Monday, October 6, 2014

It Would Still Fail

In his weekly piece for the USA Today, Glenn Reynolds takes the Center for Disease Control to task for its (predictably, at least to me) pathetic performance during the Ebola "crisis" (very likely it's not a real crisis and, hopefully, won't rise to such).  And while I commend him for that, Reynolds suggests that it's all the other, dubiously related activities that the CDC has involved itself in over the years that is responsible for it's current failure.  Here's the opening of his worthwhile article:
"You had one job!" is the punchline on a popularInternet meme involving organizational screw-ups. Now critics are saying something similar about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response the agency's handling of the Ebola outbreak. Unfortunately, it's not true. While we'd be better off if the CDC only had one job — you know, controlling disease— the CDC has taken on all sorts of jobs unrelated to that task. Jobs that seem to have distracted its management and led to a performance that even the establishment calls "rocky." Going forward, we need to learn this lesson, for the CDC, for other agencies, and for the government as a whole.
While there is no doubt that all government agencies embrace mission creep, and that so doing makes it harder for them to accomplish their main reason for existence, to my mind it wouldn't matter if the CDC had focused on controlling disease and nothing else.  It's the very nature of government that causes it to fail vastly more often than it succeeds; specifically, government entities have neither the necessary knowledge (see Hayek for this) nor the necessary incentive structure to be effective.  Indeed, generally speaking, the people working in these agencies are more concerned about their jobs, power, and politics than they are about their raison d'etre, a fact that becomes blatantly obvious at times of crisis.