Instapundit points to Bill Frist’s proposals for altering the budgetary process to make it more accountable and controllable. He ask for thoughts on the matter.
I think that every government program should have some kind of metric attached to it which will be used to determine if the program has succeeded or failed.
The legislators would set the metric, the level of the metric that would determine success or failure and the time frame over which the metric would be measured when they authorized and funded the program. If the metric was not measured at the projected levels then the program would be automatically sunsetted.
For example, the success of a program intended to reduce unemployment would be measured by the unemployment rate (perhaps adjusted for GNP). Education programs could be evaluated by test scores. Environmental programs by pollution levels and so on.
How would this help control spending?
First, I think it would force proponents to lay their cards on the table and make concrete prediction for how well they expect a program to work. Other legislators could more easily evaluate the expected cost-to-benefit ratio. Proponents would avoid making pie-in-sky claims for programs because the higher they set expectations, the greater the chance that program won’t hit the target.
Second, programs tend to develop constituencies that have little to do with the effectiveness of the program. Few politicians want to spend political capital killing relatively small programs. Hardwiring a kill switch into the authorization would force ineffective programs into the sunset without having to trade off other programs that might actually be working.
Third, a lot of people seem to vote based on how proponents label the program. Many voters reflexively support programs labeled as “anti-poverty” or “tough on crime” without asking if the actual program does anything positive. Concrete metrics would shift the topic of debate from labels and vague intent to effectiveness.
Fourth, it would introduce something like free-market competition to government programs. Instead of competing against other business programs would compete against the expectations of the legislators who created the program. Programs that did not measure up would die out.
Some might argue that we cannot measure the effectiveness of all programs, but this objection itself raises questions: If proponents cannot define some kind of measurement to judge success or failure ahead of time how can we ever say that the program is working or not? Moreover, if they cannot predict how well a program will work then how well do they really understand the problem they intend the program to ameliorate?
If we truly understand a particular problem to the degree that we can use government power to improve it then we should understand it enough to measure it. We should also acknowledge that new programs are actually experiments and that most experiments fail. We need to have automatic mechanisms for determining which experiments worked and which did not.
Predetermined metrics are not a cure-all but they couldn’t help but improve both the cost and the quality of government programs.
39 thoughts on “Measuring Pork”
I’m all for evaluation.
Oh. Okay. We’ll endorse the arbitrary disposal of other peoples’ money by bureaubots if it works. If the theft is efficacious, it’ll get the nod.
Would someone please show me where there is a moral bone in the body of this rubbish?
I wish you luck in getting your morally pure system implemented any time soon. In the meantime, why not support a system that is both politically possible and likely to have the effect of taking less of taxpayers’ money?
Because principles matter, Jonathan, whether you like it, or have the courage necessary to face it, or not.
Let us concede arguendo that I lack the courage to face the fact that principles matter. That leaves me in the craven posture of merely hoping, in an unprincipled way and cowardly way, to see some mitigation of the bad things I see before me. Admittedly this is an objectively contemptible manner of proceeding, but I will assert in my spineless and simpering and unmanly fashion, that I would like to see some observable improvement in the way we are taxed and the government is run. Petty, I know, mere small change in the great moral struggles of our times. But people like me only hope for such minor improvements, being, as we are, men of no principle.
Given all the foregoing, and within the miserably crabbed scope of my small-minded vision, I like Shannon’s idea.
(And I always like Billy Beck’s interventions, in all seriousness. The purity of his vision is a reminder of the direction many of us would like to be tending toward, however unreachable it may be in practice.)
Because principles matter, Jonathan, whether you like it, or have the courage necessary to face it, or not.
And the sacrifice of practical, incremental improvement on the altar of high principle is the mark of the ineffective zealot. There is no courage in staking out a position so far on the extremes that the vast majority reject it out of hand. Getting people to view the state as an institution based on violence is the work of generations. I was thinking of improvements that could be made in a couple of years.
