Quick up: Bad education

Quick up: Bad education

Even Harvard is failing to educate about how government should work.

Brooks Anderson, a Harvard student concentrating in Government, recently wrote an op-ed in The Crimson about administrative bloat at the university. It's a perfect example of what's wrong with American self-government. It identifies a legitimate problem, then waves the "government magic wand" as a solution:

Harvard has instead filled its halls with administrators. Across the University, for every academic employee there are approximately 1.45 administrators. ... Yet of the 7,000-strong horde, it seems that many members’ primary purpose is to squander away tax-free money intended for academic work on initiatives, projects, and committees that provide scant value to anyone’s educational experience. ...

I propose that we cut the bloat. Knock on every office door and fire anyone who does not provide significant utility to the institution.

However — recognizing the impossibility of convincing the Leviathan to purge itself from its eighth-floor lair — we may need legislative solutions as well, such as tying tax-free status and grants to responsible spending or outright raising the endowment tax. I do not know what specific bill will actually slay the bureaucratic beast.

Your organization is doing something you don't like, but you don't know how to change it. So you want the government to guess a solution, and use coercion to enforce the change?

This is "magic wand" thinking. There is no reason to hope the government can deliver effective solutions to difficult problems. There is also no reason to hope coercion will be free of negative side effects.

Inviting government to solve small problems in private domains is a recipe for disaster. Government shouldn't be involved in small problems or private domains. Government is only potentially useful for large problems in the public domain. Large, public problems are the only kind with a chance of mass consensus.

Mass consensus is essential to good government. Without it, you have bad government. In other words, you have government using coercion to accomplish goals that people don't widely agree on.

When you use government for small or private problems, you will get a government that is large, expensive, intrusive, untrusted, and widely reviled. Sound familiar?

The U.S. federal government is the largest, most expensive government in history. Americans don't trust it. In fact, Americans are terrified of it, in that they are increasingly worried about the "other guys" being elected to office and taking control of its machinery.

We created our own worst enemy, because we didn't understand what we were doing with government. Unless Harvard and other schools can do a better job of teaching the principles of responsible self-governance, we can expect our problems with government to get even worse.

P.S. Ironically, the U.S. federal government is likely what cultivated the problem with excessive administration at American universities. The proliferation of federally-backed student loans since 1965 introduced an era of easy revenue for universities. Now, instead of competing solely on academics, they compete substantially on value-adds like sports programs and other extracurriculars. These value-adds require far more administrators than a simple school.