On Rooting for Government To Fail


The American Prospect's Mori Dinauer is just a hair off in this post.

I don't promote government failure, I expect it. And my expectations are met fairly often. What I promote is the idea that more people share my expectations, so fewer people are harmed by government failure, and so we can stop this slide toward increasingly large portions of our lives being subject to the whims, interests, and prejudices of politicians.

I will concede that there's a problem, here. In the private sector failure leads to obsolescence (unless you happen to work for a portion of the private sector that politicians think should be preserved in spite of failure). When government fails, people like Dinauer and, well, the government claim it's a sign that we need more government. It's not that government did a poor job, or is a poor mechanism for addressing that particular problem, it's that there just wasn't enough government. Of course, the same people will point to what they call government success as, also, a good argument for more government.

It's a nifty trick. The right does it with national security. The fact that we haven't had a major terrorist attack since September 11, 2001 proves that the Bush administration's heavy-handed, high-security approach to fighting terrorism worked! But if we had suffered another attack, the same people would have been arguing that we need to surrender more of our civil liberties to the security state. Two sides. Same coin.

That Pew poll is also a pretty good indication that the more government tries to do, the more poorly it does it. Your usual caveats about correlation and causation apply, but the federal government certainly didn't shrink over the period the trust-in-government trend line has taken a nosedive. Note too that during the Clinton administration, federal spending actually shrank as a percentage of GDP, and the federal workforce shrank by nearly 400,000, leaving it at its lowest level since 1960. And wouldn't you know it, that's one period in the last 50 years over which trust in the federal government took a sharp climb.

But in general—yes—I think the fact that more people are realizing that government isn't capable of solving all of their problems is an encouraging trend. Because it isn't.

NEXT: Private Free Speech or Official Discrimination?

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  1. ” Note too that during the Clinton administration, federal spending actually shrank as a percentage of GDP, and the federal workforce shrank by nearly 400,000, leaving it at its lowest level since 1960.”

    This is sometimes a positive side effect of divided government. Note that for six of Clinton’s eight years in office both houses of Congress were in the hands of the G.O.P. I would prefer no government at all, but, if we must have government let it be divided government.

  2. I’m rooting for government to fail. If it doesn’t, it will have learned that there are no consequences–none at all–for wildly overspending. And this shit will never end.

    1. Babylon failed. No one learned.
      Assyria failed. No one learned.
      Greece failed. No one learned.
      Rome failed. No one learned.
      Britain failed. No one learned.

      Why should the US be any different?

      1. Don’t be such a downer, rob! We can do it right this time, because the right people are in charge!

        1. As a christian, I can look forward to a 1000 year period where the right people will be in charge.

          Other than that, there are no right people (as you are well aware).


        2. No I’m not.

          1. +100,000

  3. Wow man, I never thought about it like that before! That is really cool

    –some random name—





  4. Now, if your political philosophy bears little distinction from anarchy

    Hey, Mori: fuck you, you lazy little cockbreath.

    1. Well, mine bears no distinction from anarchy.

      Mori’s just upset because he and his fellow travelers were sure that as soon as they passed a number of the things on their wish list, the Dems would be in power forever, because the hoi polloi would be so grateful for their free shitty health care and artificially inflated house prices. But lo and behold, the peasants seem positively ungrateful! Quelle horreur!

      1. “the peasants seem positively ungrateful! Quelle horreur!”

        You would think they should be saying thank you for my signing bills that very few Americans actually wanted and almost no members of Congress actually read.

    2. Hey, Warty! Quit saying out loud what I’m thinking… it’s not nice. 🙂

  5. One would be compelled to think they don’t even realize the scope of their decisions, but with the ego required for thinking “I can lead the nation”, one must conclude they do. I think Socrates said something to the effect that “Those most suited to lead will never do so, for they do not seek power”. Telling for sure, that possibly the only people willing to do the job are also the ones more than willing to impose, through law, their beliefs on the citizenry. We’re left with a collection of all the egomaniacs’ fears and ambitions enforced by the barrel of a gun. I’m thinking complacency kinda sucks, and I’m thankful I got my wits about me now rather than later.

