Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Patronage Machine

Today, we have a federal system of Government. There is a national income tax, so the governmental system with the most money is in Washington D.C. It also is the most powerful, accoridng to the Constitution and the Supereme Court's interpretations thereof. So just what is it supposed to do with this money and power? Currently, the idea is Patronage.

What it has Done:

Since the Republicans took Congress in 1994, the stated policy was that Government is no good. The private sector, affected by the "invisible hand" of the market, can always do a better job. And so taxes have been cut, and services privatized. However, the Government is still distorting the market. It does not demand accountability or stringent audits (like a responsible private sector contractor would). In fact, the practices of Congress and the current administration shows that efficency and low costs are not a goal. The goal is patronage. The use of earmarks (where a congressman adds provisions to a bill that basically serves to send money to one of his friends) has ballonned at an astonishing rate. Vast programs have been proposed and initiated that do not work, but do employ Republican donors. A good example of this is the missle defense shield. Every test the Air Force sets up for this program is rigged, and about half the time, they fail. Nonetheless, we are building and investing in a massive deployment of this system. Presuming that the government is a rational actor (a big presumption), the only plausible purpose for rewarding such a failure is to bribe their defense contractor buddies. Who will then donate generously to electoral campaigns

The current crop of Republicans have even downsized the military and sent many former military jobs to contractors. It actually didn't seem like a terrible idea in the 90's. The military can be lumbering and ineffecient, and every soldier knows that its just Uncle Sam footing the bill, and that he can afford it. So cost is often disregarded. But the soldiers do understand following orders. So the right solution was not to privatize, but make officers more accountable on costs. They would then order their subordinates to keep those things in mind. These orders come in handy in a war zone as well. Contractors don't mind working when its quite, but when the bullets fly, it takes a soldier.

So when our soldiers went to Iraq, so did the contractors. And they needed massive pay raises to work in the war environment. Suddenly, these "savings" became losses. It also became huge profits for the politcally connected companies, like Halliburton. Indeed, the US began sponsoring private militas to protect these contractors, since the soldiers were busy. More profits for companies, but still, no efficency.

Another example is health care. When someone had the idea to reform Medicare, the Republicans didn't examine the system and try to devise a way to deliver the most care for the least cost to the US taxpayer. Instead, the forbid the government to act efficently by negotiating for drug prices. It allows deceptive and confusing advertising for competing drug plans. It encouraged private sector bureacracy and paperwork. Why? Because there were big companies, in the pharamaceutical and hospital industry, that wanted a big injection of taxpayer money to boost their bottom line.

This is patronage government. By the party, for the friends of the party, in order to keep the election campaigns of the party filled.

The professional nature of the government burecracy was created to avoid the problems of patronage. Certainly, the top positions are always open to the friends of the politcal party, and especially to the friends of a victorious president. But the actual employees, the people who run the system through fair weather and foul, have to pass certain tests to get their job. They are also "professionalized," so to speak, in that they will work for the U.S. people and the citizenry instead of the political ledaer of the moment. In practice, they often work in their own interests, in order to make their own job easier. The solution to that is to demand higher standards and better management. The "privitization" of these jobs just ensures one thing: that the people running the programs care about profit most of all.

The private sector cares about profit. That is the reason for its existence. To make money. All other concerns are secondary. Even if a bureacrat is lazy, he can't pad his bills. And without oversight, which is woefully lacking in the current government, the privatized worker can be lazy as well. But by permitting these false invoices, the patronage machine continues.

A government of patronage is the enemy of any patriot. It is not wrong to ask for good government. Every citizen should ask no less. But the current Republican refrain is that government is no good and it can't be trusted. They then go out and prove this to be the case by delibertly subverting good government in order to provide patronage. The hold no hearings to investigate the corruption, but instead participate (see Delay, Cunningham, etc.).

There is only so much money the government has to spend. This money can go to worthy projects that help build a stronger nation ready for the challenges of the coming years. Or it can go into the pockets of the wealthy and corrupt. The current Republican Party has choosen the later. Congressmen hold lavish parties for their cronies, and buy gilded commodes out of the Palace of Versailles. And the patronage machine rolls on.

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