Government is on Autopilot. And Headed for Disaster.

Daily BeastDaily BeastPhilip K. Howard, the author of 1995's influential treatise against bureaucracy and stultifying regulations, The Death of Common Sense, has a new book out. It's called The Rule of Nobody and it's an important discussion of "automatic government" that combines the worst elements of technocracy and mindless do-gooderism; it's a demented version of "the rule of law." I talk about it in my latest Daily Beast column. Snippets:

“Under current orthodoxy,” writes Howard, “the ideal government runs like a software program: Input the facts and out comes a decision.” While stressing that such a “technocratic model...has many plausible virtues” and evolved as a way to combat favoritism and partisan whimsy, he convincingly argues that contemporary government has removed virtually all scope for human intervention and responsibility. The result isn’t a fairer, more predictable form of government, but “a form of tyranny,” says Howard. “The fact that the tyrant is a bureaucratic blob instead of Birmingham police chief Bull Connor means that our freedom is smothered instead of subjugated at the point of a weapon.”

Putting more and more decisions - especially spending decisions - on a sort of autopilot is good for pols, of course, and for favored constituencies.

It’s clear why politicians like “mandatory” spending: It absolves them of any real responsibility while also shoveling heaping servings of cash to high-turnout voters. For all the rancor in D.C., neither Democrats nor Republicans show the least bit of interest in seriously tackling entitlement reform or shifting “mandatory” spending into “discretionary” funding, where it would come up for an annual and on-the-record vote.

Of course, the problem is that putting increasing amounts of spending, including increasing amounts of automatic increases in spending, on autopilot means that governments can’t deal with changed circumstances. Does anyone seriously think that the need for and structure of Social Security—created during the Great Depression, for god’s sake, and at a time when there were 160 workers per beneficiary—is relevant to 21st-century America, in which households headed by seniors have 47 times the wealth of households headed by people under 35 years old?

Read the whole thing.

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  • Hawk Spitui||

    So libertarianism has taken notice of The Cathedral. I'll bet they think it's an original insight.

  • SugarFree||

    I bet you think we care about your neoreactionary horseshit.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Ha! Look who's breaking his own rules.

  • SugarFree||

    What do you mean? I talk to Eddie and Tulpa all the time.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That doesn't rebut my assertion of your "do as I say not as I do" attitude. Your mind tricks don't work on me.

  • SugarFree||

    I think you are mixing up me and Episiarch, who is the absolutist.

    For mix me up with that depraved lackwit, I should choke the life out of you and violate your corpse with a backhoe.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Uh, during one of those gawdawful pledge drives Welch read my comment and briefly attributed it to Episiarch. So who among us hasn't suffered that indignity? I suggest you pay it forward.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    I was going to say, I see Epi all the time say "sockpuppet! don't feed the trolls!"

    ...and then he spends all weekend talking to Tulpa.

  • Dweebston||

    He wants their undivided attention.

    Seems pretty straightforward to me.

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    I read a couple paragraphs and started skimming, then just scrolled to the bottom. One hundred eighty paragraphs of meandering crap.

  • Ted S.||

    And yet you counted the number of paragraphs.

  • anomdebus||

    Did you also, in order to confirm the number?

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    He's likely to get a different number. I was in printing and got used to estimating by sight. The number should be fairly close.

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    And yet you counted the number of paragraphs.

    No, an old estimating habit from a job that also had me automatically proofreading every word I saw.
    I once found an error in a billboard that had been up in seven states for 5 months.

  • wareagle||

    and in other developments, the sun rose in the East this morning.

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    Does anyone seriously think that the need for and structure of Social Security—created during the Great Depression, for god’s sake, and at a time when there were 160 workers per beneficiary—is relevant to 21st-century America, in which households headed by seniors have 47 times the wealth of households headed by people under 35 years old?

    Blasphemer! The works of FDR-That-Was must never be questioned!

