Semi-Connected Thoughts on Government Contracting and the Essential Nature of Government

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284 Responses

  1. Thanks for the article. I think you are confuded on what Libertarians mean by privatization.

    Libertarianism has the effect of total privatization. For info on what Libertarians and friends mean by that and people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ ….Report

    • Glyph in reply to Jane Richards says:

      If “confuded” is a portmanteau of “confused” + “deluded”, I hereby move to have this word included in official League lingo.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Jane Richards says:

      Heh, nothing better than a libertarian insisting that all us other libertarians must be in lock-step agreement. Freedom through thought control ain’t a pretty picture.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        I should add, the comment is particularly ironic, since I cadged the distinction between privatization and contracting out from a guy at Cato, a much better known libertarian organization than LIO (which until now I wasn’t familiar with).Report

      • LWA in reply to James Hanley says:

        Jane’s comment made me smile as well.
        To begin with, I enjoyed the post- it is well written and well argued; which is sort of a left handed complimkent, since I am a liberal Democrat.

        But on the other hand, it is your and Roger’s (and many others besides) eclectic libertarianism that causes people like me to accuse libertarians of being “embarrassed Republicans”.

        In several threads, self-described libertarians have insisted that:
        1. There needs to be a government;
        2. There needs to be a standing military;
        3. The government needs to provide for and control a system of police, fire, emergency services, and infrastructure such as roads, sewers, harbors, etc;
        4. The government needs to erect and maintain some form of regulatory apparatus;
        5. The government needs to provide for some form of social safety net;
        6. There needs to be a system of taxes to pay for it all.

        So I can see where there is room for confusion as to the term.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to LWA says:

          It depends on whether you believe that “Libertarian” really means “Anarchist”, what the “Min” means for Minarchists, the duties of the Night Watchman if you’re a Night Watchman kinda Libertarian, and other such fun “let’s start splitting hairs!” arguments in the face of police assaulting civilians.Report

        • Glyph in reply to LWA says:

          In a nutshell, Liberaltarianism remains a mirage due to persistent misapprehension of a continuum as a binary – “Hmmm, these Libertarians espouse all of these principles that liberals also espouse, yet they do not agree with liberals w/r/t to scope or implementation – ergo, they MUST be on the other side.”Report

        • Roger in reply to LWA says:

          Accurate summary, LWA.

          I enjoyed the embarrassed republican comment too. Fact is, I get how conservatives think. If I believed what they do, I see how I would agree with them on just about everything. Point is I dont share their fundamental assumptions and frameworks. In other words they seem coherent, I just disagree.

          As anyone familiar with my comments on liberals/progressives would know, you guys are still total mysteries to me. To paraphrase Spock, I can’t see how it computes. So I keep trying… Poorly.Report

          • Kim in reply to Roger says:

            Simply put, we’re just a bit more optimistic about government and a bit more pessimistic about certain individuals (the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy included!). Personal experience tends to do a lot here.

            Deep down, most liberals believe about the same things that libertarians believe, we’re just busy arguing about different points.

            I can make a pretty sound argument for a steep inheritance tax (past a certain “just” point — larger for farmers but a reasonable “your kids can live their lives without needing to earn money, your grandkids cannot”).

            I like to think you’d probably be on board with it — to the victor go the spoils, which is part of what competition is all about!Report

            • Roger in reply to Kim says:

              And liberals are a lot more compassionate. Libertarians really have to work at not being callous.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger says:

                A goodly number of libertarians aren’t really callous.

                I think the distinction between the liberal and the bleeding heart libertarian isn’t compassion, it’s eagerness.

                They both agree that there might be a problem to be addressed, right here somewhere, but there’s a difference between “We should figure out how to fix this problem” and “We must do something, (immediately) (for the children!)”Report

              • Roger in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Or to add on, the libertarians are more willing to let it work out over the long haul. Give us free markets and in two hundred years this problem won’t matter any more.Report

              • Russell M in reply to Roger says:

                well in two hundred years I’m going to be dead anyway, so yeah sure!Report

              • Kim in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                … I’m still at the point of addressing what “went wrong” with our health care system. Until I understand that, I don’t think I can fix it.

