I haven’t been particularly kind to several of our elected officials lately. Believe it or not, I take no satisfaction in criticizing the failures and foibles of those who’ve been elected to manage the affairs of the republic. Ultimately, after all, the fault lies with the voters who elected them.
We the People don’t have very high standards. We seem to regard these empty suits as “good enough for government work.” In short, the low esteem with which we view our governing institutions has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s be brutally frank. Why would people who are moderately competent, let alone “the best and brightest,” want to work with the likes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michelle Bachmann, Louis Gohmert or literally dozens like them? How can we expect capable management of agencies charged with oversight of complex and interrelated public functions when the politicians to whom those managers must report have absolutely no idea how government and the economy actually work?
We recently heard elected officials insist that an American default on the debt would be “no big deal.” We’ve heard characterizations of the Affordable Care Act and HIPPA that have betrayed total ignorance of the provisions of both laws. We’ve heard assertions of constitutionality and unconstitutionality untethered from even the most tortured reading of our constituent documents.
There’s nothing wrong with policy debates. Indeed, such disputes can be very productive—but only if the debate is grounded in reality, only if it addresses genuine issues and employs credible information.
When aggressive ignorance is a political virtue and professionalism, knowledge and expertise are vices, we shouldn’t be surprised by a deficit in competent public management.
In the jargon of economics, we get the behaviors we incentivize.