    A few years ago I was discussing New Deal policies with two of the most-educated men I know. Their answer to me was literally, openly "don't confuse us with the facts."

  • wareagle||

    it is impossible to have a rational discussion about SS, or Medicare for that matter, with progs. They refuse to believe any and all actuarial evidence tossed before them, and usually sputter something like "increase the cap!1" before falling into the usual mix of fox! Koch! squirrel!

  • Ted S.||

    I remember one time where I pointed out the definition of a Ponzi scheme and then pointed out how SS pretty much fit that definition. People responded as though I were some sort of freak.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Ponzi and Bernie's early adopters didn't want to hear about how their gains were made through fraudulent and unsustainable means either.

  • Rich||

    Isn't the ostensibly-serious rebuttal that a Ponzi scheme is required to be non-governmental?

  • sarcasmic||

    Seriously, what's the difference other than who is doing it?

    A Ponzi scheme is a Ponzi scheme. The only difference between Bernie and government is that government might kill you if you refuse to participate. Doesn't that make a government Ponzi scheme worse?

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    Seriously, what's the difference other than who is doing it?

    Victims aren't forced to participate in Ponzi schemes?

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Yeah. "No, Ponzi schemes are illegal and SS is legal, therefore SS isn't a Ponzi scheme."

    Technically, that's correct in the same way that capital punishment isn't murder and imprisonment isn't kidnapping, but it quite obviously misses the point.

  • SugarFree||

    Traditional Ponzi schemes are voluntary and someone could spot and then avoid them if they weren't blinded by greed.

    Social Security is actually far worse than a Ponzi scheme, even if the mechanism is superficially similar.

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    Oops, you beat me to it.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Isn't the ostensibly-serious rebuttal that a Ponzi scheme is required to be non-governmental?

    I've heard that, and I have yet to encounter a clearer admission that someone is engaged in special pleading.

  • sarcasmic||

    Well, yeah! It's different because government is us and we are government! So it's not a Ponzi scheme! A Ponzi scheme is something someone does to someone else! Since government is us and we are government, we're doing it to ourselves! See?

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    Is that anything like me telling the old HOA to go fuck itself?

  • mr simple||

    But don't you know that before SS, there were poor old people? Yes, it's true, there was a higher percentage of old people during the Great Depression than there is now. That just proves that SS is working.

    Btw, Google is telling me I should be using then instead of than in that last sentence. No wonder no one knows the difference.

  • LiveFreeOrDiet||

    Then makes time and ordinal references.
    Than introduces unequal comparisons.

  • Doctor Whom||

    it is impossible to have a rational discussion about SS, or Medicare for that matter, with progs. They refuse to believe any and all actuarial evidence tossed before them,

    It's like talking to them about school funding. They treat any mention of an actual funding statistic as a moral outrage.

  • Invisible Finger||

    A ponzi scheme requires an expanding number of new participants. They succeed at the beginning but eventually they blow up because of the mathematical impossibility. But the rules of the scheme don't change, it is a fraud from the beginning.

    SS requires a set number of new participants to replace the same number of payees. Theoretically that is sustainable, unless the administrators of the scheme purposely change the rules of the game - THAT is where the fraud occurs. In other words, if it fails it is because every rule change is a form of fraud.

    IOW, Ponzi schemes are actually more honest, you have to voluntarily allow yourself to be a sucker.

  • mr simple||

    The Big Brain am winning again! I am the greetest!

  • ||

    Warning: contains comments.

    OpinionatedCitizen 49 minutes ago
    Hey, let's cut out all those subsidies!

    We can do that as soon as we adjust our economy to:

    1. Ensure that the minimum wage is at least a LIVING WAGE.

    2. Ensure that all employable people have jobs.

    GO FOR IT!


    FlagShare
    LeftLeaner_1 1 hour ago
    Actually the definitive book on "broken government" was written by John Dean.

    According to him, it started with the Gingrich Congress.