Excuse me if I would rather start walking in the direction of my distant destination instead of sitting on my ass bitching and moaning that I don’t have a teleporter.
We should also acknowledge that new programs are actually experiments and that most experiments fail. We need to have automatic mechanisms for determining which experiments worked and which did not.
This position, of course, leaves you absolutely helpless to opposes “experiments” which work but which are also unjust and tyrannical.
Your pragmatism is not only immoral, it’s not even pragmatic.
“I would like to see some observable improvement in the way we are taxed and the government is run.”
Then that makes you my enemy. I am not the least interested to see this thing run more efficiently. I don’t care how well the robbery is going. My first political value is freedom, goddammit, and I know what the word and the concept mean.
No bullshit allowed.
Shannon: You don’t know who you’re talking to. I’ve sat “on [my] ass” in jail cells behind what you’re pleased to sneer at as “zealot[ry]” in a context of “courage”. Where the fuck have you been?
Well, it’s more “efficient” for the police to perjure themselves when gathering evidence. And they do. A friend of mine is going to be sent up for a long time because they do, and there’s no appeal and nothing anyone can do about it. Saves money, though – just lie about evidence rather than spend time actually gathering any.
So I’d like to know what the hell your “metrics” are going to do about that kind of situation, Shannon.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
Doing things differently. Is disagreement permitted? My libertarian rule book doesn’t say anything about people who share principles not being allowed to disagree on tactics, but perhaps I overlooked something.
How did we end up discussing jailtime and crooked cops?
I can understand what Shannon is postulating. Her idea is to get rid of programs that DON’T WORK. Not to get rid of programs. To be efficient, and make this business of satisfying a people’s need is the epitome of good capitalism. God forbid the goverment endorse a program only if it works, and cut if off if it becomes superfluous tax spending.
I am willing to wager that, because such positive moral programs are where elections are won, newer, better agencies will flourish where the falty programs have failed. That’s efficient, moral, and smart.
“Is disagreement permitted?”
That depends on all kinds of things, like: what exactly anyone is “disagree[ing]” about. In general, however, when facing this impertinence, I will be quick to point out that the force of government quite moots this dodge: your question would be far better taken up with them.
And I really don’t have too much of a problem with people who aren’t interested in jail cells. They are very boring places at best, and I could go on at length about how I know this.
But people who start cracking wise like Shannon did had better have their feet under them when they do, because I’ll have their “ass”, when they don’t.
“That’s efficient, moral, and smart.”
Bullshit. You don’t have a “moral” right to go about voting on how to dispose of my property. Absent the political delusions of people like you, sensible people would call that a conspiracy. I wouldn’t do it to you, and there is nothing in the world unreasonable or othwerise wrong in pointing out that you have no right to do it to me or anyone else.
Now; it’s too bad if this makes your little head hurt. You’re the one who’s living in that box. Not me. And you’re the one who’s wrong.
I don’t think I really am your enemy, Billy.
The defense of freedom, in this day and age, will be carried out by all kinds of people with all kinds of views. My hero, Lord Acton, put it very well when he said that lovers of freedom have succeeded by allying themselves with people who were motivated by other things. That was how it had to be, because the alternative was no freedom at all. There are points on the continuum between an aspirational libertarian utopia and, say, North Korea. The USA as it really and currently exists is one such point. It is a pretty good place to live. It could be better. Incremental improvements may be possible. Massive change toward a fundamentally different society will take a long time if they happen at all. Perhaps this does make everyone who does not pine for the aspirational libertarian utopia a moral or intellectual idiot. Even so, these millions of people have their own ideas, their own interests as they perceive them and many of them vote, and you and I and the rest of us are stuck with them.
As to no bullshit being allowed, I have to object to that. I may from time to time indulge in a little bullshit. I simply cannot swear off of it entirely.
As to the merits of Shannon’s idea, it is like someone discussing a particular chess opening, and someone interjects “chess is a waste of time.” Possibly true, but not, strictly speaking, on point. To say, any discussion of government policy is out of bounds because the State is organized theft and anything less than absolute resistance is immoral may be a defensible position. But it is not, strictly speaking, on point, either.
