Our ideological debates over the size of government and its role in the economy are often fierce, but what if we’re all missing a larger issue?
Steven Teles, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins, argues that the needless complexity with which our government operates costs us dearly – in dollars, transparency and trust in our institutions. And that’s true for both liberals and conservatives.
Teles borrowed the word “kludge” from the world of computer programming to describe the problem. “A kludge,” he writes, “is an inelegant patch put in place to solve an unexpected problem and designed to be backward-compatible with the rest of an existing system.” Things go wrong in a variety of ways “when you add up enough kludges” leading to “a very complicated program that has no clear organizing principle, is exceedingly difficult to understand, and is subject to crashes.” Teles adds: “any user of Microsoft Windows will immediately grasp the concept.”
Kludgeocracy. What an evocative word for what ails our system of government. Having recently become an employee of the county in which I reside, I have witnessed firsthand some of the kludge that gums up the system. I am, by nature, a very organized person. I like to control my environment, which may or may not be a character flaw, depending on the situation. Many times, this trait of mine is not seen as a virtue. Imagining the kludge build-up on a federal level, it becomes easy to see that waste, inefficiency, and aversion to change is a systemic disease that infects the system from top to bottom.
I wouldn’t call myself an anarchist, but the notion of tearing down the whole behemoth of government to build it back up into an elegant system is a fantasy that I entertain. The problem with this fantasy is that we don’t trust anyone to do it. We probably never will. The polarization of our political parties make it impossible. Currently, the Republican Party is engaged in self-immolation, cannibalizing its own members in a bizarre contest to see who is the most extreme. Many people have checked out of the entire process, viewing all politicians as liars and lapdogs of special interests. It’s hard to blame them, but the end result of apathy is tyranny.
That’s a word thrown about pretty cavalierly by the right wing extreme lately, so forgive me for using it. I cringe anytime I hear that word, sort of like when people talk about “slavery” to our government, because of our addiction to “free stuff.” The tyranny of which I speak is not of a despot over the people, but more of the Jeffersonian concept of tyranny over the mind of man. Our current political environment thrives on distrust and pits us against each other. This insidious distrust and suspicion causes us to cling more tightly to our own “kind,” whether it be our own race or class or religion. Working together toward a solution becomes a folly, a defeat.
There are many factors which contribute to our kludgy, inefficient system and the very nature of the system makes propagation of inefficiency the default mode. It seems that every election season, our candidates decry the waste, but as soon as they are elected, they invariable contribute to it. I don’t know how to fix it, but I sure do sit here and bitch about it. I ask to you to read the article referenced above and give me your thoughts.