Thursday, 29 July 2010

Why government doesn't work

This article ridicules government-issue brownies:

The Pentagon’s brownie recipe is 26 pages long. Among the ingredients: water that conforms to the “National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (Copies are available from the Office of Drinking Water, Environmental Protection Agency, WH550D, 401 M Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20460),” eggs in compliance with “Regulations Governing the Inspection of Eggs and Egg Products (7 CFR Part 59),” and baking soda “which meets the requirements of the Food Chemicals Codex.”

Wondering about adding nuts? Simply consult section 3.2.5.3: “Shelled walnut pieces shall be of the small piece size classification, shall be of a light color, and shall be U.S. No. 1 of the U.S. Standards for Shelled English Walnuts. A minimum of 90 percent, by weight, of the pieces shall pass through a 4/16-inch diameter round hole screen and not more than 1 percent, by weight, shall pass through a 2/16-inch diameter round hole screen. The shelled walnuts shall be coated with an approved food grade antioxidant and shall be of the latest season’s crop.”


And that, in a nutshell, is why government doesn't work. Somewhere along the line, someone baked brownies using dirty water. So, instead of relying on everyone working to the assumption that dirty water doesn't make good brownies, we need a regulation for it. Then someone made brownies using old nuts. Most people wouldn't anyway, but now we need a regulation for that.

And so on and so on.

My daughter bakes brownies quite often. The recipe (including the ingredient list) is less than half an A4 page. They're delicious and no-one has died from eating them yet, nor do I think they ever will.

In this small microcosm of bureaucratic life, we find how government fucks everything up. All that extra regulation burdening (for example) banks now is because someone learned a lesson somewhere and the government wants to enforce that lesson on everyone. The fact that the banks have learned that lesson pretty well, thanks very much, and certainly won't be making that mistake again in a hurry.

But no, that's not good enough, the government has to add another rule to the book, with all sorts of unforeseen consequences and catastrophes. And simply complying with all these rules makes it more and more difficult to enter that market and provide effective competition. Existing banks already have compliance teams and know where the bodies are buried, so it's no real hassle for them to comply with more rules.

And so, in brownies and in banking (and, indeed, in every aspect of life) the government does lots to protect incumbents and does nothing worthwhile to protect you.

3 comments:

Ἕκτωρ said...

Also, don't forget that they all want to be seen to be doing something, because obviously you always have to be busy or you're not doing your job properly.

Anonymous said...

You have a child? Poor thing.

KrAzY3 said...

Isn't government work an oxymoron?

This reminds me of a what my wife came home and told me yesterday. She's working on a site in which a steel mill is being constructed. They are overseen by OSHA (a United States federal agency).

They are bringing a lot of machinery online and along with that they are still doing a lot of work..

OSHA mandates that each time a machine is taken offline a form be filled out. Consider the premise, a small machine is running and needs a speck of paint, so someone has to march out there and fill out a form just to turn it off explaining a risk assessment, why he is turning it off, etc...

Now, because the safety enforcement agency (not the private entity running said steel mill) is unhappy with the way said forms have been filled out, the entire 5 billion dollar operation has been shut down and the agency won't even explain what is needed to comply fully with their standards.

No one has been hurt, no one has been endangered. It's just a matter of stupid government paperwork getting in the way of actual work being done by actually productive individuals.