Top-Down Government is Too Hard
because inevitable ignorance
A couple days ago I wrote about the problem of a ruling class remembering how it got things right a generation ago in “Are Our Rulers Cunning or Stupid?” The problem, a generation later, is that nobody remembers How To Do It. So the rulers make the same mistake all over again. As in Bidenflation as a replay of Carter inflation
But an emailer pointed out, correctly, that the problem is “ignorance.” He adds:
Fundamentals of wisdom cannot be conveyed orally. The fundamental truths involve concepts, visuals, and complexities that can be conveyed with difficulty by extensive written text plus visuals and graphs. Governments do not communicate by passing textbooks around. They meet and exchange a hundred words per person at most.
Is he right, or is he right?
Which means that government never knows How To Do It. Even, and especially the man at the top. And as for the suck-ups working for the man at the top…
Of course, the Germans figured this out with respect to armies back in the 1920s. The general-in-chief could not order all the details for a complicated operation. So the Germans under General von Seeckt developed the idea of pushing as much responsibility down to lower-level officers — even NCOs — as possible, and they wanted
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier.
In other words, they needed the kind of people I call Commoners. (Yeah, I know. The Germans had to create one of their double-mouthful words for this. Bless their hearts.)
The US Army had adopted this philosophy by the 1980s. It probably had something to do with the stunning victory over Iraq in the 1990 desert war.
But you can see that our liberal friends have not adopted this philosophy. Why not? Well, in the first place, how is this possible when you experience society as composed of the Anointed, the Benighted, and the Mascots? Obviously, in such a world, the poor overworked Fauci Anointed have to do everything with respect to the gap-toothed Benighted. And the Mascots are too precious and special to be muddied up with real work.
But, of course, it doesn’t work. The debacle of the COVID years is a blaring witness to that. Society is far too complicated to delegate everything to the Anointed of the NIH or the semi-Anointed of the various state-governer’s mansions. Good Lord, old chap, you don’t think we can trust those gap-tooth Benighted chaps to do the right thing, do you?
But the whole point of social animals — and really everything else in Nature — is that everyone does what they are good at and they coordinate through various cooperation mechanisms, like markets and associations and neighborhood committees — and whatever it is that coordinates activity in the body of an animal or a tree — as much as possible without compulsion and force.
Nevertheless, as the Anointed, under the top-down model of social cooperation we Anointed delegate the response to a pandemic to the loyal followers of the Anointed in the health bureaucracy. The president can’t do it. He has no time to learn about pandemics.
But neither does the health bureaucracy. They don’t spend every day managing pandemics. They sit around making rules for possible future pandemics. And they talk about their pensions. And if they have made mistakes in their plans — too bad, because there is no time and no bandwidth to adjust it with a top-down organization once a pandemic is under way.
Guess what: if you want to get good at something you do it, or you train for it, every day: that’s what armies do. That’s not what bureaucrats do. Ever.
So therefore, anything a government does that relies upon a bureaucracy to execute on its plan is pretty well bound to fail.
That means that, if you are a ruling class, you want to organize things so that you don’t rely on the bureaucracy to do things. You want non-government organizations and the private sector to do all the “doings.”
But, of course, there’s a problem with that. People don’t go into government to push the power to others. Power is the point; that’s what attracts people to government leadership. People go into government because History has Anointed them to minister to society as the representative of God or Gaia.
Problem is that government fails at just about everything it does. Because of the lack of experience doing things and the lack of bandwidth. So a government that does everything in-house will probably fail: hello Soviets and Maoists.
The solution is simple. Stop pretending you are Anointed and that ordinary Commoners are Benighted. That’s what Gaetano Mosca recommends in The Ruling Class. Promote some likely chaps from the middle rungs that seem to be likely lads and give them a chance to shine.
Of course, there’s a Thing called the Market Economy that does that automatically. Something to think about in an emergency.