Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Good government

George Packer described "Bush’s philosophy of corporate conservatism" as "not anti-government, just anti-good-government." This seems unfair at first, but evidence constantly conspires to confirm it.

In Afghanistan,
nearly a year after an American-led coalition deposed the Taliban, the United States launched what would become an aggressive effort to build or refurbish as many as 1,000 schools and clinics by the end of 2004, documents show. However, design flaws and construction errors caused the initiative to fall far short.

By September 2004, congressional figures show that the effort's centerpiece -- a $73 million U.S. Agency for International Development program -- had produced only 100 finished projects, most of them refurbishments of existing buildings.…

Internal documents and more than 100 interviews in Washington and Kabul revealed a chain of mistakes and misjudgments: The U.S. effort was poorly conceived in a rush to show results before the Afghan presidential election in late 2004. The drive to construct earthquake-resistant, American-quality buildings in rustic villages led to culture clashes, delays and what a USAID official called "extraordinary costs." Afghans complained that the initial design for roofs made them too heavy to build in rural areas without a crane, and the corrected design made them too light to bear Afghan snows. Local workmen unfamiliar with U.S. construction methods sometimes produced shoddy work.

At the outset, USAID and its primary contractor, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc., failed to provide adequate oversight, documents state.
In Iraq, we hired a convicted felon to oversee rebuilding projects.

And in a story that Chris Mooney could have written, "the Bush administration is … pursuing its political and ideological goals even when they are in conflict with data collected by agencies, analysis provided by professionals and procedures set by law."

And then – oops – a known bomber got cut loose from an American prison in Iraq because we're too busy scooping people up at random to properly administer the prisons.

While cutting one bomber loose will mean more dead Americans, the fact that there's no plan for shutting down terrorist funding a full four years after 9/11 puts everyone at risk.

Similar cock-ups can be found in various state governments as well. I've criticized the 65% plan on similar grounds, as a policy which is advocated for no real benefit, but to place arbitrary limits on successful government. Equally harsh things can and have been said about voucher proposals.

Government can do good things. It doesn't always, but if you come in thinking that it can't you've set yourself up to fail. Providing voicemail to poor people is a simple way that good government can help people, so would providing free wireless internet access to every community. Social Security and Medicare are good examples, too.