    1. I’d like to amend this to say the only ones elected to do the job. The good ones who are willing are generally made to jump through hoops and collect signatures from the moon just to get on the ballot, only to be ignored by the voting sheeple, hoping “their guy” might make laws for/against things they want/dislike.

      1. My thought is the same as Douglas Addams in “Hitchhiker’s Guide . . .” “No one who wants to be President of the Universe should ever, under any circumstances, be allowed to be President of the Universe.” Same goes for a country.

        Every time I hear some talking head say “We need leadership.” I get chills.

        If I got the quote a little wrong, the thought remains the same.

        1. If we dont vote for lizards, the wrong lizard will get elected.

          Of course, didnt work in Minnesota.

          1. PIRS comment at 9:08 nails my own sentiment. Since they took away some of the built in divisions, checks and balances years ago about all I have left is to hope for partisanship. Gridlock is good.

            1. I’m just tired of settling for the turd sandwich pres. vs. the giant douche congress. And now we’re stuck with the most giant turd sandwiches ever!

              1. Me too, but the system would corrupt even good people. Can you imagine the outsider, decent guy or gal tramping up the steps, into the chamber, dancing with the devil and you know what happens then.

                My father-in-law told me once that a person he knew actually won a seat in our state legislature. The first day in, the old boys pulled him aside, said something to the effect of, “We know you’re a hotshot, but we run the show. You do what we tell you or you’ll be back at your old job very quickly.”

                Now I don’t think Ahnuld was ever a true conservative, but at least he mouthed some fiscally conservative stuff when he first took over as governor in CA. The political machine backed by public service unions ate his lunch. You could see it written all over his face shortly after the “girlie-man” incident.

                The only way this stops is full, very painful collapse.

                1. It sure does seem that way. I wish I still thought a few strong, honest, freedom-minded people could save the republic. Alas, the system has deep roots and power is oh so tempting…one can dream though, no?

              2. Do you know how to stop losing money playing three card monty? Stop playing.

  6. I think Radley vs Mori in a cage match to decide this once and for all. My money’s on Balko.

    1. After watching all those cop videos? Radley, no contest.

  7. In other news…this.

    1. I don’t have time for that Klingon shit! I’m working on my Master of Arts in Diplomacy from Norwich University.

  8. Rooting for government to fail is like rooting for the US Olympic Basketball team to beat a junior high school rookie squad.

    You know it’s gonna happen, the only question is: How high are they gonna run up the score?

    1. Or rooting for an adult to defeat 15 toddlers in a no-holds-barred death match.

      You know it’s gonna happen in a place like Cambodia, the only question is: How fucking awesome would that be to watch?

      1. The views expressed by the poster known as The Expatriate do not reflect those of any other poster here we have ever heard of.

      2. Could it be more awesome than a monkey knife fight? For as we all know, that’s pretty close to as awesome as it gets, especially if the monkeys are wearing top hats and monocles.

        1. One of he monkeys should be named Furious George.

          “Smithers, this monkey is going to need most of your skin.”

          1. Next round: Mr. Teeny vs. Furious George

            1. That ship is rebroadcasting MLB with implied, oral consent.

      3. I’ve had a few toddlers; my money’d be on the toddlers. If a single toddler can whine a grown adult to death, what could 15 of them do? They’re like little machines that run on peanut butter sandwiches.

  9. This is defeatist nonsense.
    America will win the war on economics.

    1. +100000

  10. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, except, ironically, when I wield it.

    1. Absolute power corrupts…aw fuck it, OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!

  11. I for one am rooting for government to fail. Why? Fuck ’em, that’s why.

  12. So those lazy fucks atReason haven’t gotten around to posting about United States vs Stevens. The Court went 8-1 in favor of free speech in throwing out the Fed “animal cruelty” depiction law.This is fascinating stuff. Chief Justice Roberts called the governments argument “startling and dangerous.” Alito’s dissent suggests he is much more wobbly on civil liberties than anyone could’ve guessed. The “other side” of the argument includes Obama, 26 states, possible SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan and Reason villain Mary Beth Buchanan.

