Government failure is structural and systemic; it is utterly incapable of reform.
Why Government Always Fails
By: George Noga – June 21, 2020
This post explains why government at all levels invariably fails. Next week, our companion posting shows why business succeeds. Sentient people know government fails at everything it attempts, but they often don’t understand why.
We provide many reasons infra for government failure, but first we must explain the nature of its failure. The causes of government failure are systemic and structural; they are deeply rooted and incapable of reform. Its most common symptoms, waste, fraud, abuse and corruption are organic and cannot be eliminated; it is futile to try.
Changing political parties, appointing different bureaucrats, increasing oversight by Congress, forming elite study commissions or hiring more inspectors general will have no effect. Government failure can’t be eliminated, but there is one, and only one, way it can be reduced. That solution is revealed at the end of this post – stay tuned.
Reasons for Government Failure
Opposed to Human Nature: A principal reason for its failure is that government is unalterably opposed to human nature, which is unchanged since we lived in trees. Humans are hardwired to advance their self interest and to respond to incentives. All the incentives in government are misaligned and contrary to the public interest. This also explains why socialism never has worked outside of a family, clan or tribe.
Public Sector Economics: This is more an explanation than a reason. It explains, inter alia, why government prefers borrowing over taxation, why taxes are opaque and why failed government programs continue to exist – and even to expand. Politicians and bureaucrats are responding to incentives, but ones that reward them, not the public. And politicians’ biggest (and likely only) incentive is to get reelected.
Failure to Attract Talented, Motivated People: Risks and rewards of government work do not attract highly talented, motivated and hard-working people. Government work tends to attract those who are risk averse and prefer inertia over action. Why would being a bureaucrat appeal to anyone who is capable of succeeding in business?
Not Market Based: Markets gather knowledge from the bottom up based on consumer choices and preferences; all transactions are non-coercive and benefit both parties. Instead of mutually beneficial relationships created by markets, government is top down, highly coercive, ignores consumer preferences and creates winners and losers.
One Person Can’t Make a Difference: Try to name one bureaucrat who transformed government for the better. You can’t because none exists. There are no bureaucratic equivalents of Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos and there never can be. Such people would never go into government and if they did, they would soon quit in frustration.
Lowest Common Denominator: Politicians succeed most often when they appeal to our basest instincts, or lowest common denominator – instead of to the better angels of our nature. That explains why they divide people by race, gender, age and income and pursue policies they know are detrimental to those whom they represent.
Too Big to Manage: There is no way 537 politicians can manage a $4 trillion budget. Few of them have the necessary private sector experience; most serve only a few years and they have wildly different ideas about what should be done. Moreover, they are not held accountable for their (mis)management of government spending.
Government failure, with its embedded waste, fraud, abuse and corruption, has been with us since George Washington’s administration. It never can be eliminated. There is only one way it can be reduced and that is to shrink the overall size and scope of government. That’s one reason our mantra is: more liberty and less government!