Bureaucracy


Look, we did something.

Look, we did something.

From Charles C. Mann’s fascinating book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (p. 235, emphasis added):

Spread at its greatest extent over seven hundred miles of the coastline, Chimor was an ambitious state that grew maize and cotton by irrigating almost fifty thousand acres around the Moche River (all of modern Peru only reached that figure in 1960).  A destructive El Niño episode about 1100 A.D. made irrigation impossible for a while.  In response, the government forced gangs of captive laborers to build a fifty-three-mile, masonry-lined canal to channel water from the Chicama River, in the next valley to the north, to farmland in the Moche Valley.  The canal was a flop: some parts ran uphill, apparently because of incompetent engineering, and the rest lost nine-tenths of its water to evaporation and seepage.  Some archeologists believe that the canal was never meant to function.  It was a PR exercise, they say, a Potemkin demonstration by the Chimor government that it was actively fighting El Niño.

Whenever I hear a politician or government official say: “This may not be an ideal solution, but we must do something about [you name it].” I think of the ancient Peruvians and their up-hill canal — and about ways to hide my wallet.

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The federal government has been shut down for a week now.  It strikes me that if we don’t need them for a week, maybe we don’t need them at all.

Of course all 230,000 of them are still getting paid to play in the snow, unlike those of us whose clients pay our salaries voluntarily.

(Thanks for the photo Catherine.  Feel free to sue me for copyright infringement.)

agincourt_archerIf the United States mandates English as the de jure official language then invariably officials will end up defining what English is.  And, that leads to absurd results

Of course, the French are always good for a little absurdity.

Before a word such as “cloud computing” or “podcasting” (“diffusion pour baladeur“) receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister’s seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state’s General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France. The process can be a linguistic odyssey taking years.

The English language is, and should be, an emergent phenomenom.  (In practice, French is too, but there is nothing like a bureaucracy for building sand castles to hold back the tide.)

It beggars belief.

It’s crazy for a group of mere mortals to try to design 15 percent of the U.S. economy. It’s even crazier to do it by August.

Yet that is what some members of Congress presume to do. They intend, as the New York Times puts it, “to reinvent the nation’s health care system”.

(HT Jeremy)

. . . and doesn’t plan to get out of the business any time soon.

I have to admit that this scares the Hell out of me.  From the Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal:

Here’s a true story first reported by my Fox News colleague Andrew Napolitano (with the names and some details obscured to prevent retaliation). Under the Bush team a prominent and profitable bank, under threat of a damaging public audit, was forced to accept less than $1 billion of TARP money. The government insisted on buying a new class of preferred stock which gave it a tiny, minority position. The money flowed to the bank. Arguably, back then, the Bush administration was acting for purely economic reasons. It wanted to recapitalize the banks to halt a financial panic.

Fast forward to today, and that same bank is begging to give the money back. The chairman offers to write a check, now, with interest. He’s been sitting on the cash for months and has felt the dead hand of government threatening to run his business and dictate pay scales. He sees the writing on the wall and he wants out. But the Obama team says no, since unlike the smaller banks that gave their TARP money back, this bank is far more prominent. The bank has also been threatened with “adverse” consequences if its chairman persists. That’s politics talking, not economics.

Think about it: If Rick Wagoner can be fired and compact cars can be mandated, why can’t a bank with a vault full of TARP money be told where to lend? And since politics drives this administration, why can’t special loans and terms be offered to favored constituents, favored industries, or even favored regions? Our prosperity has never been based on the political allocation of credit — until now.

Which brings me to the Pay for Performance Act, just passed by the House. This is an outstanding example of class warfare. I’m an Englishman. We invented class warfare, and I know it when I see it. This legislation allows the administration to dictate pay for anyone working in any company that takes a dime of TARP money. This is a whip with which to thrash the unpopular bankers, a tool to advance the Obama administration’s goal of controlling the financial system.

I think Congress should pass a law abolishing complexity, because then politicians, economists and climate scientists will never have to worry that they really have no idea what the Hell they are talking about.

From Aschwin de Wolf at Depressed Metabolism*:

Even when (macro) economists employ sound methodology and research design, the complexity of the phenomena they study seriously frustrates attempts to use their models to predict the future.  This issue  is not confined to economics. Climate science seems to suffer from this problem as well, which has not prevented scientists and non-scientists from making very strong claims for one position or another

So why are such scientists employable, even excessively rewarded? One reason may be because we would rather perceive ourselves as “doing something” than admitting that we don’t know. Increased government intervention in the lives of  people has increased the demand for social scientists and economists to confer credibility to what otherwise would be considered as arbitrary coercion. Another reason may be because most people are not aware that the emperor wears no clothes. People such as Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke are rarely challenged on general methodological grounds.

  • (A blog with a weird combination of philosophy and cryonics evangelism.)

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