    The lone dissenter in Tuesday’s ruling was Justice Samuel Alito, who charged that the “practical effect” of the court’s ruling would be to legalize “a form of depraved entertainment.”

    The court’s decision not only stuck down a law enacted by Congress, but it also delivered a rather pointed rebuke to two individuals. First, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a top contender for the U.S. Supreme Court, whose brief on behalf of the Obama administration was thoroughly repudiated in the strongest terms.

    Gene Schaerr, who filed a brief on the other side for the libertarian Cato Institute, said if Kagan supervised the writing of the brief she signed, “I would agree that it does seem to raise questions about her judgment.”

    The other loser was former federal prosecutor Mary Beth Buchanan, now a Republican candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania. Her decision to bring the Stevens case, the court said, was evidence the government could not be trusted to act responsibly.

    1. Who needs to root for the government to fail? It already has.

      It ought to be the case that whenever the Supreme Court issues a ruling on the constitutionality of a law, that they also issue a ruling on whether any lawmaker could ever have reasonably expected the law to be constitutional. And if the answer to the second question is “no” by some reasonable margin – say, 8 to 1 – any representative who voted for the bill should be tarred, feathered, and then dumped into the Potomac. If they’re still breathing, they can then be hanged for treason.

      The same penalty should also apply for voting in favor of laws without reading them. Since this penalty is not written into the constitution, our founding fathers apparently not having the foresight to predict this particular sorry state of affairs, the authority to carry out the remedy thus falls naturally to the source of the legitimacy of the law, namely the people. Who’s buying the tar?

  13. No need to root for something that’s happening anyway…

    …and will continue to happen if we keep putting Rs and Ds in office.

  14. Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, bitch!

  15. One of my favorite sayings “They couldn’t find their ass, buck naked, in a room full of mirrors” fits well here. I’d also like to say that I don’t think these guys (government in general) could manage a good bowel movement in the morning much less the economy. We are now in a era where incompetence is rewarded with promotion and rational thought has long flown the coop. Those who can, do and those who can’t get government jobs.

    1. ‘He couldn’t find a woman
      in bed with him.’ 🙂

  16. Not really two sides of the same coin is it? This is an example of success after all. It really is different arguing, that failed, let’s do more of it and that worked maybe we did enough of it.

  17. History has shown that there are only two core functions of government. Secure the borders & inflict maximum mayhem on your enemies if so required. Anything beyond that is gilding the lilly. Even printing money and exchange can be a private affair as the Knight Templars have shown.

    Sadly for the US, we are failing at least one of the two essential functions of govt.

  18. To be fair, don’t we free market supporters use a similar “heads, I win; tails, you lose” logic of our own?

    A major sector of the economy is, say, partially deregulated. If the economy improves, we say, “Look, deregulation worked, we need more of it.” If the economy tanks, we say, “Look, we didn’t have enough deregulation.”

    Likewise, if an economic sector is highly regulated and does poorly or behaves erratically, we frequently say, “It’s screwed up because of the burdens and incentives of regulations.” If it works well even under regulation, we often say, “It succeeded in spite of the regulatory burden.”

    We may be right in our assessment (I like to think we are), but that doesn’t mean the structure of our arguments in these particular cases is all that different from what the pro-government folks are up to.

    1. Is this the royal we? I don’t argue that.

  19. I wouldn’t get caught in the Leftist’s game of declaring whether one is for government failing or not.

    The fact is that 90% of what government does today is immoral: it’s based on the violation of individual rights.

  20. Part of the problem is that it’s not always clear what it means for government to “fail”, outside of some obvious cases like Visigoths sacking the capital. I mean, we’re talking about an entity that has, in many cases, nearly limitless power and money. If the government wants a road to get built, by Crom that road will get built. This lets government and its supporters nearly always claim “success” by controlling the definitions. We can argue that the road shouldn’t have been built, or should have been built elsewhere, or could have been built with private funds, but then we just get “Oh, you guys can’t ever admit government does anything right”, even if our arguments are valid.

