There’s an old bit that goes something like this. A community has a problem and they turn to local experts for help solving it. The experts come up with a plan, no one but the experts can understand, to tackle the problem. The plan is implemented and the problem remains. Worse yet, new problems arise from defects in the plan to solve the old problem. New experts are brought in to solve the new problems. Coincidentally, they happen to be proteges of the first experts. Their complex plan cures the first problem, but adds new problems to the now growing list of problems.
Some variation of this gag has been kicking around for as long as I can remember. It’s usually a criticism of the role of experts, but it is is a good example of what’s happened with government in the last couple of decades. The steady rise in the size and scope of government is part of it. Each new generation of politicians needs to have some reason to cut a ribbon, convene a commission or appoint a czar. I think the Feds are up to 45 czars now, all of whom need a team of experts to fix what the other czars have done.
It’s safe to say that the vast majority of experts are now employed by the state to address the problems created by their mentors. The ObamaCare bill, for example, was an overly complex solution to the problems created by fifty years of previous government solutions. There’s no money in just getting rid of the old defective solutions so this cycle continues until the whole thing eventually collapses. Or, grinds to a halt. The complexity reaches a point where no one can predict the outputs from the inputs so everything stops.
Here’s a good example of how the gears eventually grind to a halt. Keep in mind that Boston has had near record snow, which has exposed the public transportation boondoggles to enough stress to cause breakage. The trains have not been running and bus service has bee halted in many places. Money that should have been going to maintenance and repairs had been diverted to batshit crazy schemes like the one in that link.
There are other problems, but they follow the same pattern. This report from five years ago covers the rinse-repeat process of never solving a problem, but always spending on new solutions. That’s an inherent problem with democracy. The system attracts sociopaths, who get elected by showing off display items purchased with tax payer money. Buying tools and spare parts for the buses is boring. Showing off a new “smart initiative” with the Google execs is a vote getter.
It gets worse as much of this stuff is financed with debt that the government never intends to repay. The financial legerdemain required to pay for these schemes creates downstream problems that eventually jam up the gears like we see with the Greeks. At the state and local level, the lack of a printing press means complex, laddered borrowing schemes that eventually lead to insolvency. New York allows cities and towns to borrow from their pension funds in order to pay their pension fund obligations.
The galling thing is that most of the state and municipal problems can be solved by the state and municipal governments doing their jobs as they used to do fifty years ago. Cities need to police the streets, put out fires, run the schools and keep the streets repaired. That’s it. States have other things like ports and highways, but there are no new challenges facing human societies that require novel solutions. But, the sociopaths in politics can’t bray about those mundane things so they launch new programs and abandon their duties.
It’s the Antoninus problem. Antoninus was the emperor who followed Hadrian. Everyone knows something about Hadrian, the guy who left the famous wall in Britain. No one knows anything about Antoninus because nothing interesting happened in his 23 year reign. There were no wars, great economic troubles or revolts. It was one of the most peaceful and prosperous times for the empire. But, no one one remembers him because nothing big happened. Our pols want to be remembered so they are always casting about for something big to do.
The trouble is, layer after layer of new programs, new rules and new departments eventually leads to paralysis. The people shivering in the cold waiting for a bus or train in Boston are getting a taste of what’s coming. In Massachusetts, RomneyCare, the great health care reform of a decade ago, has made everything worse. Another rounds of “reform” and they will have to leave the state to get health care as the whole system will seize up. That’s where it is all headed.