                Cheerio to the other liberals who are cheering Obamacare. I hope for our budget’s sake it does well.Report

              • greginak in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                The “We must do something, (immediately) (for the children!)” thing is a great strawman and even rarely might be an appropriate stereotype, but really its old and lazy and not reasonable picture of what liberals believe. All those wonks liberals have spend their time trying to figure out how to fix problems looking at data and stuff. They don’t actually spend their days with their hair on fire screaming and running around in circles. Libertarians aren’t really, mostly callous and liberals think about what the gov should do, what it shouldn’t and how best to do the things it should.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to greginak says:

                That’s a fair point, Greg (really, I was comparing stereotypes in my comment, not comparing actual real liberals vs. libertarians).

                I will say this, though, liberals are very sympathetic to those arguments even if they aren’t the type to make them, themselves.

                There are lots of liberals who get into the wonky details on the gun debate like I do, and talk about the evidence and the science and all that, but when a father of a Newton victim makes a teary-eyed plea to do something in a hearing, they feel something on the continuum of “a tug” leading to a “very strong pull”, whereas the libertarian feels like “it’s a data point” leading maybe to “a tug”.

                Not all of either group. But it’s a fairly common difference between the two groups of self-identifying people.

                And there’s nothing wrong with eagerness, after all. That is how a lot of stuff gets done, right?Report

              • greginak in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t disagree with the “tugs” liberals feel. Everybody has emotional appeals that work on them or that set off their alarms. Liberals are no different then others. You throw out one story about a union member who did something or makes a good wage and their are certain kinds of comments we will see from libertarians and conservatives.

                I am a proponent of eagerness and beaverness.Report

              • Russell M in reply to Roger says:

                that seemed unnecessary. unless my snark detector is on the blink again.Report

              • Roger in reply to Russell M says:

                Except it came from a Libertarian. I was self snacking.. I mean snarling … I mean snarking ( auto correct hell)Report

              • Russell M in reply to Roger says:

                yeah, i read it wrong.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        And she gave the game away. Today contracting out services, tomorrow Somalia.Report

    • Roger in reply to Jane Richards says:

      What are your thoughts on the matter, Jane?Report

    • Russell M in reply to Jane Richards says:

      i think this proves the old saw that if you put 3 libertarians in a room and ask for a policy solution to a problem you will get 5 answers.

      I Think the problem i have is I keep trying to view libertarians as being a cohesive political party, but they are more like an argumentative Idea based frat club. not that there’s anything wrong with that.Report

  2. M.A. says:

    For example, the union for Indiana’s highway workers negotiated a contract that required all “road work ahead” signs to be manned by two employees in a truck, whose only duties consisted of driving to the work sight, pulling off the road, making sure the sign was on, then just hanging out all day.

    Libertarians at it again misrepresenting situations. The duties of those guys weren’t just “hanging out all day.”

    They were the ones managing the cones or barrels directing traffic around the road work.
    They were ensuring the signage STAYED UP, which is troubling enough with the idiot drivers that tend to hit cones or barrels but also correlates with Indiana’s being a very flat state with a tendency towards gusting winds. Put the signs up, and they’d be knocked flat by the wrong winds.

    They were the ones conscripted to flagman duty when the crews needed it to get equipment in or out of the area.

    But you just keep on misrepresenting the situation, that’ll go over really well for anyone who’s talked to people who work those crews to know what really goes on.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to M.A. says:

      Just because we agree that something ought to be done doesn’t mean that we agree that it should be done for for union rates.Report

      • M.A. in reply to Jaybird says:

        Spoken like a true FYIGM libertarian.Report

        • Roger in reply to M.A. says:

          You never miss a chance to get in your FY’s do you, MA? The art of flipping the bird while pretending it is political commentary.Report

          • M.A. in reply to Roger says:

            Truthfully stating what libertarian “philosophy” is, nothing more. It’s the ultimate in free-riderism dressed up under a skin painted with the word “liberty” on it.

