The law of unintended consequences is at least as strong as the law of gravity. And it can be more grave.
If you jump from an airplane without a parachute, you’ll die. Gravity is deadly grave at times. If government sets some things in motion, even for noble reasons, that law of unintended consequences can start a war, kill an economic revival, mask scads of chicanery or use tax money for dunderheaded things like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) supply chain distribution fiasco.
“Despite spending about $247 million over nine years, FEMA cannot be certain its supply chain management system will be effective during a catastrophic event,” auditors reported after Homeland Security’s inspector general peered at the FEMA supply delivery program. This was reported in The Financial Times, which was founded by Peter G. Peterson, billionaire businessman, fiscal watchdog and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
Almost a quarter billion for a FEMA logistics supply chain management system riddled with errors, which has difficulty interfacing with other agencies and insufficient trained personnel to use it properly? Breathtaking.
If you rely on the Feds after a disaster, you may or may not get help. Either way, you paid the price. In a major disaster, it’s obvious some are likely to die; however, even more will if supplies can’t reach them in timely fashion. Perhaps we should turn this problem over to WalMart, which built a multi-billion dollar business on supply chain expertise.
If it appears your scrivener is off the reservation here, writing about the Feds, in a way that’s true but in another it isn’t. Messages from readers after last week’s coverage on a planned private sector Capitol Mall project in Carson City got me thinking.
One reader’s Capitol Mall coverage reaction, basically, weighed in against government being up to its eyeballs in capitalism, including concern at officials trying to clean up if capitalism’s risk/reward ratio fails to work out. Another reader questioned graphics loosely depicting what the project might look like if the project doesn’t change, though nowhere did accompanying verbiage say it was to scale and the article clearly reported things may change.
So one reader was skeptical of government messing too much in commerce; the other was skeptical of newspaper graphics based on a picture taken of the private developer’s current and preliminary vision.
Skepticism is never misplaced, but it reminded me of those age-old questions: how much government is too much and how much unbridled capitalism goes too far?
The next day an article in The Wall Street Journal reported a General Motors’ bailout architect and backer now is criticizing GM over operations and return to investors. The bailout, as you’ll recall, salvaged a company via a greased-skids bankruptcy and federal largesse. GM, we later learned, hid defects for years that are resulting in massive vehicle recalls. Policy signal: save corner-cutters; make straight shooters stand on their own.
My conclusion: “gummit” oversight is fine; “gummit” as savior, not so much. A little government, while necessary, is sufficient. Measured government makes sense; a lot of it often goes too far.
That’s true locally, at the state level, and — it’s long since been painfully obvious — particularly in Washington, D.C.
John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.