From Kevin Williamson at The National Review, A Deeper Naganism.
But there is a critical variable that is at least partly within the direct control of government: the quality of government. The quality of government — its honesty, competence, reliability, and predictability — has an effect on most of the important economic variables. And not just government itself, but other institutions with the power to shape public life, such as unions and large firms. Quality is something outside of and different from policy specifics, which is why similar policies often produce wildly different outcomes in different polities: Single-payer health care in Bahrain turns out to be very different from single-payer health care in Canada. A high level of government-enforced union involvement has been catastrophic for the U.S. automotive industry but not for the German automotive industry, which is a lot less of a mystery than it seems when you account for the fact that the UAW is not IG Metall, GM is not Audi, and the U.S. government is not the German government.
There is no way to put a happy face on this fact: Critical American institutions are of shockingly low quality. Corruption is a part of that: At No. 19 on the Transparency International rankings, the United States is tied with Uruguay. Its transparency score of 73 is far behind where you want to be, among such category leaders as Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and Finland (91, 91, 89, and 89, respectively). We lag well behind our Canadian neighbors and such important international competitors as Germany. Our overall standing is not terrible, but it does not place us among global leaders, either. Moderation in the pursuit of honesty is no virtue.
Building a factory is an expensive, long-term commitment, and many investors will hesitate to do so if, for example, they are unsure of what their future labor environment will look like, whether the corporate-tax code will be used to subsidize their politically connected competitors, or what environmental rules they will be operating under. The Obama administration’s penchant for executive fiat makes the policy environment much less predictable — and does so largely for reasons of political self-interest. Things like the Keystone-pipeline delays and the EPA’s overreach on carbon dioxide emissions are pure politics, and nothing more. But they impose real costs.
What Ray Nagin did was a crime, but there are worse things than crimes. It is possible to undermine critical institutions without ever violating a law.
Combined federal, state, and local spending in the United States is about the same as it is in Canada, so it is not as if we were starving our public sector to death. The problem is that our institutions are not full of Canadian budgeters, Finnish school administrators, and Swiss train conductors. They are full of Ray Nagins.
One could deduce from Kevin’s point that the problem is not the dysfunctional philosophy of the current progressive tilt in our government, but lies in the poor quality of its executors. Socialists’ failures have long been given a pass by blaming the leaders rather than the system.
But a system that depends on the moral purity of the administrators and elected officials is a system doomed to fail. One of the reasons to keep government small is that larger more expansive government is hard to staff with ethical and competent leaders. The more that government tries to direct our lives, the more it presumes a consensus that does not exist and the more it requires force; attracting an undesirable element into its ranks. The objective for the elected becomes power rather than service, no matter how much they claim otherwise. It is also one of the reasons that a skeptical press is essential.
The Democrats would serve their cause much better if they held their representatives to a higher standard. And the GOP would do well to compete on this standard and focus on the numerous ethical transgressions of the Democrats. The GOP should also avoid residing in glass houses.
But ultimately the responsibility lies with the voters.