Waste, fraud, abuse, infantilism, and magical thinking

OK, time for some mentable gymnastics! What do the following policies have in common:

American petroleum reserves should be used up as quickly as possible. Then we get to negotiate terms with foreign suppliers with none of our own, instead of some. Drill, baby, drill! Drain America First! Lower gas prices! Roads not tracks! Woo hoo!

You should spend all the appreciation in your house on stuff you can use up now, like dinners out, travel, clothes. Get a really big mortgage with a couple of years of low payments; your government is ready to help your bank ship you buckets of money. Get those new credit cards they keep asking you to apply for, and max the bejesus out of them. The payments won’t go up for many months, maybe right through a couple of ski seasons. The best part is, you protect yourself against wasting all that money on the kids’ college tuition, or retirement when you’re really too old to enjoy regular meals and stuff.

Investors should put money into smoke-and-mirrors derivatives and mortgage-backed securities. If you make the deal complicated enough, no-one can price it, so you get to say its worth whatever you want! The mortgages (see above) have a half-life of months and months, well past the next bonus date…and the bonus comes from making deals, not from having them work out OK!

The way to have a war is, you put it on your credit card. Then you get the government (not your government; Abu Dhabi’s) to make the minimum payments, then there’s a new administration and you’re home free! You don’t even have to win the war, and there’s gazillions of loose loot for your friends’ no-bid contracts. Is there anything better? Yes: you cut the friends’ taxes so the loot stays where it belongs!

The way we pay for California schools, prisons, and such this year is the same way Abe Beame got New York a free government back in the day: you collect some taxes a little early, sell some furniture, borrow a bunch, and tie a ribbon around it. Pay no attention to that spreadsheet behind the fiscal year curtain of oblivion!

A government surplus is an abomination. It denotes having wealth, and having wealth is prima facie evidence of not having burned up value as fast as possible. What you do with a surplus is, you spend it and then spend it again, to make a deficit that insulates you against sinning again, even by accident.

Who says conservatives don’t have a coherent underlying philosophy?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.