            Libertarianism takes the Ferengi art of mislabeling a product and makes an art form out of it.Report

            • Roger in reply to M.A. says:

              Does this mean you don’t like the Phoenix experiment James’ commented on?Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                I believe M.A. might be better served by reading Brin’s blog rather than this one.

                Brin is a quite vehement libertarian (and liberal Republican). But he’s also willing to acknowledge that some people who claim to be “Libertarian” are really nothing of the sort.

                I generally assume M.A. is talking about the Kochs when he makes blanket statements that defame the libertarian set. My words on that bunch would be far harsher than his, if I felt like they’d do good. As it is, deeds not words!Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                I really enjoy Brin , but he is an even odder libertarian than those on this site.Report

              • greginak in reply to Roger says:

                ” but he is an even odder libertarian than those on this site.” That is not humanly possible.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to greginak says:

                Are we talking about David Brin? He’s a genuinely odd person.Report

              • greginak in reply to greginak says:

                Yeah David Brin is odd. I’ve loved lots of his books. His blog is interesting although i get a real strong sense he thinks quite a bit to much about the mighty power of his views and intellect. On the other hand i agree with him fairly often.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to greginak says:

                There was an incident a few years ago at an SF convention where Brin infuriated another writer, causing her to dump her glass of Coke on his head. The odd thing is that the almost universal reaction in the SF community was mild surprise someone hadn’t done that years ago.Report

              • Kim in reply to greginak says:

                … I haven’t found anyone here registering republican, and then posting on dailykos…

                Honestly, yes, yes he is weirder than the guys on this site. I know someone who’s worked with him (that should tell you something in of itself…hehe).Report

              • Kim in reply to greginak says:

                Tsch. I remember a friend of mine who used to dump milk on people for telling dirty jokes (… I think it was because she didn’t understand, rather than didn’t appreciate them…)Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Quite. I attribute that to his being “in the know” on a number of matters.
                (Not the least of which is knowing folks who have worked for the Kochs).

                My main point being that Brin nourishes a strong skepticism about our growing “landed rich” class. I tend to think M.A. might agree with your positions, but questions your faith in putting them forth… Brin’s a bit better about assuring liberals (yup! even I can sometimes question “do you really mean that??”) that he’s actually on their side.

                Also, Brin emphatically puts liberals and libertarians over in the modernist camp. Which is a far better place to put the squabbling kids.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                Exactly. He shares the haves/ have nots paradigm so popular among progressives and so alien to libertarians.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kim says:

                Except, Roger, it’s only unpopular among naive libertarians.

                Unless you really believe that the Vanderbilts (or whoever, not googling for da name) deserve to get Acadia for free, simply because their great granddaddies bought it?Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                I disagree. Libertarians even talk about how odd it is that liberals “fall for” this paradigm. Libertarians have their own dividing paradigm that they “fall for”, but it is more along the lines of coercer and coerced, exploiters and exploited. These seem at first like the same thing but they are not.

                A libertarian will get pissed at the existence of a minimum wage worker using coercion against a giant corporation. The horror! Liberals will cheer them on. Strike one for the underdog!

                Libertarians judge right and wrong more by the process, and liberals more by the outcome. Poor, weak, minorities are by definition oppressed to liberals, where libertarians won’t weigh in until the look at processes that contributed to the condition.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kim says:

                Forgive me, but isn’t the minimum wage, as instituted by the government, a form of the government coercing the corporation? Not the minimum wage worker?Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                Yea, I meant a coercive act by a low wage worker. Libertarians are more offended by the act. Liberals are more cognizant of the power position between the parties. Stereotyping of course…Report

            • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:


              I think maybe our standard response to M.A. should be something along the lines of, “thank you for your comments; they are the quality and depth we have come to expect from you.”Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                Cut and paste.Report

              • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                Thank you for your comment. It’s the exact LACK of quality and depth I’ve come to expect from someone so deliberately dishonest as you.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                Oh, lordie. Right over your head, I’m afraid. I’ll try to aim lower next time.Report

              • Kim in reply to M.A. says:

