Written by Daniel Greenfield
The modern West has some of the most inefficient governments in human history which are obsessed with making things more efficient. Along with the inefficiently efficient machine, we also have two crises. One real one and one imaginary. The crisis of government growth and the crisis of global warming. Governments insist that we must adopt austerity to cope with the imaginary crisis of global warming, while reform advocates demand that governments adopt austerity to cope with the tremendous piles of debt and unsustainable spending.
It's a basic power struggle over whether the government will starve the people or the people will starve the government. Like most political power struggles it begins with a crisis and a program for resolving it by transferring power. Depending on which crisis and which program wins the day, there will either be a massive transfer of power from the government to the people or an equally massive transfer from the people to the government.
Determining the locus of the crisis will also determine which way the power will shift. Are we the irresponsible ones for not biking to work or are they the irresponsible ones for running up a fifteen trillion dollar deficit? Are we the irresponsible ones for not skipping desert or are they the irresponsible ones for demanding totalitarian power over us? Are we destroying the planet or are they destroying the country?
The fundamental split between the Right and the Left in America and Europe now rests on austerity. The Right wants government austerity while the Left wants austerity for everyone else. Austerity is a form of efficiency, accommodating output levels to input levels for government, a heresy on the Left which believes in unlimited government growth and spending at everyone else's expense. That means austerity for the rest of us in the form of more taxes, higher costs and assorted restrictions that make it cheaper for government to manage our lives.
The tug of war is over whether governments will impose austerity on us or whether we will impose it on them. Whether we will force governments to run more efficiently or whether they will force us onto a treadmill to cut health-care costs, whether they will drive us into cities to make delivering services to us easier and whether they will continue raising the price of gasoline to force us into their light-rail system.
Liberals have embraced locally-grown food, but not locally-managed government. They eat eggs from four miles away but insist on central governments in Brussels and D.C. invested with unlimited power. Their drive for energy efficiency is equally centralized and equally inefficient, depending on massive subsidies to develop the next-generation technologies that never seem to materialize, never seem ready for prime time and whose energy savings don't reward the cost of developing and implementing them.
Regulating everyone's energy efficiency, from the producers to the consumers, imposes a universal austerity on the people, but not on the regulators. In a regulator state, the only truly vital work is carried out by the regulators, who already embody efficiency by making everyone else efficient.
Governments impose energy efficiency by raising the cost of energy. Then they blame private businesses for the high costs and impose new regulations which raise the costs even further thereby creating an outcry which leads to more regulations. The cycle ends when all the means of energy production are nationalized or so thoroughly regulated that they fully meet all environmental specifications, at which point the public is told by the media that the high energy costs are for their own good and they need to stop being such babies about it.
Despite all the ambitious efforts to reduce everything from skyscraper construction to a human breath to a number and to impose penalties accordingly so as to nudge the offenders away from their carbon crimes, the real criminals fly off someplace warm by the thousands to discuss the need to use less fuel and be more energy efficient. The resort conferences are only a drop in the ocean of government which is swiftly flooding everything in sight.
Environmentalism's sham efficiency is in service to a sham crisis. The advantage of a sham crisis is that it can be unlimited in scope. The greater the crisis, the greater the scope of the powers that are necessary to combat it. A global crisis leads to global powers and global responsibility for all people. And with a sham crisis, the measures taken to avert it are as much of a sham as the crisis itself. They are not meant to resolve a crisis that does not exist, but to increase the power of the government.
The regulators cannot regulate their own efficiency, yet they insist on regulating ours. They waste by the truckload and while hectoring us ceaselessly about waste. They erect government buildings where the lights burn all night, yet begrudge us an extra kilowatt on the side. They cannot live within their means, yet they insist that we live within theirs. That we not only pay their bills, but that we make do with less for ourselves.
The inefficient cannot create efficiency. The United States and the European Union cannot bring efficiency to their own finances. And part of their waste involves imposing efficiency programs on us. The efficiency programs are themselves waste and worsen the crisis. Garbage in and garbage out defines the process. The government throws money and resources into making the outside world efficient, when the outside world is already more efficient than it is. The sole outcome is to bring down the efficiency of the real world closer to government standards.
Governments suffer from grandiosity. They think that they can fix everything. Worse they believe that they should fix everything. It never occurs to them to fix themselves except around election time. When they do recognize their own brokenness they treat it as a symptom of the brokenness of the real world.
They conclude that the problem is not that their national health care plans are unworkable, but that there are too many fat people in the country. Bring down the number of fat people and there will be plenty of money left over for everything else. Get everyone to stop smoking, get them to eat their vegetables, floss twice a day and take the best possible care of themselves and the cost of health care will go down.
The Soviet Union similarly concluded that the problem was not with their collective farm system, it was with the people working on them. It didn't matter that wheat had been grown much more plentifully and efficiently before the rise of the red flag. It didn't matter that regions which had once been wheat exporters were now forced to import wheat from capitalist countries. The system was perfect, which meant that the people had to be made perfect enough to allow it to fulfill its potential.
This is the government's idea of efficiency, rather than improving its approach to governing, it tries to improve the governed. The people become factory workers laboring under the management of the government organizers on the assembly line of the Great Society or the Great Leap Forward. Their objective is not the practice of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but a society elevated enough to be fully in sync with the ideals and ideologies of its leaders. A populace perfectly trained to fulfill the expectations of its leaders.
That is the essence of the power struggle. Are we being trained to serve governments better or are we training governments to serve us better? Every time politicians promise us better and more services, we are being led to think that we are training them, when they are actually training us to fill out forms, follow orders and give them money.
The dog may think that he has trained his master to throw him treats every time he jumps into the air, because he is getting something that he wants, but it's actually the other way around. Every election a sizable chunk of the electorate jumps into the air begging for treats. Then it keeps jumping through hoops once the election is over and things go back to normal. The electorate may think that it has trained politicians to give them what they want, but it's the politicians who have trained voters to jump for treats and then just to jump because it reminds who is in charge.
We are not training governments to do their job better, they are training us. They have trained us to give up our freedoms, to follow orders, to recite back popular opinions broadcast on their allied communications networks, and to do what their efficiency experts tell us to do in order to make the job of ruling us that much easier. But what they have not done is made their own system any more efficient.
We were never the problem. Health-care is not expensive because it is decentralized, but because it is centralized and it will only become more expensive as more middle-men are inserted into the process to try to make it more efficient, until they consume the bulk of the cost, even as they are euthanizing the elderly and starving children in order to try and cut health care costs.
Food, medicine and energy are not problems to be rationed and dispensed cautiously to the mob. They are solutions. Their availability creates its own efficient solutions. None of these things are broken, nor is society broken. It is the system that hijacks control of them and drives up the cost that is broken. It is the system which makes life onerous, expensive and inefficient.
We are not the short in the circuit or the bump in the road. We do not need to be made more efficient in order to fit the government's plans for us. Governments need to be made more efficient to comply with our plans for it.