Reforming Government as an Institution
By Arnold Kling
William Galston discusses institutional reforms to make government work more effectively.
the time is ripe to push for new fiscal institutions to engage in a long-overdue rethinking of the rules shaping fiscal decisionmaking, to consolidate certain related government functions within unified bureaucratic structures and undo earlier consolidations that have failed, and to adopt measures aimed at depolarizing American politics, including reforms to the judicial confirmation process and to the congressional redistricting system.
If I think of myself as a customer, I am probably more dissatisfied with the performance of my local, state, and national government than I am with 90 percent of the businesses with which I deal. Why is that?
Fundamentally, I think that the answer lies in the nature of competition. Businesses compete for consumers on the basis of results. Governments are monopolies, and political competition is only loosely related to results. Voice is much less effective than exit.
To improve their performance, corporations often take steps that involve subtraction. They exit some businesses. They forego some markets in order to focus on others. They shut down ineffective divisions, fire ineffective managers, and lay off unneeded workers. Government almost never subtracts.
I am afraid that most people hold childish views of the determinants of organizational performance. They see it as a matter of will, or what I call “sufficient moral authority.” When the electric utility Pepco does not deliver the service they expect, they think in terms of moral outrage rather than economics.
Sadly, some of the most well-educated people in the world are also the most childish. I give Galston credit for trying to start an adult conversation.