                Oh, come off it!
                James is not an “evul libertarian.”
                To my knowledge, he’s not in favor of slavery, nor of making people offers that they /must/ accept (if you know what I mean…).
                He’s neither a blackmailer, nor someone who would support blackmail by someone else.
                He has not used his wealth to destroy people’s lives, and I’m quite sure he would condemn those who do, if he had the evidence.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to M.A. says:

          Yeah, yeah. Everybody deserves $82,500/year, regardless of education, skillset, or level of effort. Paid for, presumably, by the taxes from all of the people making $82,500/year.Report

          • M.A. in reply to Jaybird says:

            And FYIGM libertarians like yourself can’t imagine that anyone else is putting in a real day’s hard work, when in truth you’re the lazy free-rider bums.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to M.A. says:

              The problem is that you don’t mean it when you say “lazy free-rider bum”. You can’t say it without including an implicit “oh, but you deserve a union job too” in there.

              Stick to pointing out how the things that you feel are morally superior to the things that other people feel. That’s a tool better designed for your hands.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Jaybird says:

                You can’t say it without including an implicit “oh, but you deserve a union job too” in there.

                Total destruction of the unions means we’re right back to the days of the “Gilded (c)Age” and company towns.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to M.A. says:

                I’ll settle for getting rid of public sector unions and tripling membership of private sector ones.


              • M.A. in reply to Jaybird says:

                And we’re back to the standard libertarian “waah anyone who works for the government should have their rights taken away” bullshit.

                You don’t really give a crap about liberty, just about taking it away from those you dislike.Report

              • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                Would you be okay if the public sector got the union rates? But let the PRIVATE sector figure out the rates? Less govmint interference that way, I suspect…Report

              • Rod Engelsman in reply to Jaybird says:

                There’s an argument to be made–perhaps by libertarians!–that public sector employees, since they’re often working for a monopsonist employer and subject to the whims of political pressures, need unions even worse than private sector employees. You may disagree but I’ve seen the argument made. (Over at BHL, I believe.)Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

                This could easily be the case. The problem is that when the unions spend as much time defending John Pike’s pepper spraying as they do workplace discrimination, it demeans their workplace discrimination efforts.

                (Huh. I just found out that John Pike was terminated from his position. When we last argued about this November 2011 incident, it was around April 2012… I was livid that he was still employed. As it turns out, his last day of employment was July 31st, 2012. That date makes me think that his contract was not renewed, however, rather than that his contract was terminated. Everybody is tight-lipped about the situation, though so that’s all the information I have.)

                It’s the excesses of the unions (rubber rooms, suspended with pay for shooting a suspect… which sounds like “paid vacation” to most folks, so on and so forth) that drive me nuts. I am going to guess that those things are what drive everybody nuts.

                If the most egregious examples were “union fights to re-instate police officer after wrongful termination following whistleblowing”, I’m pretty sure that you’d have to look high and low for people who argued against that (well, maybe just the local police departments).Report

              • greginak in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

                How prevalent are “rubber rooms” school systems? Are they all over the country or just a couple of high profile school systems? Suspended with pay? What does that mean? Is it admin leave while the nature of the conduct is investigated? I have no problem with that at all. How often are cops paid during their discipline. I don’t know myself, but some of these things are less common or far less egregious then then i think you are suggesting.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

                Is there any number that would get you to say “okay, that’s too many rubber rooms”?

                I googled the phrase: police officer suspended with pay

                And found examples of police officers involved in sexual assault, “cavity searches” (seriously, shouldn’t those only be given by trained medical professionals???), and a DUI arrest.

                That’s just the first page of results.

                I’m sure it’d be easy to find a perfect example of a police officer being suspended with pay prior to an investigation that wouldn’t get anybody to do much more than shrug, Greg.

                It’s when they get arrested for driving drunk that they get a paid vacation that gets everybody’s hackles raised. Well, almost everybody’s.Report

              • greginak in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

                The number of rubber rooms i would shake a stick at would be enough for me to believe its a major systematic problem throughout the country as opposed to a local problem. Local problems are still bad, but less of a thing to get panties bundled about.

