Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch at on the Lesson of $16 Muffins


Muffins for clunkers

Writing at, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch explains why he wants to be stuffin' the government's muffins. Excerpt:

The lesson of government waste, whether on $16 muffins or $535 million loan guarantees to solar power companies or $48 billion in "improper" Medicare payments, is one worth relearning every day.

Managers whose budgets do not depend on customer satisfaction and who do not face competitive pressure in the marketplace, will not, on balance, spend their money wisely. Vendors selling to those managers know that price matters much less than it does to, say, Wal-Mart. And anywhere there is political urgency and official involvement high up the command chain, conditions will begin resembling a gold rush. […]

There is no such thing as war without the brutal, violent death of innocents, including children. Similarly, there is no such thing as government spending without gobs of disgusting waste, graft and corruption. It's all cooked right into the system.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Props for the article pic.

      1. And the linked article.

    1. Best photo of a muffin top ever.

  2. There is no such thing as war without the brutal, violent death of innocents, including children. Similarly, there is no such thing as government spending without gobs of disgusting waste, graft and corruption. It’s all cooked right into the system.

    Awesomely said.

    1. Yup. Solyndra isn’t some aberration; its the way subsidies are supposed to work.

      That is, big sums of money are passed out based on political priorities, not economic realities.

      Its inherently corrupt. Solyndra isn’t so much a case of the system “not working”; its an example of the system working exactly as its supposed to. That DOE official who said it wasn’t a failure? He was exactly right, within the context of the system.

      1. “Its inherently corrupt.”

        it is corruption of a market by definition of the word itself.

  3. “Stuffin’ the Muffins.”

    That’s what Warty and Epi call it when they roleplay that ends up with one of them drunk and bending over.

    1. One of them drunk? Which one. Do you have to be drunk to do Warty or Epi, or do you have to be drunk to let Warty or Epi do you?

      Your Zen Koan for the day.

      1. It helps to be drunk when Warty is doing you in order to receive his Lexington Steele sized boner.

        You don’t have to be drunk to do either. These sluts will fuck at the drop of a hat.

      2. “Moo.”

  4. Here’s the real dark secret of the muffins:

    $1 was too much.

    Whatever outrage you’re feeling over the cost of the muffins at a conference for government employees is just a cover for the real outrage here: that the conference existed.

    Do you know why government employees go to conferences? To consume time.

    They need to consume time because in the absence of frivolous activities that accomplish nothing but the consumption of time, they would be sitting around doing nothing, and someone might notice that they have no function and don’t really need to be there at all.

    1. “Organizations hold meetings (and conferences) because they cannot actually masterbate”
      — Dave Barry

      1. ** laughs up fly **

      2. Well I can….and when I do I like to think about government! It’s really the only thing that works for me these days!

        1. “FAP works for you.”

          1. Yeah!!!


    2. Dead right on. Conferences are a joke. Anything learned could be learned for free, and the rest of it is just about the internal politics and finances of the conference or hosting organization itself. Problems that would go away if the conference/org did.

      1. All the best conferences are held in Las Vegas. Because they have a great airport and numerous affordable hotel rooms. Nothing else.

      2. ** rising intonation **

        What about the networking?

        1. To the extent that networking helps your current employer as opposed to helping you find a different job, I think the conferences should be paid for. So, your employer should pony up for .5% of travel expanses.

          1. That’s about right. Most “networking” could be done on-line. Serendipitous encounters could be randomly generated — on-line.

            1. The business equivalent of chatroulette.

          2. All true, but the thing about conferences is that they enforce the conference activities. And don’t underestimate the value of in-person time for a peer support network.

            We’ve had conferences where there were in person and web attendees. The web attendees kept dropping in and out as work kept interrupting, while those of us at the conference kept going. Live attendees definitely got more out of it.

            FWIW, the conferences I’ve attended I’ve actually walked away with tangible knowledge that I likely wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

      3. The conferences I’ve been to are usually a drink-a-thon.

        One time I went to a conference (for an ERP software package) in Washington DC. They rented out the Smithsonian Air & Space museum for one night where I managed to tie on on. There’s nothing better than walking through the Skylab mockup with a bottle of beer in your hand.

        1. I’ve been to quite a few conferences, mostly in the husband-in-tow role. They are some of the silliest wastes of organizational money ever. If a bunch of distant professional friends want to have a drink-up, that’s fine with me, but they should be paying for it out of pocket and taking vacation time to do it.

      4. Yes they are. They are just doughnut and coffee fests.

      5. Right, but sending and reading an email takes a few minutes, and leaves the rest of the day unfilled by make-work.

        If you set up a conference, you can pad out your 3 minutes of content with travel, introductions, lunch, bathroom breaks, and “table huddling for discussion”.

        And that doesn’t even count all the time spent on conference organization. Scheduling emails back and forth, the making of travel arrangements, the choice of approved hotels, haggling over agendas, more haggling over the order of precedence of presenters, etc.

        I would bet that if you add up all the time people spend reading the emails needed to get them TO the conference, you’d have about 10x the time needed to have those same people read a report or watch a webinar communicating ALL of the content that will be communicated at the conference.