To your credit, however, we can cite Barry Goldwater: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
“I don’t think I really am your enemy, Billy.”
There’s a lot that you don’t think, Lex.
I’m convinced that your heart’s in the right place, but that’s just not enough.
You don’t know who you’re talking to. I’ve sat “on [my] ass” in jail cells behind what you’re pleased to sneer at as “zealot[ry]” in a context of “courage”. Where the fuck have you been?
Making a difference. You know, actually getting things accomplished. Getting tossed in jail isn’t an accomplishment. In my experience, most people who get tossed in the clink in the last thirty years for supposed political reasons are actually self-aggrandizing idiots.
You sound like one of those people more interested in your own emotional gratification than actually changing things. You like to play the martyr by staking out such extreme positions that virtually no one will agree with you. Yawn.
If it gratifies you to declaim about your moral purity and principled vision, well have fun but when the histories are written it will not be people like you who accomplished real change. People like you never get things done. Solid change doesn’t come in sweeping grand revolutions that make good movies komplete with the uncompromising hero. It comes from the plodding work of evolutionaries who change the world in stages and quite often behind the scenes.
I would like to sweep off the leviathans head with one fell stroke as well but I know this is a fight that will be won by attrition. Its boring and emotionally unsatisfying but it does have the virtue of being grounded in reality.
Billy Beck is exactly right of course.
Honda is accountable to me. Apple is accountable to me. Wal Mart is accountable to me. Your government cannot be made accountable to me because it is organized theft.
Lex actually points this out in the process of an eye-glazing libertarian utopia / at-least-it’s-not-North-Korea-here routine, like I haven’t heard this a hundred million times before from all manner of statists.
Look, I really have to ask, how bad does it have to get before you people start examining the premises underlying these things?
“You like to play the martyr…”
Look, you insolent twit: you can think what you want, but don’t presume to give me shit about “sitting on my ass” and then back-fill when I point out that you’re dead wrong in my case.
Go fuck yourself.
“…all manner of statists.”
What I like about the more vehement libertarians, and I mean this sincerely, is they make people like me look moderate.
“…examining the premises …”
It is not a matter of premises, it is a matter of praxis. What is actually achievable under current conditions, and by what means? What types of arguments will be convincing to people to make changes?
Now, if you say, fuck that convincing people bullshit, and fuck that what-is-achievable bullshit, my liberty is not up for negotiation … .
OK, fine, you have said this. Now what?
What, seriously, is your proposed program of action?
Billy says, having your heart in the right place is not enough. OK, I agree that is usually true. So, what is the program?
Really. Let’s hear it.
“I wish you luck in getting your morally pure system implemented”
Doesn’t seem as though he has a prayer, does it? I mean, when you’ve got libertarians who can’t call theft, theft — prefering instead to conspire as how to make the theft “better”….?
Myself? I don’t feel very morally pure, today. Just this morning I stopped off and had breakfast at a cafe, and upon my return realized I’d left the car unlocked with my new fancy shmancy Vaio notbook sitting right out there in the open. It could have been stolen
I’m normally far more morally pure than that; that is, I lock my car to attempt prevent people stealing from me.
I’m just a stickler for, you know, moral purity.
I don’t write other peoples’ “programs”, Lex. I leave that to commies.
I know how a man conducts himself.
And I know this, too: people who cannot get the truth out of their mouths have no chance. None. You’re busy convincing people that they should just live with it. That’s what you’re doing.
Where do you think that’s going to go?
Well, if someone says to me “Lex [not my real name], what do you think we ought to do about this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into”, my response is not, “look, pal, don’t be weak, I’m not some kind of commissar to tell you what to do.” If I am in some kind of basic agreement with the guy about the problem we face, in this case a government which is too big, too powerful, too expensive, I am not averse to joint action. This kind of thing comes up at work, for example. You see a problem, or a task, you get the people you work with motivated to accomplish the task or fix the problem, in a case where it is too big to take on by yourself.