                I don’t have a problem with not paying officers when they are being suspended for misdeeds. I also don’t have any idea how often that actually happens. So i don’t like it if i see it, but don’t really know much else what to say about.

                I know i’m a liberal so i’m supposed to be running around with my hair on fire over ever crisis and every time something bad happens. However i’ve developed a strong dislike for “OMG i just saw this segment on Dateline, Stossel, etc about X and we’ve go to DO SOMETHING NOW.” I’d actually think you would agree with that.Report

              • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                Commenting as catharsis.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

            Unions are coercive and evil. Freedom means an even playing field between individuals (or an individual and a multi-national corporation).Report

            • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              Actually unions need to be coercive to offset the power differentials between giant multinationals and honest workers. (this is fun).Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                I don’t know where you’re from, but where I’m from, individuals set up cardboard corporations so that they don’t have any liability, and then negotiate as another corporation…

            • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              I’m 100% pro-Union if we’re talking about the private sector. Well, the 100% that allows for making fun of them.

              It’s when the Union deals with the Public Sector that I find myself wondering about closed-door inquiries into allegations of corruption that never ever seem to find anything wrong despite the civilian video… followed by calls for “privacy legislation” to protect our officers while they perform their duties.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sure, it’s not like there’s a power differential between government and government worker, or it’s possible to have a union without giving it everything it coud ever ask for.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                To this citizen sheeple, negotiations to ameliorate the power differential between the govt. and the govt. worker often appear similar to the negotiations amongst the proverbial alpha and beta wolves as they decide on the dinner menu.Report

              • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

                You’ve not seen the government trying to eliminate Veterans Day in favor of “Day after Thanksgiving”… !!!?!

                Oh, boy, that was a Union Thing.

                Your Vietnam Veterans were NOT PLEASED. (they got it rolled back)Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              Christ, guys. I know discussion threads have their own logic and will evolve in more-or-less random ways, but I wasn’t union-bashing, and I don’t see the point in everyone wasting their time repeating their same set pieces that they’ve typed a million times over.

              This may be the most depressing start to a discussion of one of my posts that I’ve ever had.Report

              • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                Then you should have started by not lying in your opening post.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to M.A. says:

                Running out of warnings on the whole calling people you disagree with liars thing, MA.Report

              • North in reply to James Hanley says:

                Don’t take it personally James, it’s M.A. His/her positions and arguement style are a matter of record.Report

              • M.A. in reply to North says:

                Hanley’s history of lying is also a matter of record.Report

              • Chris in reply to M.A. says:

                There’s something about extreme online self-righteousness that makes distinguishing between a lie and a mistake impossible. Where I’m from, when I’m from, calling someone a liar was very serious business, but this is the internet in 2013. Sometimes I hate the internet and 2013.

                I do not mean to imply anything about the substance of the actual propositions in question; I don’t know whether they’re true, though I usually find extreme claims about unions dubious, because they usually are dubious.Report

              • North in reply to M.A. says:

                M.A. I honestly don’t like criticizing people on my own side of the partisan divide (being a shameless partisan hack myself) but does it never occur to you that your arguments, both in terms of their content and especially their tone, do more home to our side than the one you’re directing them against?Report

              • M.A. in reply to North says:

                Hanley defamed people and outright lied about their job duties in the service of his point.

                When this is brought up he insists it “doesn’t matter” to his point.

                Sophistry, mixed with a sizable portion of bullshit to season his argument, and zero validity to anything he says.Report

              • North in reply to North says:

                Defamed people? Honestly M.A. I can’t even debate with you on this because I have no idea what precisely road construction workers do. But to call it lying when, at worst, it’s simply being wrong is foolishness. How can you prove that he lied (in other words that he knows what he’s saying is incorrect and said it anyways)? You haven’t even proven that he’s wrong, let alone that he’s lied.

