January 25, 2010


Lamar Alexander has an intelligent take on the problems of biting off more than you can chew:

Step by Step
Incremental improvements are better than comprehensive reforms

The Democrats’ comprehensive immigration, climate-change, and health-care bills have been well-intended, but the first two collapsed under their own weight, and health care, if it doesn’t do the same, will be a historic mistake for the country and a political kamikaze mission for Democrats.

What has united most Republicans against these three bills has been not only ideology, but also that they were comprehensive. As George Will might write: The. Congress. Does. Not. Do. Comprehensive. Well.

That's not a surprise, as almost no one does comprehensive well. Lamar traces the over-reach urge to the fact that "... the president and most of his advisers have been trained at elite universities to govern by launching “a host of enormous initiatives all at once . . . formulating comprehensive policies aimed at giving large social systems — and indeed society itself — more rational and coherent forms and functions."

In other words, they're so self-assuredly brilliant that they already have all the answers, if only they can just dictate the forms and shapes of society itself! The problem there being, of course, that such thinking totally ignores two things: That citizens in a free nation resist such social engineering even when done "for their own good," and that the bigger the changes, the more subject they are to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

As Alexander elucidates, the incremental approach is not only less likely to produce catastrophic unintended consequences, but is more amenable to being reversed if found destructive. Comprehensive "reforms" tend to be very difficult to reverse, even when they go spectacularly wrong.

There is much more to fear in the hubris of the self-proclaimed elites than there is in the intentionally-hobbled structure of our system, and collectively we seem to grasp that. Maybe the backlash to the most recent attempts to absorb our fortunes, liberties, and even our lives into the statist visions of those elites will give them pause. It should, and not just on the Democratic side of the aisle. The Tea Party movement, that the GOP would so dearly love to harness exclusively for themselves, is not one that will fit well into the social agendas of the religious right. It is instead a populist outcry that can be summed up in one word: LESS. Not just less spending and less taxes, but less interference in our lives in ALL areas.

LESS is the new Big Tent, and pols should pay heed.

Ross Douthat has some related thoughts in today's New York Times.


mw said...

I heard nothing in the SOTU that would indicate the President has any appreciation of this at all.

To me, the Cap & Trade / "Green Economy" rhetoric is even more frightening than big bang Healthcare reform. Paraphrasing - he said something to the effect "Even if we disagree on the extent of global warming or what causes it - we can all agree that the American people want us to work together to get something done" WTF? Even if we don't know the extent of the problem or whether we know what causes the problem or whether we know how to solve it, we should go ahead with massive new taxes and top down industrial policy to re-engineer all energy and transportation in the US? And it would all be ok because it is bi-partisan? Really?

He has not been really called on that bit from the SOTU by either the MSM or new media. There is a major disconnect here.

If he wanted to do something big but manageable that might get support, how about just fix the friggin' grid? Let the market handle the rest.

Wait a minute - wasn't fixing the grid supposed to part of the trillion dollar stimulus package? What happened to that? Not enough left over after all the pork allocated to Dem districts?

Tully said...

It's the Care Bear Stare approach, mw. If you just concentrate hard enough and want to bad enough, it'll all just magically happen! Typical ideologue thinking. Doesn't work out too well in the real world.

And why, yes, they allocated a whole $3.4 billion or so for that new smart grid. No one's quite sure what they're going to spend it on, though.