Saturday, October 29, 2005

Welcoming Troubles in Washington

Tibor R. Machan

Now and then my pen dries up, as it were, and I rake my brain for something I should write. But actually the problem isn’t that. It's rather that columnists or pundits are mostly expected to chime in with complaints about public affairs and I am actually a bit satisfied just now.

I mean with things falling apart in and near the White House, I am hard put to be upset. Indeed, I find it a relief. After all, it confirms my long held view that making politics such a vital part of our lives is a very big mistake. Most of these people, after all, just aren’t that smart and these upheavals may remind them of it themselves.

I thought this when our former president, Bill Clinton, saw things falling apart around him in Washington in his second term. I didn’t even wish to learn who was right, who wrong—frankly it didn’t matter to me and I didn’t think it mattered for the country. What mattered is that so many people in the capitol were bogged down good and hard and this may well have slowed them down a bit in the most insidious thing they keep doing all of the time, namely, thinking about and embarking upon meddling in our lives without any good cause.

That is one reason I favor political gridlock—in Washington, Sacramento, or wherever it’s possible to bring it about. I am convinced that most politicians and bureaucrats are relentlessly bent on meddling. They see it as their job, even as their life calling. Yes, they believe it is a wonderful thing—it gives them a sense of achievement if they find yet another issue they can stick their fingers into.

Mind you, they aren’t all that different from everyone else except their “work” usually involves interfering with the peaceful conduct of other people. And they do not even consider this insidious. Instead they are proud of it. Like those insufferable schoolmarms when we I was young, who just had to hover and find something to complain and wag their fingers about! (And it didn’t need to be a schoolmarm, only it usually was since elementary and high schools were swarming with such ladies, at least in my days.)

The real difference is that in the private sector when people get antsy, they mostly do something productive. They become entrepreneurial. Although even there we can find many bureaucratic types whose jobs involve bothering other people and who feel satisfaction with this because they think they are being helpful, serving some good cause.

At all the universities where I have taught, I could put my fingers on this when I learned of yet another set of forms one had to fill out, or yet another committee that had been formed to consider something largely superfluous. In the private sector, however, there is often a disincentive by way of the extra cost this imposes on a firm or private individuals, so they tend to be on the lookout for what amounts only to make-work. And make-work in private industry is more readily identified as such, whereas in government it is mostly welcome—people take pride in coming up with it, mistaking it for something valuable.

I was lucky to learn about this early in my life, when I was a draftsman in the US Air Force, working at Andrews AFB near Washington, DC. Following each Christmas, we suddenly found ourselves working overtime and I could tell we had no objective reason for this. After asking around, I was told, without the slightest embarrassment, that the reason was to make up for Christmas spending. And given that this was a typical government organization, no one seemed to mind—the money was, after all, coming from taxes.
There was also that regular routine of make-work at the end of a fiscal period, just before the new budget had to be submitted. We had to make up costly projects so that nothing would be left in the budget and we could ask for more.

Again, while the temptation to do this—often with the utmost earnestness since people who like their jobs naturally like to think of more things to do in it—exists everywhere, it is greatest in government since money can be ordered up without having to earn it.

Well, see, I did find something to lament when, actually, I wanted simply to say that if I were expected to write about all the fine things in my life, I would have a lot more to say. That’s because I follow diligently the prescription of a Seventh Day Adventist bumper sticker I saw many years ago driving about in the Deep South: “Notice the good and praise it!”

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