“Reform Is Not Enough: The Federal Government Needs a Complete Makeover”
Yes, our government is a deviant subculture. But no, we needn’t all be looking 0ut for the “common good.” In fact, it’s when we act out of self-interest that we tend to most productive, most happy, and create the most wealth — thereby reinforcing a system for common good, one that works because it promotes individual autonomy and relies on spontaneous order. Which is why we don’t need a better government, just a decidedly smaller and less powerful one.
Fortunately, the author, Philip K. Howard, seems to get all that:
Right and wrong no longer matter in this deviant subculture. Sealed off from personal responsibility by accumulated bureaucracy and thick walls of special interest money, our government is covered by a putrid mold of cynical gamesmanship and everyday hypocrisy. People scurry around its baseboards seeking short-term advantage, but big change is so inconceivable as to be laughable.
Even reformers have given up. What is politically feasible, they ask? The answer is clear: nothing.
Change will nonetheless happen, political scientists tell us. How? Through a crisis. (See my March essay “The U.S. Government Is Too Big to Succeed.”) The main challenge then will be not merely to reform Medicare and other unsustainable programs. The challenge will be to change the culture of government.
Fixing democracy certainly requires toppling the walls of the status quo: constitutional amendments to reform campaign finance and to require programs to sunset every 15 or 20 years; empowering spring cleaning commissions to turn the junk pile of regulatory law into coherent codes; scrapping civil service as we know it, to end the presumption of lifetime careers and to revive public accountability; and eliminating the revolving door between Congress and K Street by banning lobbying for at least five years after public service.
Even all these changes, possible only in the desperation of a crisis, might not be enough to change a culture that is terminally cynical. Somehow we have to change how people in government behave. I had a fantasy in my last book that America should move the national capital. It wouldn’t matter where, as long as government is run by new people not infected by the current culture. [...]
If we can’t move the capital, the only way to change the culture is to put public employees on the spot. Today, with the exception of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, it’s almost impossible to identify a government official who actually has responsibility to make choices. Democracy can never work until we bulldoze the current bureaucratic model and replace it with individual responsibility and accountability.
American culture is still strong, but our democracy is broken. It cannot be fixed by this reform or that. Its failure is now embedded in a subculture that is devoid of individual responsibility. Government needs a complete makeover — not only new rules, but a transformation of how public choices get made. We’ll never have a responsible government until identifiable people have the responsibility to get things done and can be fired if they don’t.
It’s no accident — and not without some degree of real longing — that we talk here often of pitchforks and tar and feathers and stocks in the public square. And it’s no accident the TEA Party movement has sprung up in response to a permanent ruling class for whom Party affiliation is really but a convenient (and often lucrative) formality.
Yes, we must get rid of Obama. But that doesn’t mean we should be content or happy to have Mitt Romney move in and take over. Losing more slowly — us, we the people, never the politicians or the bureaucrats or their cronies and special constituencies — is still losing.
And so long as we agree that losing slowly is the best we can do — by allowing politicians to convince us that winning is completely off the table — we’ll find our liberties more and more taken from us, and our lives more and more managed by a permanent and structurally-enforced ruling class that manifests the trappings of a adversarial political party system without actually being one.
(h/t JHo, dicentra)