    Funny that Norm Ornstein also pointed that out and guess who is NEVER on MSM TV, and guess who is ALWAYS on MSM TV??
    alex.besogonov 1 hour ago
    So we must cut the benefits NOW NOW NOWW WNOWNO because if we don't do it then we might be forced to cut them in 20 years?



    Yeah, right.
  • UnCivilServant||

    The Society of Necromantic Advanced Research has been trying to determine the relative cognitive capacity of certain online commenters versus the so-called 'mindless' undead. So far, the zombies are winning based upon their capacity for lateral problem solving when in swarms. the commenter group just bickered.

    The Zombies surprised us when they managed to breech the barrier separating them from the commentators' test chamber.

    We now have more zombies than we used to, and fewer commentators.

    In all, it was a positive development.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Wait a minute. I'm a commenter!

  • UnCivilServant||

    Since you're still commenting, odds are you were not part of the first test group. Would you like to sign up for future tests? We've repaired the zombie barrier.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    If all employable people have artificially inflated income, wouldn't that lead to a previous living wage being insufficient, which means a higher living wage, which means higher prices, which means a higher living wage...

  • UnCivilServant||

    *psst* they don't grasp economics.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Ya think?

  • anomdebus||


    So we must cut the CO2 emissions NOW NOW NOW NOWW WNOWNO NWO because if we don't do it then we might be forced to cut them in 20 years?
  • AKrumbach||

    That's not special pleading, because catastophic climate change is settled science, and can never be challeged, changed, or overthrown--the same with Obamacare, Newtonian physics, and the Divine Right of Kings. See? Three examples, it's not special pleading! /sarcasm

  • Rasilio||

    "2. Ensure that all employable people have jobs."

    And if they don't want jobs do we still ensure that they have them?

    Isn't there a word for that?

  • Invisible Finger||

    To a progtard, slavery is better than the free market.

  • Ted S.||

    How far back would he have to go before per capita inflation adjusted spending would yield a balanced budget? 2004? Those horrible days when everybody was starving and manure piled up in the streets?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Government is a tragedy of the commons. No one owns it so it goes neglected. That's right, this comment is a call to let special interests buy outright and overtly your representatives and their bureaucrats.

    Now, I'm no fool. It couldn't actually be a public purchase. It would have to be a lease, so that when the lease was up another special interest could step up and take ownership for a year. Obviously ordinary people with a specific interest are no longer running for office and cycling out after accomplishing - or trying to accomplish - what they wanted to get done, so this would be the next best thing. Who's with me?

  • Ezra K.||

    Right on! The first thing we need to get rid of is that stupid old Constitution thingie. All those thee's and thou's--who needs it?

  • anomdebus||

    To the list of politically sellable solutions, can we add mandating a set ratio of payees to retirees? The longer people live, automatically the age of SS payouts increases.. Note: this doesn't rule out also having means testing.

    Fwiw, I think there is an incentive to target young immigrants if only to shore up the SS numbers.

  • anomdebus||

    The list of politically sellable solutions can be written with a single atom of anti-hydrogen..
    So, of course I meant unsellable

  • anomdebus||

    damnit.. "politically unsellable solutions"

  • ||

    ArmyVet 38 minutes ago
    "..and out-of-control regulations."

    Yes, the previous administration got rid of a lot of regulations and inspectors. Then we got poison dog food, poisonous tooth paste ( our products in South America), poisonous substances on children's toys.

    That was a great idea, wasn't it?
  • Pulseguy||

    I did a two lot subdivision. .6 acre lot, 1/4 acre zoning, in a fully built out subdivision. I had to deal with 11 different government regulatory agencies. It took two years and required $30,000 in reports.

    Yeah, the bureaucracy is out of control. Part of the reason why poisonous tooth paste is sold is because bureaucrats tend to do the easiest job. No strain whatsoever raking a two lot subdivision over the coals. When 40% of the population is checking on the 60% there is too much admin. Eliminate most of the useless regs and the 15% left in the government can actually focus on important stuff.

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