The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has released an outrageous paper by Maurice P. McTigue, Emily Washington and Daniel M. Rothschild that purports to show how government agencies can make themselves more efficient at providing public services. The paper makes 10 recommendations for policy changes that I shall outline and comment on here.
1. Identify a focus and clear goals. Commissions can either focus on specific, discrete issues or cover a wide range of government services. This should be clearly and specifically articulated in the commission’s charter, along with the deliverables the commission is charged with producing and to whom these deliverables will be provided (either the governor or the state legislature).
I nearly choked on my Spaghetti Os after reading this zinger. The implicit assumption in this statement is that the State has legitimate goals that can be accomplished through coercive action in the first place. Remember, it is the job of economists to offer the best and most economically efficient solutions to social problems. It is NOT the job of economists to offer solutions that serve the interests of political organizations.
I would like for the Mercatus Center scholars who authored this paper to offer us up just ONE “goal” that can be better accomplished by the State through the coercive redistribution of resources and violent threats of force than by voluntary actors in private markets. Tell me dear scholars, what is the State necessary for and why. Tell me all about market failures and the reasons why forced redistribution of resources is necessary and proper in the first place. You must first justify why violent resource redistribution is necessary before arguing about ways to make such schemes more efficient.
I can make one certain prediction dear scholars; the minute you embark on your quest to justify the coercive redistribution of resources, is the minute you will find yourself sounding like a neo-fascist, rather than a capitalist, economist.
2. Keep the timeline commensurate with the scope. In general, commissions should have at least one year to develop thorough policy recommendations. More important than a commission’s timeline, though, is a defined termination date. Without a termination point, commissions are likely to remain together past the point of their usefulness.
The question I have is why would we want a more efficient government in the first place? Let’s assume that a government agency follows through with the Mercatus Center’s recommendations for increased efficiency in policy analysis. Would that result in reduced State influence over the lives of ordinary citizens? If they can accomplish their policy goals faster, doesn’t that mean they have more time to engage in more intrusions into the lives citizens than if they simply plodded along at a snails pace? I’m actually a big fan of inefficient government. The more resources spent tackling one issue, and the longer it takes the State to accomplish some “goal”, the less resources and time the State will spend meddling in other affairs that it has no business butting its nose into. Does the Mercatus Center assume that once the bureaucrats are done meddling in one area that they will simply sit back and do nothing once their “goal” has been accomplished?
3. Structure committees in a way that comports with staff expertise. Both Louisiana’s and Virginia’s commissions created committees to study particular issues in depth and report back. Committee members should be selected based on their qualifications exclusively, without regard for their political connections; members’ appointments should be challenged on the basis of their competency exclusively, not for their political persuasions.
So the Mercatus Center would have the State buy up supposedly competent individuals that have an expert understanding of whatever economic/social issue the State plans on addressing. The question I have for the Mercatus scholars is, what would that individual be doing had the State not paid them to act as council? If the person is so smart, then surely their talents would be wasted in the public sector! Scholars of intelligence should be left in the hands of the private market where they can put their skills to use creating better products and services that serve humanity. Taking a highly educated individual out of the private sector by offering high pay in a non-competitive coercively funded market destroys American prosperity.
4. Provide the commission with the funds necessary to start quickly, investigate thoroughly, and report effectively.
*wipes off mouth* – sorry, I had to run to the bathroom and vomit after reading that. Clearly in order to provide funding to bureaucrats, the State must first confiscate resources from people who are engaged in actual productive activities. The State can only accomplish this in one of two ways, through the threat of violent taxation or through the printing of money.
5. Write recommendations to clearly state the actions that the commission recommends for reform. Sometimes, the debate that a commission conducts to arrive at recommendations is captured in the final report.
I think I will agree with the Mercatus Center that targeted and clear policy recommendations will result in a more efficient State, but why we should want such a state of affairs to exist in the first place is beyond me. Clearly targeted policy recommendations will help the State complete whatever “goals” it has set for itself, which are always at odds with the interests of private citizens acting in voluntary markets. What if the goal is to accomplish censorship of the internet? What if the goal is to stifle market competition by enacting onerous regulations on private industry? Are we to rely on the “experts” hired by the State to ensure such policies are not enacted? How well has that worked out for us in the past?
6. Select commission members who are largely outsiders. Streamlining commissions are most effective when a majority of their members are not government employees.
This goes right back to the reply I gave for recommendation number three. By having the State buy up private scholars to accomplish its goals, the Mercatus Center is actually recommending that the State deprive private markets of educated talent.
7. Select an independent chair. The quality of the chairperson is critical; it needs to be someone who has public credibility, the confidence of the other members, and experience with bringing diverse views to a consensus point while keeping the commission on task and on time.
A chairperson who has the tenacity, vigor and intelligence to keep a bureaucratic committee on time and on task is dangerous to liberty. This is one of the worst recommendations put forth by the Center.
8. Keep administration participation circumscribed but significant. Buy-in from the governor and the legislature is imperative regardless of which the commission is a vehicle.
The term “buy-in” means that the Mercatus Center wants to see bipartisan commissions. In looking at the actions of state and federal congresses, it seems to me that the worst policy prescriptions always arise from bipartisan commissions. Bipartisan commissions, by their very nature, act to benefit both parties at the expense of the American tax payer. The horror of bipartisan commissions is that their policy recommendations are almost always successfully implemented. Bipartisanship has brought us such joys as the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, the Cyber Security Enhancement Act, and the National Defense Authorization Act. The Mercatus Center should explain why bipartisanship leads to better economic and social outcomes for the American taxpayer.
9. Plan for legislative follow-through. Nobody wants to serve on a commission for the joy that comes from writing articulate, convincing reports that sit on shelves and fail to result in policy changes.
I would like for the Mercatus Center scholars to demonstrate one single bill that has ever solved or improved an economic or social problem. The facts of the matter are that the State can not solve an economic or social problem through the use of coercion more efficiently than private citizens acting in voluntary markets can. There are no problems that require the actions of a coercively funded State to solve. By taking resources from voluntary markets, the State reduces the means that voluntary actors have at their disposal to solve whatever social ills ail them.
10. Maintain record of the commission’s recommendations. After a commission’s term is complete, its recommendations—compiled in an online publication—should be required to be maintained for at least 10 years. This serves dual purposes. It provides easy access to these recommendations for future legislatures and governors. This also makes it possible to track the implementation of actions that the commission suggested.
I would argue that it is better for the State to involve itself in “solving” problems that the State has already “solved.” Consider that if a bureaucracy has spent time in the past addressing some economic/social issue, it is ultimately better for the public if the State confines itself to rehashing that same issue and not moving on to other areas of the economy. Consider the internet; should the State involve itself in regulation of the internet in addition to involving itself in the regulation of medical care? If the State were to follow the recommendations of the Mercatus Center, it would efficiently expand its meddling into areas of the economy that it currently does not meddle. How would this result in a more prosperous society?
In summary, the Mercatus Center has offered up a paper that unwittingly expands State power and increases its destructiveness by ignoring the fact that the State can not ever accomplish a net positive economic or social goal through the application of coercive redistribution of resources or violence.