        1. It gets even worse when you are in academia… conference attendance and participating in the professional organizations that host the conferences has been made an official part of their job… and often a fast-track to getting tenure. The path to advancement is doing anything other than the actual day-to-day job that they were hired to do.

          This and the corruption of tenure are the reason academia is so very, very fucked.

    3. There’s actually a bullshit rule in government that your agency cannot provide food or drink unless the meeting is taking place 50 miles or more away from the duty station. This leads to agencies scheduling important hands-on meetings in other cities just so they can provide a continental breakfast and lunchmeat buffet. Only now, in addition to the pricey muffins, the employees get mileage, and overtime or comp time, for travel.

      And government contracting? ridiculous. I learned of a manger who got in trouble because he had to purchase cabinets for a workshop. To contract for them would take 40 hours of work, reviewing multiple bids which easily fill up a three ring binder. Instead, he borrowed three employees government credit cards and split the purchase.

      I’m betting the 16$ muffins came about because some GS-9 didn’t want to deal with the bullshit and played “bid roulette” and just picked out a food service thing at random.

      If we could just let the agency pay for a box of Krispy Kremes and urn of coffee, you suckers would save a bit of money.

      1. No food or drink, maggots! You’re here to work!

      2. “And government contracting? ridiculous.”

        Truer words have never been spoken. Just look at the Federal Acquisition Regulation and its countless supplements.

      3. If we could just let the agency pay for a box of Krispy Kremes and urn of coffee, you suckers would save a bit of money.

        Or you could shut the agency down and save all the money.

        1. As far as hurting my livelihood, I’m opposed. On general principle, I agree.

    4. Another dark secret: private companies who are struggling financially may *gasp* stop catering meetings altogether. Hell, at my previous employer, we went from every meeting catered to passing around a menu in the morning to order in at our own expense. Until the government understands that debt and deficits (or as they would be called in the private sector, losses) have consequences, and that you can’t just keep spending at the same rates regardless of income, we will continue down the slope to complete financial ruin.

  5. That’s a big twinkie muffin.

    1. Believe it or not, “Twinkie Muffin” is what Harry calls me when we’re alone.

      1. Hey Nancy…..the 70 year old Twinkie looks better in the wrapper than you do……I’m sure it tastes better!

  6. The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Blueberry Muffin is an all-weather tactical muffin designed by McDonnell Douglas to gain and maintain food superiority in aerial combat. It is considered among the most successful modern muffins with over 100 aerial combat victories with no losses in dogfights or parts sticking to the paper when unwrapped, even under 8 Gs of acceleration. Following reviews of proposals, the United States Air Force selected McDonnell Douglas’ design in 1967 to meet the service’s need for a dedicated air superiority muffin. The F-15 is expected to be in service with the U.S. Air Force until 2025

    1. I’ll take 1,000 of those muffins!

      1. Me, too!

        1. Are you sure these muffins are halal?

  7. Only if they’re baked in my district!

  8. Muffins make fatties and fatties are a drain on the system.

  9. Will there be an H&R post about Troy Davis’ murder by the state of Georgia?

    Here is a list of prosecution witnesses who recanted


    1. Did they serve muffins?

      1. seared steak tips…

  10. Here is the real problem with government. In the private sector the incentive is to cut costs. If a new manager comes in and tells his bosses, “I have figured out a way to do the same job we are doing now with 1/4 less people”, he will, assuming he comes through, be a star. In the government the incentive structure is completely different. Managers are not judged by how productive and efficient they are. They are rewarded by how big their empire is. The more people who work under you, the more important you are in the government. So the incentive structure is reversed. If a new manager comes in and says “I can do this with fewer people”, that manager is setting himself up to be less important and never promoted. But if he comes in and convinces the budget people to give him more people, he is a more important person and is rewarded as such. I have seen this in my job in the government. I have seen SES come in and hire a ton of people who were completely unnecessary for the sole purpose of empire building. And those SESs were rewarded handsomely for wasting tax payer dollars.

    This is why bureaucracies always expand. And the only way to control them is to kill them.

    1. John,

      You just channeled Ludwig Von Mises.

      “Bureaucracy, 1944”

      1. I have never read that. But it is definitely in line with my experience. That is what is so frustrating about government work. When there is good work to be done, the agency you work in immediately hires two or three times the people necessary to do it and everyone just ends up board and unfulfilled.

        1. ….and everyone just ends up board and unfulfilled.

          Dude…blatant grammar foul! Unless you were really commenting on “planking” which is being discussed on another thread!

        2. Is it that way and only that way? Suppose (no, I’m not smoking anything) Ron Paul was named Sec.Treasury and gave out bonuses for every department that cut spending/employment by 25% or more. Would incentives change the bureaucracy or not?

          1. Sure. You could change it. But it would be really hard. And take a total revolution in the thinking that goes on.

  11. You know, I need a job, too! We can’t all be in Obama’s favored professions, like teacher and construction worker. Imagine the unemployment that will result if the government pays market price for muffins and stops holding conferences!

    Think of the vendors’ children! Think of the most vulnerable vendors in our society!

  12. interesting comment in the linked article’s section:

    AbAeterno And it’s looking like it is accompanied by the further tactic of the hit and run troll.


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