Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Reality Check" for USA is long overdue

Whether it's passing failing students through the education system and letting them graduate, uneducated and unemployable, or bailing out failing auto industries instead of letting them be replaced with non-failing ones, it's the same thing. Postponing reality only makes your reality check much harsher when it finally, unavoidably arrives.

Postponing Reality
Some of us were raised to believe that reality is inescapable. But that just shows how far behind the times we are. Today, reality is optional. At the very least, it can be postponed.

Kids in school are not learning? Not a problem. Just promote them on to the next grade anyway. Call it "compassion," so as not to hurt their "self-esteem."

Can't meet college admissions standards after they graduate from high school? Denounce those standards as just arbitrary barriers to favor the privileged, and demand that exceptions be made.

Can't do math or science after they are in college? Denounce those courses for their rigidity and insensitivity, and create softer courses that the students can pass to get their degrees.

Once they are out in the real world, people with diplomas and degrees-- but with no real education-- can hit a wall. But by then the day of reckoning has been postponed for 15 or more years. Of course, the reckoning itself can last the rest of their lives.

The current bailout extravaganza is applying the postponement of reality democratically-- to the rich as well as the poor, to the irresponsible as well as to the responsible, to the inefficient as well as to the efficient. It is a triumph of the non-judgmental philosophy that we have heard so much about in high-toned circles.


Detroit and Michigan have followed classic liberal policies of treating businesses as prey, rather than as assets. They have helped kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. So have the unions. So have managements that have gone along to get along.

Toyota, Honda and other foreign automakers are not heading for Detroit, even though there are lots of experienced automobile workers there. They are avoiding the rust belts and the policies that have made those places rust belts. [...]

It's worth reading the whole thing. Thomas makes an interesting comparison with the horse and buggy industry, and the businesses supporting horses and horse-transportation, that were displaced by the automobile. There were no bail-outs or stimulus packages for them. Somehow, everyone adapted without a diaper-changing government spending tax dollars to keep dying industries going.

People have no respect for "easy" money that they don't earn. Government has no respect for our money, because they don't earn it. The government doesn't need to reform the auto industry (the free market is doing that), the Government itself needs to be reformed. From the WSJ:

Let's 'Restructure' Washington While We're at It
Congress is at least as unresponsive to consumer demand as Detroit.
Congress has been suitably tough in its advice to Detroit, calling for "a complete restructuring" of our failing auto makers. But how about restructuring Washington? The federal government is a giant Rube Goldberg machine that not only wastes hundreds of billions of dollars each year but also burdens local governments and the private sector with legal requirements that no longer serve the public good. Congress should take its own advice and retool Washington. Here's how:


- Streamline management. The federal government employs about 2.5 million civilians (including the Post Office), about 10 times the number directly employed in the U.S. by Detroit. The bloat is legendary. In his study on "thickening government," NYU Prof. Paul Light found that some government agencies have 32 layers of management, compared to five layers in most well-run companies.

Civil-service rules make hiring an ordeal and firing practically impossible. Rigid job classifications are far more onerous than UAW work rules, guaranteeing massive inefficiency. At many federal agencies, people shuffle back and forth, passing paper from one level to the next, doing nothing useful. Civil service needs to be overhauled.

- Make products that the public wants. Congress is in the business of making and revising laws. But it almost never goes back and reviews unintended consequences. Pick up any volume of the U.S. Code and ask yourself whether the detailed provisions of that law make sense today.

Take something relatively innocuous, like the requirement in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to maintain the privacy of patient information. One effect is lots of forms -- over $1 billion worth annually. Compliance also stifles important activity: For example, research on heart-attack recovery at the University of Michigan slowed to a crawl when only one-third of the sample bothered to complete the necessary HIPAA paperwork.

- Enhance competitiveness. Washington's failures are far more significant to the economy than Detroit's. The federal government not only is over seven times larger than Detroit in annual expenditures but it also establishes the legal platform on which the entire U.S. economy operates. The legal infrastructure that Congress has provided is a huge, internally inconsistent mess, requiring businesses, hospitals and schools to negotiate a maze of legal detours. Day-to-day, teachers, doctors, business managers and government officials are unable to make sense of ordinary choices. Law has effectively removed the freedom needed to take responsibility. [...]

There's more suggestions, with examples, it's worth reading the whole thing. One thing they mentioned that I didn't excerpt was farm subsidies. They may well be worth reforming, but I'd be VERY careful about cutting or reforming funding to something as essential as our food supply. But the rest is an excellent comparison of our government to the failing automakers. They suffer from the same problems. Both are strangling from bureaucrats, unions and needless paperwork. In both cases, major reforms are needed.

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