Failing Forward

Nowadays in America, statists win even when they lose. More specifically, under our dominant cultural assumptions the failure of any left-liberal policy leads, inexorably, to its entrenchment and expansion.

 For the Left, this is a feature not a bug.

The most striking example is public education, where a nationwide left-liberal apparatus directs a producer-centric system that delivers an objectively awful product at absurd cost. Our exquisite political sensitivities limit the mainstream deba…

  1. Lavaux
    BlueAnt

    Indeed, but I fear the problem may be that failure needs to be catastrophic in order to shake the public’s complacency.  When failure is measured by abstract numbers with no direct corollary in the average citizen’s life–when failure is detected, not felt–it does not translate into political backlash.

    I agree with you, BlueAnt.

    Most Americans ignore politics because they’re too occupied living their busy lives. They also take their environment for granted, assuming that the things they rely on to live their lives the way they want will continue working regardless of what the politicians do. There are no arguments one can make to these Americans to convince them to pay attention, much less vote one way or another (ever tried convincing a senior that his Social Security account has no money in it?).

    Most Americans are simply not going to get smart about politics until politics starts ruining their lives with entitlement cuts, rationing of goods and services, sky-high taxes, high gas prices, high unemployment, high inflation, and low growth. I wish it were otherwise, but it’s not and the truth is, we Ricochetti are the odd ones.

  2. DocJay

    The points regarding anticipated and expected failure are spot on. I expect the one size fits all will be quite a bit more rationed than our current Medicare. Our industry was dying anyway but we just voted for a quick end to freedom in medicine. We shall see how long it takes to look like the UK.I just cannot wait to unionize. Awesome.

  3. HVTs
    Paul A. Rahe: George, you use education as an example — and rightly so. We are weak at the federal level and strong right now at the state level. Perhaps education is the place to start. Charter schools could become the norm in some states — with vouchers as an alternative.

    A Charter Schools initiative just passed in Washington State, not exactly a bastion of conservatism.  The predictable backlash is gathering momentum and conservatives should be mobilizing to thwart the effort to use the courts to derail the people’s will. Anyone in Washington among the Ricochetti who can help us help you?

  4. HVTs
    BlueAnt:

    Metrics are not defined ahead of time, and results are not used as decision points to terminate or continue a federal program.  It tends to be “have bureaucrats write up an annual report”, which results in self-justification and goalpost moving. 

    Legislation is rarely designed with internal tests that determine its continued usefulness. It assumes its own perpetual utility, and continues on until another piece of legislation kills it.

    Greatly appreciate your cogent insights from software engineering. I think the underlying reality you highlight is this: legislation ultimately isn’t expected to fix problems. Its purpose is to get politicians reelected. That’s why there are no meaningful metrics. Metrics don’t serve the goal, which is to appear to be doing something while funneling public funds to preferred ‘clients,’ such as lawyers, unionized workers, Wall St. managers, etc.  A hefty portion of those funds then become campaign contributions to incumbent politicians.

    This stems from the advent of career politicians, who mostly care about staying in power.  This is why term limits is a bad idea whose time has come.  It’s no panacea, but it’s a start toward getting a different class of person running for office.

  5. Neolibertarian
    George Savage: 

    The only way out is by educating our fellow citizens.  This is why conservatives need to make the argument, the conservative case, at each and every opportunity, not reach across the aisle as many pundits are advocating.

    Failure should mean defeat, not advancement. 

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Well, except that the “failures” won’t be perceived as failures. That’s not how it works.

    You can’t rely upon that, because we can look back. for instance, at all the failures of the New Deal, but very few perceived them as failures at the time. Roosevelt was famous for having newspaper editors over to the White House often for dinners. As a consequence, the failures didn’t show up in the papers as failures. For similar reasons, this is how it will work tomorrow.

    As hard as it may be to believe, there are Dems running around who still refer to the “Clinton high-tax economic boom.”

    We can’t wait to educate the populace, but we can start today by making the arguments.

    The first place where we have to begin is answering this question: 

    In 2008, was the United States economy threatened by total collapse?

  6. BlueAnt

    Failure should mean defeat, not advancement.

    Indeed, but I fear the problem may be that failure needs to be catastrophic in order to shake the public’s complacency.  When failure is measured by abstract numbers with no direct corollary in the average citizen’s life–when failure is detected, not felt–it does not translate into political backlash.

    Didn’t someone say that education was the one arena where the conservative argument was gaining ground against the entrenched liberal system?  (I can’t recall where I heard that, I think on one of James Delingpole’s podcasts.)  Essentially, schools have become such a flagrant failure, that vouchers and charter schools have won the intellectual argument, and teacher’s unions are openly scorned by the public.

    I think it was John O’Sullivan on the last podcast who said that conservatives might win only after disaster falls.   Well, disaster is apparent in our educational system, earlier than other areas.  Maybe we just missed the tipping point.

    As for energy… I think people are a lot less elastic about their demand than anyone realizes.  $4 gasoline is bad, but not bad enough to cause a widespread, popular backlash against anti-energy policies.

  7. BlueAnt

    Let’s put it this way:  few of the electorate thinks the stimulus “failed” because the only way you can say it did, is by examining numbers and pointing out that one is lower than it should be.  (Specifically, the Keynesian multiplier, not a widely known concept.)  What they can see are men working on the roads that were built, with gaudy signs by them saying this construction was funded by the recovery legislation.

    Social Security has not failed in the public’s eye because the checks still go out.  It is an accounting failure, a sleight of hand that predicts doom… but again, you are arguing abstract numbers against tangible effects.  

    Medicare and Medicaid have similar problems, except their numbers are even more abstracted through actuarial tables and layers of debt.

