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.”

CONTINUE READING: Forget Big Versus Small — Our Government’s Needless Complexity Is a Big Problem | Connecting the Dots, What Matters Today | BillMoyers.com.

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. 




7 thoughts on “Forget Big Versus Small — Our Government’s Needless Complexity Is a Big Problem | Connecting the Dots, What Matters Today | BillMoyers.com

  1. Thanks Amaya. I like this quote in particular from Holland; “I often say that Americans tend to be suspicious of the idea of government in the abstract, but they actually like the things that government does in the specific.” Barney made this point when he added up all of the things government was doing for the person who wanted to eliminate all services. To your main point, kludge is a good word to use especially as it applies to the website and bureaucracy layers.

    A promising change I have seen is the concept of loaned project/ IT personnel to cities and counties. These cities are using contract young, technically savvy folks to improve processes. They come in with no ties to existing processes and can ask what is the goal and figure out the most elegant path to get there. I saw a piece where the Dept of Defense is permitted to hire the best contractors without going through a bidding process – so they can be more expeditious than other parts of the government and have a better track record. Thanks for this. It is an excellent read and subject. BTG

    1. What a good idea. I think it is a bit easier to implement changes at the local level. Once it gets to the size of federal government, and adding the ridiculous gridlock in Congress, it becomes a monumental kludge. Thanks for reading:)

  2. Thanks. By the way, I had not heard the term kludge until the week before doing a crossword puzzle. I could not figure the answer out until I had the other words to help. So, seeing it on your website made me smile.

  3. The article faults lobbying for the kludgeocracy, and I agree with that 100%. The easiest way to reduce lobbying is setting strict limits on campaign contributions – or any politically-related financial activity; basically do the opposite of what Citizens United decision did. If interest groups can only contribute token amounts to candidate and incumbents, there is little they can offer to legislators for doing their bidding, and therefore legislators will be much less inclined to help these groups. It probably won’t work as neatly in reality, if that ever happens, but this will be much better than what we have now.

    1. Yes, the Citizens United decision has basically destroyed our already crippled democracy, in my opinion. I suppose that sounds like hyperbole, but the effects of unfettered spending by special interests on the polarization of our political parties and the the degradation of public discourse cannot be overstated. They have made greed a virtue and the vulnerable minds of the masses seem to gulp down that swill as gospel truth. Have you ever visited http://www.opensecrets.org/ ? Great resource for following the money. You remind me that I should do another post on this subject. Thanks for visiting!

      1. I’ll check out the site.
        Not sure if you’ve heard of the McCutcheon case that Supreme Court is deciding, but it has the potential of making politics even more beholden to special interests than Citizens United did.

  4. Amaya, you and List of X reminded me of what I read recently. Sheldon Adelson who personally kept Newt Gingrich’s candidacy alive last spring, spoke recently to a group of Jewish people in a public setting. He advocated during his speech bombing Iran now. Let’s say ol’ Newtie won and Adelson had access to the President….this is a scary version of what could happen with such funding opportunity. Thanks, BTG

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s