  21. The cult of the Presidency leads to the most greivous errors. Clinton can brag about his budgetary restraint all he wants (though in truth he fought it tooth and mail) and we may think of those years as “his” economy, but the House orginates ALL spending. “Bush’s” economy didn’t start to go down the toilet, and in fact “his” annual deficits were steeply declining, until the Dems took over the Congress. I can’t stand Obama, but the combination of a Democratic president and a Republican Congress is the best combination we can get for now. Gridlock? Bring it on!

  22. Between 1932 and and 1945 Germany’s 30 million or so people, had about 80,000 of “the right people in charge this time”. Between 1917 and and 1989 the the Soviet Empire had maybe 150,000 of “the right People in Charge this time”.

    Today the old Soviet Empire only exists in glorified histories, but it’s core constituency Russia teeters on as an oil & gas exporter with the GNP of New Jersey.

    Germany and of Course Sweden have decided that the National Socialist workers Party didn’t “have the right people in Charge” but of course they can get it right this time. Half of Britain the same.

    Can’t wait for our economy to take off like Britian’s.

    But what will happen to all that “successful socialism” in Europe (again) when Americans no longer guarantee their security from foxholes on the Fulda Gap ? With “the right people in Charge this time” in the U.S. we just won’t be paying for a big military to protect other people and their economies.

    But what will happen in all those British “Housing Estates” when the North Sea Oil runs out ? Hmmmmm. A quandry.

    Maybe it’s better that their “right people in charge this time” disarmed the civilian public under pretense a decade ago.

    More of “the right people in charge this time” will live to try again.

  23. Of that 400,000 reduction in government employees, what percentage was the Armed Services? 125%?

  24. We need to make the levers of power function more like the steering wheel on Maggie Simpson’s car seat.

    “…the camera cuts to Maggie holding a steering wheel, making it appear that Maggie is driving; the camera then zooms out revealing the wheel to be just a toy for her, as the camera then pans out to show Marge driving; they then both beep their horns…”

    Replace the tools politicians have to mess with our lives with ineffective toys that only appear to do something. For example, special taxes and tax breaks are far more destructive than regulations not enforced.

  25. I think I’d like to go across the Pond and visit “Airstrip One” before all that North Sea Oil runs out, and things start getting really interesting.

    I mean all those cameras in Airstrip one.

    I’m very photogenic you know. I’m sure “the watcher’s” will be amused.


  26. Note to “ROBC”; the 1000 years to which you refer appears in Revelation Chapter 20. The ‘right’ people will indeed, be in charge but, not on planet earth. The phrase “bottomless pit” is rendered from a Koine Greek word (abussos) that actually means, “ruined planet”. continue your studies.

  27. Rooting for government to fail is like rooting the gravitational constant.

  28. Of course, the American Prospect is all for the government rooting us. In the Australian sense of the word.

  29. Still waiting for my civil rights to be violated by W.

    The government should actually fight terrorism, per se. The government should not be bailing out private companies. Two sides, two very different coins.

  30. Government is more predictable and valued than Business. Businesses sometimes make promises they don’t keep, surprising and angering their paying customers. Government makes promises that it almost never keeps. This doesn’t surprise anyone, who are still happy for whatever free help they receive.

  31. Fish owes me a keyboard, shirt, and necktie.

    I liked “Me too, but the system would corrupt even good people.”

    You know, like those nine year olds just want love.

    We have the government we choose. It’s remarkably accessible. The maps of the various paths to office are clear.

    They all involve WORK, though.

    Unremitting, unpleasant work.

    Just follow one. Get on your town or city council or school board, and put your ideas to work.

  32. i agree with you thatmore people are realizing that government isn’t capable of solving all of their problems is an encouraging trend.
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