The teacher corps of Atlanta’s public schools recently did terrible things. The schools elected to pursue a policy of directed, managed and administratively enforced dishonesty with regards to nationally mandated standardized testing. They did this in response to the fundamental cupidity and evilness of Atlanta’s School Superintendent Beverly Hall. Yet the perverse incentives, mandated by the No Child Left Behind Law, fueled Beverly Hill’s career progression. Redstate Leader, Eric Erickson describes the specific badness that was mandated throughout every level of Atlanta’s public “education” system.
For the past decade, Atlanta’s schools received national praise for their success — success measured by performance on standardized tests. And as the performance increased, the benchmarks for the tests increased. Consequently, cheating had to become more widespread. It got to the point where teachers were having parties where they’d sit down on a weekend together and wholesale erase and redo students’ test answers. Children unable to read were making near perfect scores on reading comprehension tests.
Sadly this story describes way too much of how American Government works. Our government not only steps in to fix far too many of our society’s failures, its perverse web of incentives and penalties causes those failures to begin with. Then the Federal Government has to step in and fix the mess that it generated. In that way it becomes a self-licking, dog-feces ice cream cone.
Walter Russell Mead describes this trend with respect to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He then generalizes this to every aspect of how our governing “elite” currently operate. His exceptional blog post “When Government Jumps the Shark” tells us things I wish were not an accurate portrayal of objective reality.
The fall of Fannie Mae is bigger than just another politicos run wild scandal. It stands as one of several signs that our current way of life is reaching its limits and that big changes are on the horizon. The Fanniegate debacle tells us that the progressive ideal is in the process of jumping the shark.
Mead describes a four-stage life-cycle for most government programs.
• Initially, people advocate a government solution from condign aspirations. It leverages the huge economies of scale enjoyed by the powerful fisc to fix a nasty problem for the citizenry. (Social Security under FDR and Truman).
• In the 2nd stage of a program’s life, it succeeds in fixing whatever was originally wrong and gets popular. (Social Security under Eisenhower and Kennedy).
• In the 3rd stage of its life, bureaucratic inertia and dependency sets in. The program becomes “indispensible” and part of “The American Way.” (Social Security under Nixon, Ford and Carter).
• In the 4th stage of life, the program has become a bureaucratic fiefdom that has outlived its functional usefulness. It is a problem, instead of a solution. It will defend itself viciously, using entrenched and well-lucred PACs and lobbies. The program becomes…a “3rd Rail!” (Social Security when GWB tried to reform it in 2005).
Now, as the Great Society has become increasingly aged and gilded, a cynical jadedness sets in. Standards become “standards”; benefits are now all entitlements. We can’t afford it, can’t support it, and shouldn’t be using it any more than we should be cooking up meth in the garage. But now, you see, it’s “Too Big to Fail.” Perhaps, more accurately, these behemoth programs are too evil to effectively kill.
As Conservatives, we can still smash this Death-Star of Progressive special-pleading run amok. Like the overgrown plant from “Little Shop of Horrors”, our current government stands poised to eat us all right down to our shoes and our souls. This is what the current argument over the debt ceiling is truly about.
This argument only partially involves sober fiscal probity at the national level. It is a proxy for a conversation over who will win in American society. Democracies can devolve into socialistic economies or they can remain empowered by the innovative free market. They cannot do both without succumbing to what Garret Hardin famously termed “The Tragedy of The Commons.” As more and more of our government enters stage 4, our society increasingly becomes a numb, dependent, socialist cone of failure.
The way we use this debt ceiling to remain the USA; not Generika, is to make our government have to cut the $1.6Tr. When government does what it has to do, as opposed to what its deracinated and over-powered mandarins would like to do, it can regenerate and once more be moral.
When a great Roman general won a battle in the days of the empire, he held a triumphal parade through the Forum Roman. A humble slave walked behind the general. He said the same thing – over and over again. “Memento mori!” “Remember you will die!”
This historical anecdote perhaps gives insight as to why we have that pesky debt ceiling in the first place. Nothing else could possibly make a government program mortal. Nothing now seems capable of reminding those who govern us that they are human. So we instead get the inhuman government we see with NCLB and Fannie Mae.
This stirs up the Consequentialist blow-back of cheating teachers and dishonest mortgage brokers. Only a government forced back within its means will see any necessity at all in remaining decent or moral. Only a moral government will inspire the American Citizenry to live a moral life. More than our leadership would ever like to admit; these Americans among us who cheat on the tests and sell garbage mortgage papers do exactly what their overlords told them to.