Topic: Government and Politics

In Defense of Error-Laden Reporting

Tempted though I am to join the pile-on over the many inaccuracies in the data on the Recovery.gov stimulus reporting site—including claims of jobs created in non-existent congressional districts—I think the White House actually makes a good point here: You can get something out fast, or you can get it out bug-free, but you usually can’t do both. And in fact, concerns about “data quality” at government agencies have often been a great enemy of transparency. It is, after all, embarrassing when your department puts out information that’s poorly formatted or riddled with typos or just plain wrong. But in practice, that means agencies sit on the data until someone gets around to fixing it, which is seldom a high priority. The insight behind open source is that the best debugger is a release: Ten-thousand coders actually using software are going to find and patch problems faster and better than any in-house team. And the same holds here: Get the data out, and dumb mistakes get spotted.

There are, to be sure, ways some of these errors could have been avoided. As David Freddoso points out, it would have been trivial to design the backend to only permit legitimate congressional districts to be entered.  But again, getting the site up quickly means they can count on critics to point out those sorts of possibilities for improvement. That said, Freddoso surely has a point when he argues that there’s no sane reason this kludgy beast of a site should have cost $18 million. Far better would have been to take the open-source logic to its conclusion and simply dump the raw data on a server in XML format, then let outside groups—maybe the Sunlight Foundation or Americans for Tax reform or just some clever lone hacker—figure out how best to mash it up and present it.

Talkin’ Libertarianism

In response to a question today, I found a C-SPAN appearance from 2006 on their website. Host Steve Scully was teaching a class on “Issues in Media and Public Policy” with students at the Cable Center’s Distance Learning Studio in Denver. He asked me to join him for a discussion of libertarianism and public policy. For about an hour and 20 minutes I answered questions posed by both Scully and the students. Video of the event can be found on C-SPAN’s website.

Taking Over Everything (2)

“My critics say that I’m taking over every sector of the economy,” President Obama complained to George Stephanopoulos back in September. And I responded:

Not every sector. Just

And now check out the lead story in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Federal Oversight of Subways Proposed

The Obama administration will propose that the federal government take over safety regulation of the nation’s subway and light-rail systems, responding to what it says is haphazard and ineffective oversight by state agencies.

Not everything. But more and more. So much that even the growing opposition can’t keep up with it all.

Even Obama’s Make-Believe Jobs Are Not Real

The White House recently began claiming that the “Recovery Act” had “created or saved” 640,000-plus jobs. This turns out to have been a political mistake, in part because even sympathetic reporters understand that the “jobs saved” measure allows for creative accounting. But the White House also erred by providing (supposed) details about the jobs that were created. This made it very easy for reporters and other curious people to do a bit of fact checking, which has generated a spate of stories showing that the White House’s numbers are wrong, even using make-believe methodology. The Washington Examiner has put together a very useful interactive map which links to many of the news reports debunking the Administration’s fraudulent numbers.

If the Other Party Took Power

Maggie Mahar asks a good question in Sunday’s Washington Post:

If you’re a progressive like me, and you’re upset by the Stupak amendment, which bars federally subsidized insurance from covering abortions, consider this: What if we had a single-payer health-care system and someone like Jeb Bush or Sarah Palin were running the country?

She worries that if Republicans were in charge of government-run health care, they might not stop with abortion. They might try to limit government-paid access to birth control, fertility treatments, or end-of-life care. They might even (gasp) try to require co-pays to get people to take some responsibility for their health-care decisions. She goes on:

I strongly support increasing our government’s involvement in the health-care system by including a public option in the reform package. I believe that if Congress passes legislation that includes a public option, that option will be stronger than many pundits suggest. Such a plan could help lower costs while lifting the quality of care, and would provide serious competition to private insurers.

But I’m also wary that in four or eight years, someone else – someone less sympathetic to my views – may be in the White House. And conservatives could once again control Congress. So I am relieved that we don’t seem to be headed toward a single-payer system. We simply cannot count on “good government” overseeing our health care. One never knows who the American people will choose to elect. As a progressive, I have been stunned by the people’s pick more than once in the past 30 years. Democracy offers choices but makes no promises.

So I want to hedge my bets. I want alternative insurance options, especially from nonprofits such as Kaiser Permanente. And I don’t want to find myself locked into an insurance plan run by conservatives – or Democrats – who feel they have a right to impose their religious beliefs on my access to care.

It’s a good point. I made the same point a week ago in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

If you still have warm feelings toward Obama and his good intentions, ask yourself this: Will you feel comfortable one day when the appointees of President Romney or President Palin are exercising unconstitutional, unauthorized, unreviewable authority to restructure the economy the way they see fit?

And Bob Levy made the same point to Republicans when they were in power:

advocates of expanded executive power remind civil libertarians that President Bush is an honorable man who understands that the Constitution is made of more than tissue paper. That argument is simply not persuasive - even to those who fervently share its underlying premise. The policies that are put in place by this administration are precedent-setting. Bush supporters need to reflect on the same powers in the hands of his predecessor or his successors.

Indeed, because Republicans are often known as the Stupid Party, and not without reason, I tried to warn them about giving more power to the government while President Clinton was in office:

Let’s not forget that if, say, Coats’s Maternity Shelter Act were implemented next year, Donna Shalala, the secretary of health and human services, would be charged with implementing it. She might appoint HUD assistant secretary Andrew Cuomo to run it, or maybe unemployed ex-congressman Mel Reynolds, or maybe just some Harvard professor who thinks single motherhood is a viable lifestyle option for poor young women. One reason conservatives shouldn’t set up well-intentioned government programs is that they won’t always be in power to run them.

But they never listen. When the Republicans were in power, they brushed aside reminders that some day a Democratic president would be exercising the vast powers that Bush was accumulating in the White House. And when Democrats are in power, they ignore the risks of giving more power to a federal government that will one day be run by conservatives. And then both sides are appalled by the uses that are made of those powers when that day comes.

I guess that’s why the first section of The Libertarian Reader is titled “Skepticism about Power.”

George W. Bush: The Washington Times as the Onion

Yesterday I thought I was reading the Onion.  The Washington Times headlined its article “Bush Warns of Dangers of too Much Government”:

Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that America must resist the “temptation” to allow the government to take over the private sector, taking a subtle shot at his Democratic successor by warning that too much state intervention and protectionism will squelch the economic recovery.

As the Obama administration has made far-reaching moves into the auto, real estate, health care and financial sectors to fight the economic recession, Mr. Bush, without mentioning the president by name, said, “The role of government is not to create wealth but to create the conditions that allow entrepreneurs and innovators to thrive.

“As the world recovers, we will face a temptation to replace the risk-and-reward model of the private sector with the blunt instruments of government spending and control. History shows that the greater threat to prosperity is not too little government involvement, but too much,” said Mr. Bush, who has remained out of the limelight since leaving office and rarely criticizes his successor.

Mr. Bush has addressed private groups since leaving the White House in January, but Thursday’s speech, delivered at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was his first major public policy address since leaving office

Mr. Big Spender, aka George “ break the budget, expand Medicare, centralize control of education in Washington, bail out anyone and everyone, violate civil liberties, treat the president as an elective dictator, and initiate a needless war” Bush, is worried about government doing too much.

I can’t take it any more.  I’ve been working in Washington too long.