Will we learn not to trust the government with unsexy maintenance tasks for vital public needs?

Pro-Publica lays out the facts decently but fails to draw the right conclusions in its dissection of New York City’s failure to stockpile for a pandemic. An endowment to finance storage and maintenance of an adequate stockpile would not have been subject to cost-cutting mandates and a move to just-in-time inventory systems. It would not be subject to political moves to take away its budget. It would just go on, year in, year out, assisting medical providers with emergency supplies stock rotation and providing a backup reserve for their on-site emergency supplies.

So who is going to propose to create such an endowment, whether local, statewide, or nationally?

9 thoughts on “Will we learn not to trust the government with unsexy maintenance tasks for vital public needs?”

  1. The defense budget should have taught us all, even if the states’ lack of highway and bridge maintenance has not, that politicians are not interested in maintaining infrastructure. It is new projects that get their pictures in the paper and make the news. Routine maintenance is so “routine.”

  2. Ironically, the left often uses the successes of early 20th Century “sewer socialism” as an excuse for far greater government management and control.

  3. Our political elites are too corrupt not to boondoggle and peculate the money for such things away.

  4. To create the center of power is to create the opportunity to abuse it, and attract the inevitable abuser. It has ever been so, and ever will be.

    Until we quit creating these things and erecting permanent scaffolds of bureaucratic incompetence to surround them.

    There’s also the issue of scale; if it’s impersonal enough that you can’t go down to where the obstructive Bob works, and punch him in the face? He’s got no incentive not to be obstructive, and you’ve got no leverage with which to discourage him from his obstruction.

    The real answer to all these problems is simply to quit doing this. Every time someone says “There ought to be a law…” or “Someone ought to do something about that…”, you need to crush that aspirational slavemaster (or, slave…) down to the ground, and tell them to either shut up, or “do something” themselves. The impetus towards obstructive bureaucracy starts with the small, and ends with the FDA. How much better off would we be, had someone back about the time of Upton Sinclair taken him aside and knocked some damn sense into him about the principles of “Caveat Emptor”, and then done something to remove the legal system’s protections of the vendors from the consequences of their actions? A few lynch mobs for those substituting chalk for milk, and the salutary educational effect on those remaining in that trade would probably have done more for food safety than the entire history of the FDA.

    The statist sets these things up, providing half-ass protections to those who abuse the public, and then magnanimously offers to set things aright by imposing a massively inflexible bureaucracy that will “fix” the problem they created by protecting the scurrilous vendors of the world from the consequences of their actions. I would submit that the long-term effects brought on by creating the bureaucracies of the FDA and the CDC have probably done more damage than they have managed to ameliorate, especially when you consider the way they’ve choked out innovation and rapid response to crisis.

    If you’re going to interpose a bureaucracy that absolutely must be engaged and brought in before you can respond to a crisis, then you had better make damn sure that said bureaucracy is actually capable and effective in its responses. If not, then don’t even bother–The public will evolve solutions that work, on their own. They may not be the ones you’d like, but they’ll be there and working long before your fossilized idiocrats come up with anything workable and effective.

  5. So, I’m getting a lot of agreement in the comments and am not sure what to do with that. Where’s the push back I’m so used to?

    Wanted: Someone who is willing to manage the money for such endowments on a part time basis until the amounts collected are sufficient to justify a full time job.

  6. “If you’re going to interpose a bureaucracy that absolutely must be engaged and brought in before you can respond to a crisis” you will fail. fixed it for you, you’re welcome.

    A bureaucracy is by definition disengaged, ineffective and incompetent. Some time within the first thirty days, whatever is entrusted to them goes from being supplies to be used in an emergency to to our supplies that someone wants to steal. In the same time, the priorities will shift from maintaining said supplies in a ready-to-use state to maintaining and increasing the administrative burden, since that will be the only visible manifestation and justification of their organization absent an emergency and the present head expects to be long gone when that happens.

    For reference, I site the last few thousand years of military history and the devolution of the Red Cross.

  7. @MCS,

    There’s usually a lot longer period than the 30 days you cite, and I base that on real-world experience in the military and other organizations.

    There’s a life-cycle to it all, and you can observe it working in most of our institutions on a micro- and a macro-level.

    The usual course of such things is that a problem or a crisis is identified; consensus is reached, and a decision made to “do something about it”. The “something” usually is unpleasant, hard work, and tends to attract mavericks and iconoclasts to the solving of it. Witness the way the US Army handled standing up things like the First Special Service Force and the Rangers.

    1st SSF under Frederick went from “send them the dregs of the stockades” on the US side of things to “Holy crap, these guys exceeded every unit deployment readiness test standard imaginable…” in a very short period of time. Frederick and the men he selected to run that force were mavericks with their own ideas about how to do things, and rapidly built an organization that wrought havoc upon the Germans. Had the Japanese still been on Kiska when the Force hit there, I have no doubt but that the Japanese would have suffered equivalently.

