Posted by: bkivey | 3 January 2011

Bureiosclerosis

As many have noted, it seems that nothing gets done in this country anymore. Over the last several generations what was once the most vibrant, innovative society on the planet has slowly come to a halt. Large-scale infrastructure projects of the type common during the 1930’s and into the 1970’s are increasingly rare if not non-existent. The occasional road or airport might be built here and there but not until after years and sometimes decades of permitting and legal wrangling. Meanwhile the need that drove the project continues unfulfilled and continues to escalate while politicians posture and lawyers toil.

A good example of just how far down the road we’ve gone to societal decrepitude appeared in a recent editorial in the local paper of record. The editorial gives an example of building a powerline and then lists no fewer than nine state agencies that would have jurisdiction over some aspect of the project. In addition the utility would have to deal with federal and local authorities, landowners, and any number of single-interest and environmental groups. Dealing with all of this consumes resources, resources that are recouped through higher taxes and, in the powerline example, increased costs to ratepayers.

In the editorial the newspaper notes the problem of bureaucratic complication and then calls for  . . . more bureaucracy. Of course. It’s all so clear to me. With a budget deficit approaching $4 billion for the next biennium and private development stymied by state government agencies tripping over themselves to justify their existence, the first thing we should do is create another state agency.

What the editorial is endorsing are a couple of bills: one to create a policy-setting board for the state Department of Energy, the other to create a state cabinet-level Office of Energy. Neither proposal would put a single watt into the power grid, but they do satisfy the Statist desire for societal control through central planning. Actually making it easier to build power generation infrastructure (or anything else) by reducing government interference, or eliminating agencies entirely, cannot be countenanced. It’s harder to make people conform to your vision when you don’t control them. Bureaucracy becomes the refuge of the mediocre.

People want to feel important, that they matter. In an increasingly crowded world some are so driven for attention that they feel the only way to stand out is to influence others in a public forum. Thus we have politicians introducing and passing ill-conceived legislation so they can justify their jobs and single-issue activists who conflate passion with moral superiority. So we also have bureacrats who view turf-building as a form of personal validation irrespective of their organization’s scope or mission. All of this contributes to an environment hostile to those who just want to get on with it.

The greater the time and treasure expended in dealing with institutional bureaucracy, the fewer the resources left for constructive effort. At some point the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t pencil out, and those who can, won’t. As a society, we’re already there.

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