Steven Teles of John Hopkins points out, the problem with our government is not that it's too big or badly intentioned. The problem is that it tries to find temporary solutions to permanent problems.
You can’t solve a problem until you can name it. We have names for one axis of our politics — right vs. left, big versus small government. But voters and politicians have no name for what should be an equally important set of questions that cuts straight through those ideological divisions, which is complexity versus simplicity. The name, for a lack of a better alternative, is kludgeocracy.
The dictionary tells us that a kludge is “an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose…a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem.” The term comes out of the world of computer programming, where a kludge is an inelegant patch put in place to be backward compatible with the rest of a system. When you add up enough kludges, you get a very complicated program, one that is hard to understand and subject to crashes.
Example? How about our government's Byzantine attempt to do something about climate change? Matt Yglesias in Slate details how the Republican Right's successful efforts to turn action on climate change into a partisan effort means that the Obama administration is forced to regulate unfairly.
Back in the winter of 2008–09, environmentalists and members of the
Obama transition team never would have imagined aggressive use of Clean
Air Act regulation as the centerpiece of their climate-change policy—for
the very good reason that it’s a bad way to make climate-change policy.
The idea, instead, was that the threat of EPA regulation would bring
stakeholders to the table and lay the groundwork for a comprehensive
bill. The exact same logic pertains today.
The basic problem with the EPA approach is that any new rules that
will have a meaningful environmental impact—rules that would require
existing coal-fired plants to shut down or curtail their operations—are
going to have large financial costs. And those costs will not be borne
evenly. Some parts of the country have a much more coal-based power grid
than others and will see disproportionately higher prices.
Manufacturing firms that use a lot of electricity face the risk that
pollution will be essentially “outsourced” to less regulated countries.
Most of all, higher electricity prices affect different households very
According to the Consumer Expenditure Survey,
the poorest one-fifth of households spends about half as much per year
on electricity as the richest one-fifth of households. But that richest
one-fifth earns about 15 times more money and spends four to five times
as much on an annual basis. For regulations to have a big impact they’ll
need to shut down some of the dirtiest plants and at least temporarily
increase electricity prices—a move that will have a much harsher impact
on the poor, the Southeast, and the Midwest than on prosperous people on
the low-carbon West Coast.
Kludgeocracy in action.