November 9, 2015 by Dan Mitchell
Advocates of limited government favor a small public sector because more resources in the productive sector of the economy translates into faster growth, more job creation, and higher living standards.
Statists, by contrast, favor big government for two main reasons. First, many of them belong to well-connected interest groups that have their snouts in the federal trough. Second, some of them sincerely think government spending “stimulates” an economy and/or “helps” people.
I’ve learned over time that such voters generally don’t pay that much attention to economic arguments.
To the extent they sometimes favor small government, it’s because they think Washington wastes money. Indeed, I suspect a majority of voters would agree with P.J. O’Rourke that “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”
Yet many of those voters (perhaps even including some of the ones that recognize that DC is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse) can be persuaded to support bigger government. Having engaged in thousands of conversations with such people over several decades, I think they’re motivated by a desire to be part of a society that “cares.” So, regardless of Washington’s track record of exacerbating problems rather than solving them, these folks sometimes think more government is the right approach. Like second weddings, this is a triumph of hope over experience.
Today, at the risk of jumbling my analogies, let’s try to convince such people that you don’t want a second wedding if it means you’re getting hitched to an institution that is unavoidably wasteful and incompetent.
And we have some fresh eye-popping evidence. Here are some excerpts from an exposé published by the Washington Post.
…the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms. A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that’s now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper.
Amazing. After 10 years and $1 billion, the net result is a total cluster-you-know-what.
…officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS, were aware that the project was riddled with hundreds of critical software and other defects. …Only three of the agency’s scores of immigration forms have been digitized — and two of these were taken offline after they debuted because nearly all of the software and hardware from the original system had to be junked. ..A report last year from the DHS inspector general’s office said it sometimes took up to 150 clicks for employees to navigate the system’s various complex features and open documents.
So is the incompetent contractor (IBM) getting punished? Are any of the bureaucrats in charge of the project getting fired?
Of course not. This is government! So why you waste some money, that’s merely a prelude to wasting even more money.
This project, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013. Instead, it’s now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done nearly four years from now.
By the way, the incompetence revealed in this story this is not an argument for immigration or against immigration.
My point is simply that governments have long track records of squandering other people’s money, with this story simply being another straw on the camel’s back.
Or maybe it would be better to describe it as another bit of dead weight financed by over-burdened taxpayers.
I don’t know if this will make anyone feel better, but other governments are similarly incompetent and foolish.
Here’s an example of government blundering from overseas. As reported by the UK-based Guardian, the European Commission just admitted that it has successfully process 0.00015 percent of refugees.
EU members states agreed in September to relocate 160,000 people in “clear need of international protection” through a scheme set up to relocate Syrian, Eritrean, and Iraqi refugees from the most affected EU states – such as Italy and Greece – to other EU member states. So far 116 people have been relocated, and only 1,418 places have been made available by 14 member states, according to data released on Tuesday by the European Commission.
Wow. It’s been a while since I was a student, but I remember that you need 70.0 percent for a C and 60.0 percent to avoid failing.
With that in mind, I wonder what sort of grade you get for 0.00015 percent? Is there such as thing as F-, though I guess Z- would be more appropriate.
Here’s a graphic from the article.
By the way, the EU’s incompetence at processing refugees is one issue. Another issue is whether European nations should be granting refugee status to hundreds of thousands (and eventually millions) of people from cultures that don’t assimilate very well.
And I imagine that refugee status in Europe means access to welfare, so the system presumably creates the same perverse incentives we find on the American refugee program.
But for today, I’m simply focused on the fact that government bureaucracies are spectacularly incompetent.
Yet there are still many people who want to give more power and money to politicians.
Let’s close with a serious point.
Unless you’re an anarcho-capitalist, there are some things you want government to do, and you want those things to be done well.
So how, given the natural incompetence of the public sector, can you get good (or at least acceptable) results?
The only feasible answer is to have small government, as Mark Steyn has explained with his usual dose of sarcasm. A bloated public sector guarantees slipshod performance everywhere. But if the federal government concentrates on just a few tasks, oversight and monitoring will be easier and it will be easier to weed out incompetence.
And this isn’t just theory. The European Central Bank has produced a measure of public sector efficiency and their research shows that smaller governments are much more competent at producing desired results.
P.S. Bizarrely, some folks acknowledge government incompetence but think the right solution is more power for government.
P.P.S. Some of this is common sense. What government do you think is more competent and effective, France with its big government or Switzerland with its medium-sized government? Where do you think government is more effective, Singapore with its small government or the United States with its medium-sized government?