Is that you are against any kind of activity which involves anyone besides yourself participating in it?
Nor do I see how the italicized word “man” helps me to understand what you are saying, either.
Perhaps the suggestion is that it is somehow effeminate of me not understand what your opposition to the state, or to taxation, or whatever, concretely consists of. I can live with that, though I think it is not particularly justified.
I’d still like to understand what you actually believe the alternative is to what you call “convincing people that they should just live with it”.
You are of course on your own to live your own life-program as you see fit. But you also obviously have some vehement opinions about, for example, suggesting some incremental reform of the government. OK. Fine. I won’t ask you what you suggest as an alternative, since only commies impose their programs on others. Then let me ask you, what is that you actually do as an alternative way to push back against the state, etc.?
I’d like to hear it, and our readers might, too.
*I* had nothing to do with it.
Now; you guys get out there and clean your mess out of my yard.
You can start by speaking the truth. It’s just exactly that simple, and if you cannot understand this fact, then you’re disqualified from the fight.
Since I have been speaking the truth, as far as I know, all along. I will continue to do so. I see what I see, I understand what I understand, and sometimes I write about it. I don’t agree that I am not speaking the truth. If by that you mean I do not condemn the evil of the status quo sufficiently, I suppose it is because I don’t see it as being as evil as you do. But I don’t see how that is a lie. It is a different assessment of the same facts. We make judgments.
So, I am speaking the truth. Or, if I’m not, you have not indicated very clearly to me where I have failed to do so.
Yes, I agree, I did not build the welfare state either, or pass the amendment that allows the income tax. So that “trash” is on my yard, your yard, all of our yards, and even if none of us built it, we all have the same problem: it’s there. So, like it or not, “we”, all of us who live here, live in that world. What the response to it is, that is the open question. Do “we” act solely individually? Do “we” act by aggregating our efforts? Do “we” act only if those who agree with us agree totally, or do we act tactically? I don’t think it is a moral or intellectual failure to consider these questions.
I tried to understand what you are proposing be done in opposition. Your response seemed to be that making any such proposal was not your business, that you do not tell others what to do. Fair enough. I then tried to understand what it is that you are doing, personally, to live in opposition to all this — without regard to whether anyone would imitate or adopt your approach. I read what you wrote, and it is not responsive. Which is also fine, you don’t have to respond to it.
But, I would like to leave this dialogue having learned something, and so far I have not.
With that, I think we have reached an impasse.
If you have anything else, you are free to go last. I’ll read it.
By the way, I liked the videos of your band.
I didn’t say you were lying, Lex. Start thinking. One can mis-handle the truth without lying.
As for tactics: Sabotta already made that point. And if tweaking the “efficiency” of theft (there’s more truth for you, son) is your idea of tactics, then the sooner you vacate the arena, the better.
I didn’t understand that wanted to know what *I* do. Very well: among other things, I break every immoral law that these bastards write as often as I possibly can, and I don’t hesitate to point out rot like this post of Shannon’s. In brief, I keep my mind clean over this stuff, and that’s how I speak about it, too. No matter what.
It’s the bloody least we can do. Just stop the bullshit. You don’t have to go out and throw yourself in front of a tank. But one might at least expect thinking human beings to stop cheezing this stuff like this post did.
I’m glad you enjoyed my band.
If we all live long enough, I want to start putting the things I’ve been saying to music with those guys.
Somebody’s got to do it.
Billy: So far you’ve said the following (sans insults, and a bit out of context of rebuttles):
“Oh. Okay. We’ll endorse the arbitrary disposal of other peoples’ money by bureaubots if it works. If the theft is efficacious, it’ll get the nod.
Would someone please show me where there is a moral bone in the body of this rubbish?”
“I am not the least interested to see this thing run more efficiently. I don’t care how well the robbery is going. My first political value is freedom, goddammit, and I know what the word and the concept mean.”
