Monday, September 19, 2011

Our "Circumlocution" President

Back in the dawn of the modern era, in the middle of the 19th century, Charles Dickens nailed modern government in Little Dorrit.  Dickens invented the Circumlocution Office, staffed by the Barnacles and the Stiltstockings, and the motto of the office was "How Not To Do It."

Decades from now, I predict, professors will be using the Obama administration as an awful example of "How Not To Do It."

Of course, for liberals, the example will be how the Obama administration managed not to do it to the greedy bankers.  There's a lovely piece today from New York magazine, a dialog between Frank Rich and Adam Moss about the new White House tell-all book Confidence Men by Ron Suskind.  Their big problem with Obama is that in the chaos of conflict between Tim Geithner and Larry Summers the Obama administration failed to reform the financial system and nail the greedy bankers.  That's the liberal narrative of course, that the financial meltdown was all due to greedy bankers, and Rich and Moss are sticking to it.

For conservatives, of course, the "How Not To Do It" of the Obama administration lies in its liberal folly. It failed to realize that the financial mess required a leaning of government and an all out effort to get the economy restarted.  Instead the Obamis went with a wasteful stimulus that mainly went into the pockets of Democratic supporters, and terrified all job creators with higher costs and taxes in ObamaCare and swingeing environmental regulations.

In back of all this is the bigger question, the monstrous betrayal of the American people, the cynical pandering for votes that has left the US bankrupt and will require the reckless promises on health care and pensions to be rolled back.

Then there is the devastating indictment from Reuven Brenner on education.
In fact the much discussed increasing inequality in the U.S. and other Western countries may be, in part, explained exactly by the fact that governments subsidize so extensively high-schools and universities.  After all, the best and brightest benefit disproportionately from these subsidies.
If someone is not thrilled about math and the sciences, but is excited to repair cars, and would like to open a garage, the government doesn’t offer him a $50,000 to $100,000 subsidy.  Yet the bright kid gets just such subsidy – and more – when studying math, engineering, biology, or medicine.
The problem is not just that the liberal elite has skewed the education system by sluicing money in favor of the kind of education they want for their kids, but that the whole economy is riddled with this privilege and subsidy regime, in which the $500 million load guarantee to bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra is just the poster boy.

One fine day, the educated class has got to wake up and admit to themselves that they know nothing about the economy or education or anything else, and that their high-handed efforts to make it more fair just ends up encouraging rent seekers to lobby for favors.

I keep saying: it probably had to be like this.  The only way for everyone to realize that government is lousy at everything except simple force--keeping the peace--is to have the government try all the cool stuff, from education to pensions to health care to welfare, and then fail miserably at it.

And that is where we are at with this failed "Circumlocution" president.  We are in the middle of a great demonstration that government is always and everywhere a great Circumlocution Office, filled with place-holders like the Barnacle family, hanging on like grim death to their sinecures, and pathetically devoted to the practice of "How Not To Do It."

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