    The Rangers followed a similar trajectory. Both elements were shut down in the course of winding the war up, but the Ranger school remained as an institutional asset. Observing the sine curve that institution has followed down the years is educational–At first, like the old Ranger and 1st SSF units themselves, it was a place where the mavericks and iconoclasts self-selected out of a desire for excellence. The Ranger School, in its early days, was not considered a good “career-enhancer” for cadre members. Eventually, it became such–Which is where the problems cropped up. Men who seek “career-building” jobs are not the same sort of men who took those positions up at the founding of the school. Instead, they are time-serving hacks who abhor competence and excellence in real terms, aping the forms while neglecting the substance. Enough of them build up, and you have to do something about the cruft, and bring in real “men of excellence” to fix things. Which only lasts until the next set of career-minded parasites colonize the institution.

    Similar processes take place within every organization. The Engineer School in the Army suffered similar problems to the Ranger School with the Sapper Leader Course, and you could almost do a one-for-one case study outlining the identical progression of events.

    At the micro-level, you see similar problems taking place even within smaller elements of the Army. A company commander takes command, and upon assumption of the position, discovers that his Arms Room is a complete and total cluster-f*ck. So, he takes pains to find and put into position a high-quality junior enlisted or NCO to serve as Armorer and fix the place. That individual has his support, and the emphasis on fixing issues in that part of the organization serves to improve operations. Meanwhile, other aspects which were working, like the Motor Pool, may suffer from a lack of emphasis, because they weren’t problems…

    Next commander comes in, finds the Motor Pool a disaster and the Arms Room working just fine, emphasizes fixing the Motor Pool, neglecting the Arms Room. Conditions deteriorate, lower-quality people are selected as after-thoughts to running the place, because it doesn’t need the attention–It was working, right? How hard can it be?

    Another commander comes in, situation is now back to what it was before the first guy arrived: The Arms Room is a mess, and in danger of truncating careers.

    So it goes. The root of the problem is in the people; you have to ensure that all the elements are getting equal attention, and do not fail to engage with or emphasize any organizational function. The commander of excellence needs to be fully engaged across the entire spectrum of his organization, and those men are few and far between. Mainly because we don’t bother to train or select for those qualities.

    As with the Army, so with everything else humans try to organize. The answer to it all is to ensure that you only do the absolutely necessary, and make damn sure that you keep it functioning.

    Some bureaucracies keep working for generations. Venetian shipyards aped many of the same procedures used by earlier Mediterranean civilizations, and kept them effectively operational for centuries. What did they do, that they were so effective for so long?

    Key thing is, the shipyards were critical to the long-term success of Venice, and were never allowed to be taken over by the careerists, until they were no longer critical to Venice’s historic needs. Examine the history of those yards, compare them to those of Rome and Carthage, observe the similarities.

    On the whole, however, human beings do not do organization well, over the long haul of the millennia. I would submit that the bureaucratic impulse is one we need to suppress, and that some cultures are particularly bad at doing such things. America is, I am afraid, one of them. I wager that if you were to transplant German medical systems to the US, absent bringing along Germans to administer the damn things, we’d wind up with the same sort of sclerotic DMV-like crap we have now, and in very short order. Germans, in my observation, do bureaucracy fairly well, and do not tend towards the same sort of venal corruption we do. It’s like with the unions–In Germany, you screw up as an employee somewhere, odds are very good that you’re going to wind up blackballed by that entire industry, and it won’t be by the employer. The people doing it to you will be your fellow employees and union members, who are more worried that you’ll do damage to them and their reputations as craftsmen. In the US, the union will strike to keep an incompetent employee on the rolls, and obstruct his punishment. In Germany, the union is likely to take action before the employer, and actually impose more punitive measures. Or, so I observed while over there.

    You see similar things in the US military–The Army Non-Commissioned Officers Association is more concerned with chiseling more benefits out of the government than anything else. You look at the Swiss equivalent, for example, and that organization is lobbying for more training, higher standards of marksmanship, and publishing treatises on things like guerrilla warfare and basic tactics.

    In the US, for whatever reason, our unions become corrupt and venal drags on enterprise, and the bureaucrats turn into parasites. I don’t know why this is, but as an observational fact, it is readily apparent. It is the same in a lot of cultures, as well. For some reason, however, some seem to escape the inevitable.

    Which would seem to be a fit subject of study by some honest ethnographer.

  8. Oh, this is so much ado about nothing. Governor Cuomo can simply requisition all the medical gear he needs from the rest of a largely rural state, and send young men with automatic weapons to seize them. And they will do it, we know now, and go. No one objects. No one resists. No lawsuits; no sheriffs’ posses; no blathering about obviously illegal orders. The thing is done. The precedent has been set.

    This just in: There is nothing that a big blue city needs that it cannot sic the National Guard on the red state flyovers and requisition at gunpoint. Nothing. Even something as innocent and needful as life-saving medical gear. If you are prepared, you will be punished, and have no legal recourse.

    Happy Easter. And keep salting away ammunition. You have only four more years to set away everything you think you will need that somebody else might want. Enough to last for the rest of your life.

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