Friday, August 10

A liberal tells what's wrong with government

Philip K. Howard is a lawyer and author. His most recent book--Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America--suggests he's refreshingly candid about his own profession. He also wrote the introduction to Al Gore's Common Sense Government--so he's certainly not a conservative.

Now he's written an article in Atlantic titled "The federal government needs a complete makeover." While this isn't a revolutionary thought, the fact that it's coming from a liberal Democrat, in an article published by a liberal magazine, is most interesting.

Howard makes several great points:
Programs are piled upon programs, without any effort at coherence; there are 82 separate federal programs, for example, for teacher training. Ancient subsidies from the New Deal are treated as sacred cows. The idea of setting priorities is anathema. Nothing can get taken away, because that would offend a special interest.

Government is played as a game, not as a fiduciary responsibility to get things done. Running the country is not what political leaders mainly think about. They wake up every morning calculating how to beat the other party. You think this is too cynical? Hearings for completely unobjectionable judicial candidates are held up for years because of unrelated partisan bickering. A chief of staff for a Democratic senator once told me that a bill that perfectly reflected Democratic policy was rejected because it was introduced by a moderate Republican.

Right and wrong no longer matter in this deviant subculture. Sealed off from personal responsibility by accumulated bureaucracy and thick walls of special interest money, our government is covered by a putrid mold of cynical gamesmanship and everyday hypocrisy. People scurry around its baseboards seeking short-term advantage, but big change is so inconceivable as to be laughable.
But he's also got a solution, if only tongue-in-cheek:
[We] should move the national capital. It wouldn't matter where, as long as government is run by new people not infected by the current culture. Almost no current public employees would be able to move to the new capital ... because they wouldn't be able to sell their homes. Just imagine it: a sea of "For Sale" signs up and down the streets of Georgetown and Chevy Chase, with no takers because there are soon to be no jobs. I ended this riff with Disney taking over Washington as a theme park and rehiring everyone to do just what they're doing now -- pretending to do something.
Definitely worth reading the whole thing.


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