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So the Marlyand Purple/Red Line debacle. In addition to all the more-often-explicated reason why Americans Can’t Have Nice Trains, one reason I don’t see brought up is how our ancient, arbitrary, and byzantine system of administrative subdivision creates baffling labyrinths of political economy. The Purple Line is located solely in Maryland, even though it is part of a larger system that serves DC and VA; but the latter two don’t want to pitch in first-order costs for second-order benefits, and nobody can make them. The regional authority governing the system has no ability to extract greater resources, and the same political economy under discussion so starves it of resources that it can barely keep its own shit together and is massively unpopular as a result (remember – starving government makes government bad makes government unpopular, that’s the cycle of outcomes and opinions the last few decades of increasingly conservative governances has deliberately tried to perpetuate). Meanwhile, within Maryland the Purple Line is located solely within two counties that are among the wealthier within the state so why should folks not served by the system pay? The federal government has an interest in the Purple Line but hahahah try getting something like this through Congress and anyway why should square state folk pay for coastal trains? But the logic of the project is just so strong and the constituencies for it sufficiently influential that it hobbles through only somewhat nerfed…at the expense of the entirety of a project of another transit project in a large but poorer city located solely within the same state.

This, of course, is terrible. And goes to a longtime hobbyhorse of mine, which I said really well above so I’ll just say again: our ancient, arbitrary, and byzantine system of administrative subdivision creates baffling labyrinths of political economy. There has been plenty of discussion of what the US should do to revise its federal system under conditions of godmode, and I fully endorse unicameral MMP (though not monarchy, that’s just silly, just make the Presidency a less-power, non-partisan office elected to decade-long terms and inculcate norms that generally-beloved national figures should run. Seriously, even for the limited purposes advocated therein you still have the problems of monarchy, which is total lack of desert, the randomness of birth and lineage, etc – just have folks elect a vector for national love and unity that’s still in line with American values of democracy and meritocracy. President Clooney, President Swift, President Ramos, etc etc).

But as long as we’re rewriting our entire system why leave the entire edifice of day-to-day government intact when overhauling the top layer? Especially since once you abolish the Senate the whole reason to leave “states” in place seems pretty silly.

So, here’s how we should run America:

Keep “states” (so we can keep the name of the country, after all) but have like, 8-10 of them, and make them correspond to large regions of unified culture/interest, something like Census regions or the turf covered by Circuit Courts, Federal Reserve Banks, etc, except with no regard for existing state lines. Then, get rid of counties and municipalities and replace them with metropolitan governments, that would cover whole metro areas, and ward governments, that would cover smaller, local areas. So instead of using our current example (which is admittedly one of the more egregious cases because of the unique nature of DC) let’s look at NYC instead – looking at just the NYC MSA, you’re looking at three states (none of whom have capitals proximate or part of America’s largest metro area, in which 1/15th of the entire country resides) comprising 25 counties and hundreds of municipalities, boroughs, wards, unincorporated areas, authorities, etc. Instead, you might have a “state” encompassing everything from Maine to Fredericksburg, VA, a metro generally aligning to the existing NYC metro, and then a quilt of small governments primarily responsible for purely local governments; NYC is tricky because it’s uniquely dense in the United States, but think something the size/population of SoHo, or even smaller.

This, of course, wouldn’t eliminate conflict or solve politics, but it would make lines of responsibility and questions of political economy clearer and more directly adjudicable. If you can create administrative units that largely encompass most of the people who would benefit, either directly or near-indirectly, from something like a major transit investment, and largely leave out people who wouldn’t.

Anyway, this is all politics as something approaching fan fiction but hey it’s Friday and in our real politics we just spent for-freaking-ever debating whether to control-Z national healthcare because [sic] so a little fantasy now-and-then isn’t the worst.

 

On an administrative note, while I’ve enjoyed the combination of Ello, tweeting a lot, and “being super busy at work,” I hereby declare the extended period of neglect of this particular space over and plan to at least semi-regular post thoughts here (though, hopefully, not at the expenses of doing other things of fun and value). I also plan on at least occasionally sending something out via Tinyletter so now might be good time of inviting me into your inbox every now and then.

Almost as if in response to my post about why Edward Snowden was bad at whistleblowing, Acemoglu and Robinson say, basically, that’s a good thing:

In economics, it is often important to distinguish behavior on and off the equilibrium path. Certain actions, which would have otherwise arisen, are off the equilibrium path because of the reactions or the punishments that they would trigger.

The truly useful role of whistle-blowing may be what we don’t see, the off-the-equilibrium path behavior of the US and other governments. What we see is bad enough. But without the threat of whistle-blowing, by albeit perhaps fame-seeking, flawed adventurers, much worse might be taking place.

If so, what we see on the equilibrium path might be the type of whistle-blowing that looks mundane and perhaps self-serving. But it may be precisely this sort of whistle-blowing that discourages even worse violations of privacy and more malicious cover-ups by the alphabet soup of US agencies not clearly accountable to anybody.

Insightful, probably correct, and implicitly a novel application of Bastiat’s brilliant-when-not-being-tortured-by-glibertarians manifesto about the seen and the unseen. However, my rejoinder, without quoting at length, would be to point to Aaron Bady’s now-seminal post about the ideological foundations of Wikileaks. To inadequately summarize, Bady deliniates Assange’s theory as follows:

1. The state is an authoritarian conspiracy.
2. Conspiracies are fundamentally both made and unmade by information.
3. Disrupting the conspiracy’s control over information, especially internal information, will fracture and eventually collapse the conspriacy.

Now, the thing is, you don’t necessarily have to agree with Assange’s ideological premises to believe his actions could have the intended effect; that is, that increasing the leak-risk of government operations, regardless of the justification, legally or morally, of those government actions or the secrecy thereof, will push governing institutions towards being closed, brittle, internally fragmented, and impotent.

Now, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are very different phenomena; the forme selectively related a self-curated set of documents designed to blow the whistle about a specific, noxious, and possibly illegal government program, whereas the latter indiscriminately released vast amounts of information as essentially an attack on the state itself. But ironically, they could be largely similar in their effect on government operations – that is, to impair the government’s ability to govern. This may not be a bad thing, entirely, but it may not be a good thing, entirely, either – it is not so easy to isolate an attack on security state abuses from attacks on the state, period. And the willingness, or at least the possibility, of ideologues, grudge-nursers, and the mentally-ill to enact the latter undermine the attempt of even the least egotistical do-gooders from doing the former.

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