“You don’t have a ‘moral’ right to go about voting on how to dispose of my property”
“I don’t write other peoples’ ‘programs’, Lex. I leave that to commies.”
“Now; you guys get out there and clean your mess out of my yard.”
Now here is how I translate:
My understanding is that you don’t want to get rid of programs when they don’t work because that would be immoral, and because principles matter. You don’t care how efficiently things are run. And somehow *we (perhaps without Billy) don’t have the right to dispose of your property. I’m assuming “my property” to mean the programs and institutions (as this is what the original post concerned) that simply aren’t working (your property? I pay taxes too…). And somewhere in holding these programs accountable, you are offended. I would think that accountability would have one of two byproducts for each institution: either the program would become more successful (as is their goal, right?) or be replaced with a program that IS successful. What good is a school if it doesn’t teach? A soup kitchen if it is not feeding the homeless?
This works very well. For instance, the government contracts large corporations such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin to bid for, develop, and eventually manufacture, airplanes for our military. If Boeing is too expensive, if it fails to make a working airplane, or if any other problem arises from this contract, the government will go to the competitor (Lockheed Martin). Well our airplanes are the best-made in the world, and were probably built with lower cost and in a shorter time under these free-market conditions. You say your first value is freedom and I can understand the need for moral responsibility. But if the airplanes don’t work, so to speak, then what’s the point in continuing to build them?
“But if the airplanes don’t work, so to speak, then what’s the point in continuing to build them?”
“We must protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen!” (Mel Brooks — “Blazing Saddles”)
We could talk about airplanes if you want to. I’ve been studying aviation, especially military aviation, just about since I knew what at an airplane was. That dates to about 1965. It’s an enormous subject, and especially when it’s crossed with ethics (the study of values) and politics (the study of human social relations).
Briefly: I stand on the fact that the government never produces anything, as well as the necessary implication that we don’t need them. You and I could build military aviation in exactly the same way that we build Chevrolets and Fords, today, and if you don’t understand that, then you’ve homework to do far more basic than the the dicussion that I’ve taken as proposed. And military development is actually nothing like what you say. There was once a time when individually-owned companies developed airpanes on their own dime and took their chances on the better mousetrap for presentation to the government. For lots of reasons, the competition that you assert simply doesn’t exist, and this should be no surprise given the fact of stolen money to drive the matter, even though it’s taken about fifty years to drive the right people out of business.
“Accountable”? Please: don’t ply me with noise. Go pitch that to CNN or your favorite university professor. I care not one whit for statements of “accountability” from people who point guns at me in order to have their way with what I produce. And I don’t care if you pay taxes. That’s your problem. I suggest that you stop it, like I did twenty-nine years ago, but I’ve been talking about what’s mine and not what’s yours. You’re the one who has to figure that out. While you’re doing it, though, you might take a moment to understand that there is no equivocation between your willingness to send them your money and my refusal because it’s mine and I don’t value anything about them. Whether you pay taxes means nothing to the fact that I’m right not to. I own what I produce: it is mine to dispose of as I wish, which is what “ownership” means, and nothing else.
And nothing in the world can make that fact disappear, much less what it means…which is something that goes to your ridiculous assertion of “free-market conditions” in military aviation.
You have a hell of a lot of work to do.
Efficiency is, of course, meaningless. The cost of the White Sea Canal is high if all you need is a canal – cheap at the price if you want to terrorize the population. Stalin’s budget was just differently prioritized, that’s all.
It all has to do with what you value. Which is why this notion of restraining the State by bean-counting is nothing but a bad joke.
If you have a govt program and the alternatives are 1) no change and 2) a change in incentives that will lead to the program’s spending less of your money for the same output, why shouldn’t you prefer the second alternative?
It’s because I demand a state of affairs which is only right and not included in your arbitrary constraints.
The state of affairs that you demand isn’t available on demand. Anyway you are avoiding my question, which is your right, but by doing so you appear to be conceding my point.
“The state of affairs that you demand isn’t available on demand.”
