This Explains It
By Arnold Kling
This piece by Brad DeLong helps illuminate his world view. After giving a litany of Katrina-related institutional failures at the local, state, and Federal level, he concludes
we should be surprised. Fema is a bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is designed to keep functioning even when it is headed by a man who was suddenly told by his private-sector bosses to find a new job and whose only qualification is that he is the friend of a friend of the president.
In other words, government at all levels would function perfectly, except that George Bush is President.
With all due respect to DeLong, his views of the bureaucratic process and the role of administration strike me as stunningly childish. He describes a bureaucracy as a well-tuned engine ready to respond to the Presidential throttle. Only someone who has little or no experience working within a large, interdependent organization (a university is large, but professors are fairly autonomous) could have such a naive picture.
If I had DeLong’s simplistic view of organizational behavior, then I probably would share his instincts to enlarge the public sector. Instead, as an empirical matter I believe that we will never any organization, public or private, that operates along the well-tuned engine model.
In fact, the private sector has mechanisms in place to winnow out the worst-tuned bureaucratic engines. Such mechanisms operate less effectively in government.
DeLong and I will tend to disagree on issues as long as he believes that the natural state of government programs is high effectiveness and as long as I believe that their natural state is SNAFU.
UPDATE: Thomas Lipscomb might be describing the DeLong view when he writes,
Those who dream of the perfectibility of human institutions through increasingly, compulsorily collective government will always attack the highest levels of government when it does fail. Republicans and Democrats alike have created huge institutions like the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and now Homeland Security, built on dreams that can never meet the excessive demands placed upon them.