Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Ability Of Government

FLG always says to think of the government as something akin to the Marines. By this he means, that if you need a lot of resources quickly deployed toward a well-defined goal, then government is the way to go. If you want long-term, efficient, and intelligent management, then not so much.

Kinda like how the Marines are really good at invasion. They'll get it done in a couple of weeks with few casualties. But they're not as good at that messy nation-building stuff.

Anwyay, FLG was listening to an interview with the author of If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government and thinks the book may be worth a perusal.

In fact, getting a man to the moon is often how many people respond to FLG's statements above. Getting to the moon, they argue, is not a job for the Marines.


Getting a man to the moon was an impressive feat. However, the basic idea was pretty well understood. We build a really big rocket and send them on their way. Yes, many technical obstacles had to be overcome, but these were mostly iterative rather than revolutionary challenges. In fact, just as the Manhattan Project was run by the War Department, so could the moon shot. It was really a matter of driving toward a specific goal in a fixed time with a large amount of resources using largely existing technology.

Where FLG has less confidence is when the government has to manage something indefinitely with conflicting and often ambiguous goals -- health care, to name a timely example. Or in solving some problem in a new and innovative way -- he doesn't see the government inventing something like Google.*

Katrina was so shocking to FLG because the initial aftermath should be in the government's wheelhouse -- just get food, water, blankets, etc to the damn city. Yet, they screwed it up. He was not surprised, however, that they screwed up the management of all the people over the following years.

From the interview, it sounds like the authors focus more on technocratic and bureaucratic aspects, but FLG might pick it up anyway and add it to the growing pile of things he intends to read.

* Yes, FLG knows the Internet was invented by DARPA.

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