Bad Mandates
Published on: August 19, 2013
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  • qet

    The chief complaint isn’t that bureaucrats are “out of control.” The complaint is that multiplying bureaucracies and bureaucrats who are simply making a good faith efforts to do their jobs well and with enthusiasm leads to interference with people’s freedom of action. Your example of the sidewalk wheelchair ramps is illustrative. Those ramps may have been preposterous and wasteful but pursuit of any of the “hundred better ways” would still have involved intrusion into private lives. The very fact that there were so many different ways to carry out the mandate ought to cause alarm. If the issue is whether Congress or agency personnel deserve the greater criticism, I am perfectly content to blame Congress. From my perspective, one is the hand, the other the glove; they operate as a unity and the most important thing is to reduce the number of bureaucracies and bureaucratic agents carrying out mandates of any kind, whether well crafted or not. This would also reduce the opportunities for the litigious-minded to set the machinery in motion.

  • Anthony

    Francis Fukuyama, reading essay brings to mind organizational circle captures bureaucrats. That is, efficiency premised on sucessful implementation of goals/mission/objectives, in principal/agent model, turns policy delegation. You proffer that said delegation is hampered by mandates constricting discretion – thus organizational circle. In your example Congress is principal and outcomes (goals, mission, etc.) are regulated and binding on agents (executive bureaucrats). Now, disentangling congressional mandates organizationally is non starter. So, perhaps “Bad Mandates” ought to be revisited since capture innate to institutional model and by definition constrains agent.

  • Pingback: US Bureaucrat’s are (largely) neither stupid or venal, their bosses, our Politicians on the other hand…. | This World and Others()

  • victoria wilson – mn

    There are so many interesting observations to comment on in this article that it is hard to pick just one. Should the title be: Bad Mandates or Hard-to-Write-out-with-Proper-Intent Mandates? I understand the author to say that somewhere between the public submitting a directive to their representative and the end result produced by a government bureaucracy there was a turn in the road, a misguided interpretation, a cumbersome list of to-dos that derailed the original intent.

    It might be noted that corporate managers also misjudge their consumers by ordering the wrong quantity of an item (I believe overstock.com relies on these errs), producing an instantly obsolete product (asbestos cooking tiles in the 60’s), pulling an insensitive albeit expensive marketing campaign. Fairfax County is not the only entity to get it wrong and waste a few dollars.

    But did the system learn anything from the wheelchair ramps and Theodore Pinnock’s persistence? I am guessing yes. Whenever activism pushes the system to address their issue and secures a result, the larger public evaluates the outcome and calculates the “discretionary tradeoffs against competing goods.” It’s simply a longer process than most would like.

    The notion that mandates would be best collected, fulfilled and evaluated at a local level, within the confines of a smaller group, is undoubtedly correct. It might not be that the mandates requested at the federal level are bad as much as they present an arduous task in their composition.

    Now why the intent of mission orders is understood at the lowest level of a combat mission and whether James Buchanan had it right that civil servants are driven by self-interest are both interesting questions. I hope they get some more attention in this blog.

  • Bett

    The out of control bureaucracy has developed from the dereliction of duty by the three branches of the United States government. They have all shirked their responsibilities under the Constitution in order to avoid said responsibility. None want their reputations sullied by laws that disfavor their re-elections. They can always blame the bureaucrats. How convenient.

  • LawrenceD

    The lack of autonomy and it’s corollary–lack of accountability–is indeed a central flaw in our society, from judges and police officers to principals and teachers. Increasingly, parents are becoming subject to that dynamic, as of course are doctors and other medical professionals.

  • Walter M.

    It might be argued that sometimes, when politicians try to micromanage the bureaucrats, the effect isn’t to restrict their ability to exercise autonomous judgement, but rather to liberate it. Because at some point the regulations become so complex that it’s impossible to monitor compliance. And then the bureaucrats can do whatever they want.

    I had some experience with this. When leasing a diplomatic residence overseas, I was informed by Washington that the building needed to be made ADA-compliant. This would have required costly but essentially trivial modifications. Since, moreover, there were no disabled people using the building, this was absurd absurd. Although no one ever said directly that the requirement could be waived, I was told in an aside that most likely no one would ever check whether we made the upgrades. So I put it at the bottom of the to-do list, and just kept it there. No doubt that happens a lot.

  • ScottA

    Autonomy-maximizing bureaucrats have issues as well. For one, they don’t seem to be very at actually doing cost-benefit analyses even when they’re required (and OMB / OIRA don’t have anywhere near the authority to force agencies to do it).

    I’d consider giving local official the benefit of the doubt – they tend to be more in touch with the people whose money they’re spending – but national bureaucrats have very seldom demonstrated any interest in assessing the cost of things they decide are a good idea.

    Agree that the Niskanen budget-maximizing model is flawed, but don’t caricature all public choice with it; a more moderate version is just that bureaucrats care much more about enacting their ideas than about controlling costs that fall on people who are not them.

  • Fuku really should have named his book END OF RADICAL IDEOLOGY(or MACRO-IDEOLOGY). His idea was that the era of MONO-IDEOLOGY claiming to answer all questions and provide all the solutions had come to an end.
    Marxism was the first and last great threat/challenge to the ideal of a society defined by moderation, pluralism, property rights, and individual liberties.
    The modern moderate-pluralistic societies had room for different voices, interests, factions, ideologies, enterprises, institutions, sectors, customs and cultures, faiths, properties, etc. It didn’t claim to own the one-and-only TRUTH or promise utopia for all men.

    Marxism, in contrast, posited a supposedly perfect and flawless theory that would unify economics, philosophy, politics, spirituality, education, media, art and culture, science and research, and everything else into a perfect formula, the historical equivalent of E = MC2.
    No longer would mankind rely on false notions such as ‘private property'(bourgeois oppression), ‘individual freedom'(opportunity to exploit fellow man or be left alone to starve),’religious freedom'(opiate of the masses), or entertainment(diversion for the masses from their sorry lot).

    In the communist order, all people would be collectively emancipated and equal and living with truth and justice 24/7. People would be free as one united mass than ‘free’ as ‘individuals’ to cheat fellow man or be left to rot in the gutter. And there would be no need for religion since social truth itself woudl be holy and sacred.

    But communism failed while the West prospered and progressed after WWII. The West also let go of its former colonies and brought forth great social reforms. Marxists had contended that: (1) Western capitalism depended on imperialism to succeed, but in fact, West did better after shedding imperialism (2) non-western nations, due to imperialism or neo-imperialism would never be allowed to succeed in the capitalist world order, but East Asia disproved this.

    So, the fall of communism really did seem like the End of Macro- or Mono-Ideology.

    But Fuku didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that not only do ideas shape peoples but peoples(in this case, demography)shape history.
    Even if the increasing masses of non-whites in the West fail to mount an ideological or intellectual challenge to Western society/culture, their very presence will change the core reality and meaning of the West.

    After all, Germanic Barbarians didn’t change the course of history because they came up with an ideology or philosophy to challenge that of the Romans. No, they changed history because there were just too many of them and they had huge axes and wild passions. Because Fuku is an intellectual, he tends to focus more on culture and ideas than on sheer power of numbers and raw passions. Detroit’s fall had nothing to do with ideas. It was just the sheer force of riots, lootings, and burning cars.

    There is the power of the mob, of the fist. Or Fistory. End of history doesn’t mean the end of Fistory, especially when so many of those fists belong to angry mobs of another tribe.
    Fistory begins now.

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