Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is Government Capable of Succeeding?

Following on the heels of Katrina we have another incident, the failure to act on warnings of al Qaeda highjackings reported by the 9/11 Commission. Instead of starting endless recriminations about which President failed to do what, perhaps we need to ask a more basic question.

These failures of government to perform the basic tasks force one to ask if the government is in fact any longer capable of performing the essential core tasks of any civil society. Has modern government become so metastasized that it is overwhelmed by the sheer detail in a futile attempt to do it all? As if it all had equal importance.

Surely the lobbyists, advocates, Congress members and their staffs, bureaucrats, regulation writers, lawyers, journalists, etc. would, and do, spend their lives insisting that every jot and tiddle of every law, regulation, hearing and report issued is vital to America. Like all of us, these people need to think that their work is important. And, in modern America we have all become very skilled in demanding attention to our point of view.

Life in general is vastly more complex today than in the past. The requirements of government are no less so. (Just look at the daily book-sized issuance of new and proposed regulations that is the Federal Register) Can we continue to grow in complexity and accomplish it all without vastly growing the number of employees doing these tasks? Can we focus ourselves on the truly valuable tasks and accept less than perfect, even shoddy, attention to the lesser ones? Who and how would the truly valuable tasks be identified? Is consensus on such things beyond us as a society?

Just asking.