That’s right, and it doesn’t matter to you why that’s so.
Don’t squirm, son. Hold still. I’ve seen a million of ’em like you, and I can see you coming a mile away.
But how do you measure, most projects the goverment takes on are because they are believed to be of value that cannot be recognized in financial transactions.
I suppose one way would be to forcast how policies will affect future tax revenues and subtract the cost, but I don’t know if that can be done effectively or timely.
Beck: Briefly: I stand on the fact that the government never produces anything, as well as the necessary implication that we don’t need them.
That may be standing on principles, but it isn’t a useful interpretation of how communities & people work.
The rule of law & institutions encourage production. In a depressing description of Cameroon, Tim Harford argues:
Sure, less government is often better government, but it is best “less” when instutions and certain ways of looking at the world are in place. Limited, good government is linked with production; both too much & too little government is not. This isn’t just true in tragically screwed up third world cities: a small town close to us was the first to ever lose a Wal-Mart. That was because the theft rate was so high. (rumors) Primarily the attitude that led to theft but also the loss of sales tax revenues (and the expense of traveling to other cities for basics) led to a school system that has been rated the worst in Texas. (not rumor)
For instance, do we really need to punish coaches who have excellent teams; instead, we need some humility & willingness to learn from the losers & some sportsmanship & thoughtfulness from the winners. (Volokh.) Rules are especially necessary when institutions & their attitudes become weak.
Sure, it is true you can’t legislate some of those bedrocks of civil society (honesty, humility, sportsmanship, for instance), but legislation can encourage it by transparency & accountability. Harford is, after all, writing on Reasononline and certainly doesn’t argue for statist government. Many of his examples of what’s wrong are of too much government. If there were no government, in Cameroon, at least the leader wouldn’t be in a position to steal all the money that’s coming in. But too little, too, discourages creativity.
Surely the position of accountability & transparency are likely to limit government but keep its ability to encourage productivity. (Misquoting * to avoid censor.)
“The rule of law & institutions encourage production. In a depressing description of Cameroon…”
I get so goddamned sick of this tack. “Here’s a good idea: let’s compare the pinnacle of rationality in Western history with a bunch of dirt-scratching savages without the least heritage of background in anything like private property!”
Just sit down and get off it.
I’m a little curious about how to “sit down & get off it” on a blog on which I write.
I’d also welcome your examples of productive areas – I don’t know what to call them since they wouldn’t be nations, city-states, etc. – that demonstrate this incredible productivity with no government.
My example of a town with bad schools, damaged commerce & no productivity is twenty miles from where I live – people may complain we are in the boonies but they’d be hard pressed to argue we are “a bunch of dirt-scratching savages.”
Well, I must tend to a wedding with a bridesmaid and uncle flying stand-by & a rained out rehearsal dinner – but the fact I don’t intend to post for a few days does not mean that I took your advice to “sit down” but rather I have other things to do.
And your principles appear to be purely those of a child who shouts “it’s mine.”
You can write any silly thing you want to on your blog, Ginny. I’ll point out that it’s silly.
I’d “welcome” your examples of anything like 1776 before it happened. Do you understand the fallacy of your demand?
I was precipitant in ending my remarks before addressing your third point, which is okay, because I can see that you confused “Camaroon” and your little town. I didn’t. However, I will point out that what I cited as the “pinnacle of rationality in Western history” has taken a lot of gas in the past hundred years or so, and it doesn’t suprise me at all that people now find it very difficult to see what they might do without various commissars riding herd on them all the time. You might find that attractive. I don’t, and it’s not American.
And you know what?
It’s mine. It’s a plain fact. Whether you think it’s childish, or not. That doesn’t matter.
I don’t fucking care whether you like me.
…and it doesn’t suprise me at all that people now find it very difficult to see what they might do without various commissars riding herd on them all the time.
Since we’re stoopid, why don’t you spell it out for us, oh great boy genius?
I did. You’re looking at it where you quoted it back.
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