Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It is not "Good Government" Reforms that Wrecked the System

No, Megan McArdle, it is not "good government" reforms that have wrecked the political parties and made them dysfunctional. It is the nature of government itself. McArdle writes, bemoaning the way that the Democrats foisted Clinton upon us:
How can we explain this? For one thing, I think Clinton’s candidacy -- like Trump’s candidacy, in its own, very different way -- points to the fatal weakness of the political parties. Decades of “good government” reforms have systematically stripped the power that parties once had: to control money, to control committee assignments, to control how much pork politicians get to brag about to the voters back home. What’s left is a hollow shell that cannot effectively respond to either grassroots insurgencies or to outsize figures who effectively turn the party apparatus to their own ends. If you think, as I do, that parties play a vital role in organizing political action toward coherent goals and long-term accountability, that’s something that should worry you.
Sorry, but I don't think that political parties, strong or weak, are much good at "organizing political action toward coherent goals and long-term accountability." See I don't think that "political action" is much good at anything except fighting enemies in the here and now. And when they do have coherent goals they have no clue about the damage their goals might cause. I don't think that political actors think much beyond fighting the next election and rewarding their supporters.

Correction. I do think that the Democrats have thought about the long-term advantage of immigration in creating new Democrats. It has worked pretty well for them up to now, but I think that in the near future it is going to blow up in their faces over the Muslim Question.

But, seriously, Megan. The big question is what politics is good for, anyway, beyond protecting us from enemies foreign and domestic. And really it doesn´t do that good a job of protection anyway. We get existential perils like fascism and communism rising up and our leaders usually fail to act before we get dumped into bloody big world war. And we get full-scale crime waves before our leaders settle on anything approaching coherent goals for dealing with them.

We are in a mess today not from the wrong type of politics but from politics in general. We are reaching the limit of the progressive politics advocated by the Progressives of a century ago, where rational experts would administer the society based on the best ideas of social science. The product of this elite movement is today's gigantic government that cannot act to fix anything. That's because once government sets a program in motion it cannot effectively reform it because the people benefiting from the program will organize to prevent any change that reduces their checks.

If you look at the world and its affairs it is pretty obvious that the important work of the world is to fix problems and clean up after them. What happens when a corporation starts to lose money because its products aren't selling too well in the market? It makes hard choices, probably laying off employees and redirecting resources to get the company profitable again. (Here we are using profit in the sense of using resources, human and natural, wisely).

But when does a government ever do that? Typically whenever a government faces making spending cuts it advertises its program as a balance between spending cuts and tax increases, to "share the burden." In other words the people facing a cut in their free stuff have to be rewarded by seeing other people suffer with an increased tax burden.

And the point is that the key is not whether or not to start some wonderful new program. The key is what do you do when things go wrong. The problem is that the answer is usually: Nothing. The Greeks did nothing until the nasty Germans forced them to enact spending cuts. The Argentines did nothing in 2002 until they devalued and replaced dollar accounts with peso accounts, wiping out middle-class savings. The Venezuelans are letting the whole economy go down the toilet rather than cut back on spending programs for its supporters when the oil price crash unbalanced the government's budget.

What are our political parties doing to deal with the fact that entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are going to eat the federal budget? What are they doing to fix the lousy education that kids get in the inner city? Democrats want to increase Social Security payments and reduce the disciplining of minority students in schools. So their solution is to make the problem worse. And Republicans aren't much better.

The fact is that the "coherent goals and long-term accountability" of the Progressives a century ago is what has brought us the election of 2016 in which the electorate is in a foul mood because it knows that something in rotten in the state of Denmark.

The problem is that nobody dare even think about what should be done. That's because we the American people will string up on a lamppost anyone that suggests that we start to dismantle the entitlement state and the free stuff that we were promised.

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