Remember when the federal government launched Obama Care, or tried to? Among many other problems, the whole thing got messed up at the start because the website didn’t work.
The federal government has trillions of dollars to spend, but it couldn’t find a web developer that understood the challenges of having millions of people sign up online for health insurance. Or could it be that this is an idiotic way to have people get their health insurance, and the whole idea of managing it through a website was garbage to begin with?
I thought about that as we watched Monday night’s Democratic Iowa caucuses turn into an utter disaster. The app local leaders were supposed to use to report results didn’t work – apparently not having been properly tested – and when people tried to resort to calling a hotline, they ended up waiting on hold for an hour or more.
The common theme is this: Democrats constantly assail free markets and claim that if they were put in charge of running things, they would be smarter and fairer in how they did so. They claim they would go out and find the “best minds” to put in charge and would use the power of government to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be.
But here’s the problem: Democrats are better at obtaining power than they are at using it. The caucuses are a perfect example. These things have been held in Iowa for many decades, and there was never a problem reporting the results before Monday night. But someone got just a little too clever and thought they could show their brilliance by imposing a system that hadn’t been tested and couldn’t be shown to be better than the old way.
No matter. The best minds! Surely they knew what they were doing.
They didn’t, and the result was an embarrassing debacle from which the Democrats will not soon recover.
This is the problem when you centralize power and authority rather than leaving it in the hands of free-market actors and private individuals. In the free market, people make mistakes all the time. But the mistakes of some people are then addressed by others also participating in the free market, and eventually those who make too many mistakes lose opportunities to those who perform better. Sometimes people who make a lot of mistakes lose their role and have to accept a different one, but ultimately most people end up where they belong and the market keeps humming along as a result.
It doesn’t work that way when you centralize power in the form of a government monopoly. Whether it’s a website that doesn’t work, an app that isn’t tested correctly or an economic theory that doesn’t make sense, we all find ourselves having to live with the consequences of “best minds” who aren’t as smart as they want us to think they were.
Now some Democrats want to take over not only what’s left of the private health care market but also electrical production. In addition, they want to impose new regulations on everyone from banks to manufacturers to retailers about how to conduct business.
And yet when given the chance to perform themselves, they have far too often shown themselves to be without a clue.
As most of you know, I came up through the corporate ranks – spending time with corporations like Pillsbury, Burger King and Godfather’s Pizza. I also have served on the boards of organizations like Whirlpool and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
Everywhere I went, the same thing was true: Those who didn’t perform didn’t last long. Private companies can’t just print their own money, nor can they borrow endlessly without having to pay back the debts – like the federal government does. So private companies have to produce results. They’re in trouble if they don’t.
Putting the federal government in charge of anything more than it’s already in charge of means one more segment of the economy that’s run by people who are accountable to politics rather than to performance. The people who couldn’t launch a website correctly to run health care, and couldn’t deploy an app correctly to run simple caucuses, can’t run your life or the nation’s industries any better than we can run them ourselves. They are usually the least talented and least qualified, but most impressed by their own perceived intelligence.
There’s a reason the government that governs least governs best. Government doesn’t really attract the best and brightest people because the rewards for being that bright are found in the private sector. Government attracts the kind of people who dropped the ball on Monday night in Iowa.
This is one of the reasons Donald Trump has gotten good results as president. He came from the sector that demands results and always has, and he understood the pressure that was on him to perform. But even more important, he knew what strong performance looked like and he knew how to achieve it.
I don’t think the crowd who fumbled the Iowa caucuses can say the same, so maybe we shouldn’t be given them any more responsibility than they already have.
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