I’m glad …

… that Toyota put so much effort and meanness into its efforts to keep its American plants union-free.  Otherwise, it might have run into quality problems.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

10 thoughts on “I’m glad …”

  1. Mark, this looks like a bunch of related design and engineering problems, not assembly line problems. Engineers aren't union in American car companies, either. Cars that are unsafe at any speed, exploding Pintos, and stuck gas pedals get rightfully dumped at the feet of management and non-union designers.

    That said, I'm seeing right wing paranoia that Toyota's problems have been exacerbated by deliberate attacks by La Hood, the DOT and the eee-vuhl Obama administration in order to protect their near monopoly of American car manufacturers. I am not kidding.

  2. It's scarcely paranoia to recognize that, once the government owns shares in some companies in a market, it's got a conflict of interest in regulating corporations in that market. If a regulation has disparate impact, suspecting the motives behind it is only rational under such circumstances.

  3. Recognizing that government owning shares in some companies could lead to a conflict of interest is one thing. Leaping from that directly to conspiracy theory based on absolutely no evidence is different though. It represents a certain weakness in what has become a theology–right-wing anti-governmentism–that real corruption apparently cannot be found outside of the Republican party in enough numbers to feed the leviathan. All they have left is dream humping.

    This sort of thing is evidence that conservatives have become the Donner party of modern political ideology. They are out in the cold eating each other in hope they survive long enough to make it past the point where the public either forgets or forgives. They can't raise enough money to compete and they find themselves having to associate with a group or two who can't even make up their mind which of them is tea bag worthy.

  4. Brett,

    Did you take your Halcyon today? You really, really, REALLY need to make up your mind. Either the Federal Government is so inept that it can't be trusted to run Medicare, much less a universal single-payer plan, or the Federal Government is so efficient that it can figure out how to make optimal use of Toyota's current disaster.

  5. Per public choice theory, the government is not so much generally inept, as it is inept at doing those things which don't advance the interests of the people running it.

  6. Brett brings to mind what may be a nice pivot in the government/business divide. The business owner in theory acts out of self-interest. The government administrator in theory acts out of "common good". At this point in history, it is obvious now that too much faith in the latter is foolhardy. The former, owing to basic human nature, is more precise. Although while business is often well-regulated by either the market or the owner's sense of benevolence, neither are generally up to the task.

    The general messiness of all this makes default partisan crankiness on either side all the more disheartening. Government is in so many ways not only necessary but very well-implemented, if only for the element of honor and sacrifice integral to the particular task at hand – one only needs to think of the cop, the fireman, the teacher, the librarian, the inspector, the researcher, etc. Yet this is not enough, and corruption must be guarded for structurally. In the same way the business corruption must be guarded for structurally.

    Ultimately then, government must be relied upon to police both itself as well as business. The best solution we have to this "fox/henhouse" dilemma is democracy. And to the extent that democracy fails, so to does government. Yet how much of our time is spent debating our democratic process? How well do our citizens know it?

  7. It’s scarcely paranoia to recognize that, once the government owns shares in some companies in a market, it’s got a conflict of interest in regulating corporations in that market. If a regulation has disparate impact, suspecting the motives behind it is only rational under such circumstances.

    This formulation is too elastic to be useful. It would justify any attribution of motives, no matter how bizarre, to any regulatory action, no matter how readily explicable it is in other terms. Sometimes, as here, attributions of motive are paranoid. Public choice theory doesn't validate paranoid delusions. The justifiability of the regulatory action is, of course, a separate question from the regulator's motives.

  8. Eli: "The business owner in theory acts out of self-interest. The government administrator in theory acts out of “common good”. At this point in history, it is obvious now that too much faith in the latter is foolhardy. The former, owing to basic human nature, is more precise. "

    And you right this *after* the financial crash.

  9. Barry, I'm not sure I get your drift. My point was that it is naive to place to much faith in government officials not acting out of self-interest – not recognizing the degree to which they will not do what is right so much as what is right for them.

    This may sound like an argument against government, but it may instead be an argument for more of it. Accepting this premise, conservatives generally default to the market to provide for the common good. But to the degree that the government was providing what the market cannot, this is an absurdity. However, this doesn't stop the rhetoric. A main talking point on the right is the incompetence of government. But what is rarely mentioned is the fact that it generally is providing services that markets couldn't possibly be expected to deliver. At least not without government funding, which one would then expect to require oversight.

    Anyhow, so if recognition of government "corruption" we can't default to markets, what other mechanism can we rely upon to provide for the common interest we seek? I'm afraid the best specific answer I can give right now is systemic reforms to democratic structure. The first obvious case would be campaign finance, which of course was just dealt a serious blow. But I think just in a general sense it behooves us to simply recognize the limitations of government, but at the same time being realistic about how our goals will often only be achieved through it.

  10. "But to the degree that the government was providing what the market cannot, this is an absurdity."

    Yes, the argument is typically about the degree to which this is true. It can't, after all, simply be assumed that anything the government up and decides to do could only be done by government. Nor can it simply be assumed that when the government decides to do something only the government can do, that it's decided to do something that actually NEEDS to be done.

    In fact, when an expansion of government is contemplated, it's almost always going to be the case that it's going to do something that doesn't need to be done by the government, because we'd gotten by without the government doing it before. Since everything the government does comes with a cost, (Sometimes with a benefit, too, but you can't count on that.) neither is there any assurance that the government doing it will actually leave us, net, better off.

    I expect there are a virtual infinity of things only the government could do, and which we should be thankful it ISN'T doing.

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