    Obamacare has not failed yet.  The numbers are grossly unworkable, but regulations were scheduled to take place in 2014 (making 2013 the year business implements changes).  The layoffs and the benefits losses didn’t start until after the election.  And even then, the failure will be in numbers on a government report.

    You want change?  Enact legislation that makes failure visible.

  8. BrentB67

    Making the case, making the argument, and educating people on conservative issues takes courage because the press will say mean things about those making the arguments. To date we have witnessed only a handful with the courage to do so.

    Most ‘conservative’ legislators are more interested in making friends than making a difference.

  9. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    George, you use education as an example — and rightly so. We are weak at the federal level and strong right now at the state level. Perhaps education is the place to start. Charter schools could become the norm in some states — with vouchers as an alternative.

  10. The Mugwump

    If the mission of the public schools is to disseminate socially acceptable ideas and establish behavioral norms, then they are working just fine.  They also provide daycare for the children of working parents, which is all a lot of parents really care about.  This country won’t provide quality education until people start valuing quality of mind.   

  11. The New Clear Option

    This is just right, except for the last sentence. Americans will never again value “quality of mind” because the parents of the current generation have already been rendered incapable to do so by the entrenched indoctrination system. And that isn’t going to improve anytime soon.

    ~Paules: If the mission of the public schools is to disseminate socially acceptable ideas and establish behavioral norms, then they are working just fine.  They also provide daycare for the children of working parents, which is all a lot of parents really care about.  This country won’t provide quality education until people start valuing quality of mind.    · 1 hour ago

  12. BlueAnt

    Let me add a useful observation from engineering:

    There is an important concept for designing systems called “fail early, fail fast”.  Failing early means you test for failure early in the implementation or startup, so that you find failures and can correct them before too much work gets wasted (or cycles get burned).  Fail-fast means you report an error immediately upon detecting it, raising the visibility of that error all the way up where it can be caught and fixed.

    Obviously, government is not software, with useful error message popups.  But legislation’s failure mechanics rarely enables useful, early intervention.  Metrics are not defined ahead of time, and results are not used as decision points to terminate or continue a federal program.  It tends to be “have bureaucrats write up an annual report”, which results in self-justification and goalpost moving. 

    Legislation is rarely designed with internal tests that determine its continued usefulness. It assumes its own perpetual utility, and continues on until another piece of legislation kills it.

    If you wrote software like this, with processes that lived forever, no computer would survive 5 minutes of runtime.  Why are we surprised when government systems escape failure detection?

  13. CoolHand

    You are correct, save for that the only way out is not education.

    We’re well past the point where education will save the day.

    The collapse will come long before you educate enough people to turn the tide.

    As things stand right now, the only way out is through.

    The only way back to freedom and limited gov’t is stand back and let this one collapse under the weight of its own hubris.

    Let the whole edifice burn and then we can simply step over its ashes when it’s time to rebuild.

    Prepare yourselves now, so that you are still around when the smoke clears, because if you’re not prepared, you won’t make it through.

  14. David John
    CoolHand: 

    We’re well past the point where education will save the day. The collapse will come long before you educate enough people to turn the tide.

    As things stand right now, the only way out is through.

    The only way back to freedom and limited gov’t is stand back and let this one collapse under the weight of its own hubris.

    Let the whole edifice burn and then we can simply step over its ashes when it’s time to rebuild.

    I agree. We should adopt the Cloward-Piven strategy, load up on government, and do so quickly – in time that the good-old days of markets are still fresh in citizens’ minds. Let it be truly catastrophic, not gradual or half-way. Let it be clear where the errors lie. Get out of the way and simply offer commentary.

    I am forever amazed by people who say, “Capitalism has failed”, over dinner at a steak house, surrounded by the its fruits. They cannot see past the end of their noses. 

    If collapse is dramatic enough, sudden enough, many people might think, “Maybe capitalism wasn’t so bad after all”.

    (Oh yeah, and buy gold).

  15. George Savage
    C
    David John

    I am forever amazed by people who say, “Capitalism has failed”, over dinner at a steak house, surrounded by the its fruits. They cannot see past the end of their noses. 

    This is another reason why we must constantly bang the drum of the counter-narrative.  Alinskyite community organizing always begins with a freshly drawn baseline of “unfettered capitalism.”  We are always in the midst of the robber baron era, a time without rules or regulation, where the rich exploit the middle class as a form of sport.  Healthcare, higher education, home mortgages, energy, the auto industry, job creation:  Wherever the market is failing, the root cause is  out-of-control Wild West capitalism.

    Mark my words:  In a few years, Alinsky’s disciples will blame the evident failings of Obamacare on a lack of regulation and the usual surfeit of private greed, thereby justifying open advocacy for a single-payer system.

  16. David John
    George Savage

    David John

     

    I am forever amazed by people who say, “Capitalism has failed”, over dinner at a steak house, surrounded by the its fruits. They cannot see past the end of their noses. 

    This is another reason why we must constantly bang the drum of the counter-narrative. 

    Edited 1 hour ago

    Pray tell, what is the “counter-narrative”?  

    I’m dismayed that we must use the term “narrative”, which, as you know, is a post-modernist term used to suggest that all is narrative, none is substance (truth).

    Never mind. So what is the counter-narrative? 

  17. George Savage
    C
    David John

    Pray tell, what is the “counter-narrative”?  

    I’m dismayed that we must use the term “narrative”, which, as you know, is a post-modernist term used to suggest that all is narrative, none is substance (truth).

    Never mind. So what is the counter-narrative?  · 2 minutes ago

    DJ, thank you for the criticism.  I agree.  I meant to write “counterargument,” referring obliquely to my post from earlier in the week.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In