails, which it almost certainly does at almost everything it tries, it must be someone else’s fault.

Lord help us!

Lester Hunt August 6, 2007 at 2:05 am

I agree with RogerM. The explanation for this strange behavior is that it is really a case of misplace religiosity. Just as a good Catholic does not think of pedophile priests as evidence that the Church is a fundamentally flawed institution, so a good statist does not think of collapsing bridges as ….

TLWP Sam August 6, 2007 at 2:51 am

I think sometimes it’s a humorous thing about the way people have their preferred -ims such that they can fob off any errs of their -ism onto someone else’s. It’s a bit like Homer tipping his rubbish onto poor ol’ Ned Flanders side of the fence. Though it doesn’t usually work too well if you’re not sharing their -ism.

jdavidb August 6, 2007 at 8:47 am

There’s an avian flu crisis? I thought there was just a lot of noise that there was going to be a crisis.

If you are trying to prove something by the existence of this crisis, it would help if you pick a crisis that actually already exists. :)

Meanwhile, I’m astounded at how that extended quote identifies the debate over the purpose of government, then slides right into assuming one side of the debate is correct and says that the debate itself has damaged that correct purpose of government.

Manuel Lora August 6, 2007 at 8:50 am

On a related note, Brad Edmonds writes about the problem with government bridges: http://mises.org/daily/2668

andrew August 6, 2007 at 12:25 pm

“I am waiting (actually I think it has already begun) for this latest example of government failure to be used as justification for more government…”We need more money!”…”We need more inspectors!”…”We need more (government) oversight!”…this is why this failure occurred…not ENOUGH government.”

Seems to me the last paragraph of the article

“The 21st century’s problems — climate change, jihadist terrorism, the dislocations of globalization — are complex. But they are manageable. Can-do America can come back if we can again assemble our national will, power, technical expertise and vision. It will take a while to do so. We should get started.”

is typical of the rhetoric used to call for more government intervention and central planning. McQuaid unfortunately falls into the mindset of associating “we” with the state. Actually Americans have achieved quite a lot in the last generation in the fields of computers, telecommunications, medicine, physics, and many other fields, vastly improving the quality of life. The fact that none of these achievements came via state planning should highlight the inefficiency of massive bureaucracies. I’m not sure McQuaid and others will get the message though.

TokyoTom August 7, 2007 at 3:09 am

Maneul, thanks for this. It is a useful laundry list to throw in the face of Dems who think that big government will be better if THEY have all the reins of power, and are itching to try our the new imperial presidency Bush has been assembling.

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