The Government Screw-Up Fraction

Most people out on the fringe, which is getting rather crowded of late, are more than a bit angry and bitter. It’s hard to be a sunny optimist when you sense that the world is going to shit and there’s nothing that can stop it. Turn on the TV looking for sports, only to see them parading around a mentally disturbed man in drag and you have to wonder if blowing it all up is not what’s best.

The truth is mass media makes the weird seem common, but it is no more common than in previous eras. When I was a teenager back in the last Maunder minimum, a friend dated a girl who lived with her father as her mother had died when she was a child. Dad had no woman in his life, but he had a closet full of women’s clothes. As long as he kept it out of the streets, people politely ignored it. Today he would be on display by the mass media.

Similarly, the corruption we see with monied interests and the governing elites is nothing new. Kings granted lands and titles to their favorites who just happened to fill their coffers with gold.  A century ago bankers and monopolists controlled western governments, buying politicians at every level. Government has always been for sale and it always will be for sale as long as humans are in charge. No man is so virtuous that he will refuse the highest bidder.

The real trouble we face, the true crisis of the age, is the mounting incompetence at all levels of government. We can joke around about failing up, but it is a real problem when it involves necessary work not getting done. In a prior age, there was a limit to the corruption because things had to get done. In the “post-scarcity” world, the people in charge operate as if there’s never any cost to their failures.

And they can for forgiven for thinking this. Take a look at the career of Marilyn Tavenner. She has been in government and quasi-government her whole life. No, public hospitals in America are not private enterprise. Her career before getting to DC is impossible to judge from where I sit, but her Washington career has been nothing but a string of disasters. Now, she is cashing in to be lobbyist.

Former Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner has been hired as the new CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, representing an industry that she helped regulate during the turbulent launch of Obamacare.

The powerful K Street lobbying group’s announcement Wednesday comes months after Tavenner, a nurse and former hospital CEO, stepped down as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. At the agency, she was responsible for writing many of Obamacare’s rules and oversaw the troubled rollout — and repair — of the enrollment website.

If you are an aspiring screw-up, you have to look at this as a great inspiration. If you are good at polishing the right apples and know how to toady to the right people, you too can get fabulously rich off the taxpayers, even you are a colossal screw-up. In this case, Mx. Tavenner is hired because she is on good terms with all the other screw-ups in the bureaucracy.

Smart fraction theory asserts that a nation’s per capita GDP is determined by the population fraction with IQ greater than or equal to some threshold IQ. Consistent with the data of Lynn and Vanhanen, that threshold IQ is 108. The more people you have in that fraction, the more stupid people they can carry up the economic ladder. Detroit has few people with an IQ over 108, while San Francisco has many.

You have to wonder if something similar is going on with government.The Iron Triangle of government consists of interest groups, members of congressional subcommittees, and agency bureaucrats. Interest groups lobby politicians through their staffers (bribes) who pass laws for agency bureaucrats to implement. Since agency bureaucrats are not very bright, they rely on interest groups to write the implementing regulations.

That is not as bad as it sounds as industry works as a brake on the incompetence of the bureaucrats and the lunacy of the political leg. The trouble is the government has grown so large and complex, industry needs insiders to work the system on their behalf.  This is where screw-ups from the agency bureaucrat pool get into the blood stream of government.

The inept bureaucrat gets a job in the industry they regulate, but they are a screw-up so the industry finds a home for them back in the bureaucracy or on the staff of a politician, usually at a higher level than they started. In time, these staffers cycle back into the bureaucracy, replaced by some other screw-up that was plucked from the bureaucracy by the special interests.

In this process, the number of competent people remains fixed while the number of screw-ups multiply. There’s a point where agencies are so loaded down with stupid people and screw-ups they no longer function in a predictable manner. Most of what gets done is pointless, the rest is mischief.

8 thoughts on “The Government Screw-Up Fraction

  1. If every government employee were competent, would we find ourselves in a better state, or worse? I assert we would be worse. We are asking the wrong questions.

  2. Government is always for sale to the highest bidder, and is never held accountable. This has always been true, and always will be. The best real world way to deal with these problems is to minimize the duties of government, and, as much as is possible, hold government accountable to the public (which is really what the Bill of Rights is about). The founders of the US republic understood this very well, but modern America has fallen for the swan song of “free” government benefits, and for “rights” conjured up and dispensed by the various arms of government. Unfettered libertarianism does not resolve the wealth, employment, and social safety net issues, but rolling over for government diktats has it’s own sad, unsustainable result.

  3. I’m in the financial industry. Right now I’m preparing for a three week exam by the FDIC. They are going to examine and critique our IT Department as well as numerous other areas. The person supervising this has had his or her own personal data stolen by some foreign government and he or she is going to tell us what we’re supposed to be doing wrong. What’s wrong with this picture?

  4. So what do you do with all of the secretaries, production line foremen, cashiers, and others put out of work due to technology, unregulated immigration, and exporting jobs? I have been among the bureaucrats and that’s precisely what most of them would have been 40 years ago.

    What you need is a modified “Marching Morons” solution. Keep wages down, give them somewhat meaningful work, and then pay a small cadre of 108-plus professionals real wages to keep things running. Capital deepening and increasing IT-related productivity keep you from burning out the cadres like in the original story.

    Ultimately, you have to find a clever, but not humiliating way to keep the less able from voting in demagogues at the polls every few years. Or at least tie the demagogues hands so they stop emptying the public purse in search of uninformed votes.

    • The great challenge of the coming age is how will the new global techno-elite manage and care for the billions of people with nothing to do. If automation can provide for most of human want, the value of labor, physical and mental, drops to near zero. Busy work sounds good until you spend five minutes at the motor vehicle bureau or in a local courthouse. It’s a problem alrwady showing up in employment numbers. We can fake those numbers for a while, but not forever.

      Collapse is a word that keeps coming to mind.

  5. “No man is so virtuous that he will refuse the highest bidder.”

    There is a story about Churchill which, though it maybe (as these things often are) apocryphal, illustrates the point.

    Churchill, talking to some pompous society dame: “Madam, would you sleep with me for £1000?”

    “Why yes, of course.”

    “And would you sleep with me for £1?”

    “Heavens no! What do you think I am?”

    “Madam, we know what you are. We are merely haggling over the price.”

  6. “A century ago bankers and monopolists controlled western governments, buying politicians at every level.”

    Woodrow Wilson was chosen to be President by a Wall Street banker, Bernard Baruch, even mainstream Historians will tell you this, the US got involved in WWI because the bankers wanted and they already controlled the White House.

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