                As for sophistry, it’s not sophistry when it’s correct. If your objection was politely worded and cited and completely rebuked his example all that means is that he’d have to trudge to Google to look up another example. Or are you asserting that people don’t shirk or that unions don’t try and defend indefensible perks for their members? Heck, I –like- unions and even I know you’re wrong about that.Report

              • Glyph in reply to North says:

                North, if yer really a “shameless partisan hack”, I’ll take 1000 more like you, please. 🙂

                M.A., I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t come across as patronizing, but…I worry a little about you, dude. You sometimes seem a bit more paranoid than is healthy, and this is coming from someone who agrees with Dr. Johnny Fever that “when everybody’s out to get you, paranoia is just good thinking.”

                Ask yourself – is this fun for you? If it isn’t fun anymore, step away from the keyboard, maybe go outside, get some sun…at the end of the day James is just Some Guy On The Internet, even if you think he is Obviously Wrong (not to disparage or belittle his OP, which seemed reasonable, thoughtful and even-handed to me, and doubtless took some work in writing – so it’s probably frustrating to him to immediately go straight into the weeds over questions of average Indiana Air Speed Velocity).Report

              • Roger in reply to North says:

                I second Glyph. When north disagrees with me I have learned it is time to re examine my assumptions — carefully.Report

              • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to M.A. says:

                Not seeing a huge outpouring of support for your position regarding Hanley’s dishonesty here, M.A. You may want to just agree to disagree & let it go, before people take you even less seriously.Report

              • Russell M in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                IDK thats starting to be a very low bar to clear.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

            I find that number…difficult to believe. I would like a source, please.Report

            • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Morat20 says:

              Thread too long, who are you replying too?Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                The 82,500 a year claim for the guys handling the signs, cones, and whatnot.

                The median salary for the highest-paid roadworkers for Illinois (according to the BLS) is 61,000 for the heavy machine operators, which commands pay in line with electricians, pipefitters, and other high skill labor.

                I suppose if the guys with the signs are actually the supervisors for the site — that wage is 76,000 (median) which sounds about right for being in charge of a large group. Straight up laborers make less than 40k, median. The “helper, construction and all others” class — sign wavers, one would think — makes 30k median.

                It seems, in general, the food service folks get paid the least (median 20k).

                Of course, road crews work outside, in any weather, and it’s not the safest job in the world. Dishwashers are probably at a lot less risk of accident.

                I’m not seeing 82,500 until you hit “biochemists”, high level managers, senior detectives — I’m not seeing a single union job up there. It’s all engineers, degreed folks and the like.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

              I pulled the number from my butt. The point was to find a number absurd enough to equal M.A.’s absurdity.

              I failed.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

                Poe’s law. People do seem to think unions, especially those crazy public unions, make that sort of money.

                Which is weird, since you can generally get the pay scales and see for yourself. (Good luck seeing what a given military contractor is paid, but you can look up a soldier’s base pay. Or a bureacrat’s).

                I hear similarly crazy numbers about teacher’s salaries all the time. I’m sure somewhere, somehow, there’s a 120,000 a year teacher sitting in a room surfing porn because he can’t be fired.

                The ones I know? Make half of what I do for the same level of education, work longer hours, have much crappier benefits, and get less respect. And can be fired fairly easily. (no tenure).

                But the anti-teacher’s union sentiment is even worse here than it is in places that have some of those protections and higher salaries. Go figure.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

                Pike, the guy who pepper sprayed those students, made six figures.

                I am not making that up.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                He was a police lieutenant, which is a pretty responsible position. And he lives in California, which is an expensive place. (Davis less so than the Bay Area, but even so.) How much should he make?

                (Bu the way, in case you hadn’t heard, he’s gone.)Report

              • trumwill mobile in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Sacramento was on our radar for a job. I was astonished by how affordable it was compared to what I think of when I think of California. In fact, of the three finalists, it had the lowest COL. Higher than the national average, but not by much. (I don’t think the figures included taxes, though.)

                Not to contradict your point. Just wanted to mention.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Yeah, I get the feeling that it is a “his contract was not renewed” he’s gone rather than a “he was fired” he’s gone, though.

                How much should he make?

                Whatever unemployment pays.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Odd. Including housing?

                Though the surroundings were a big boom-and-bust area for new houses so they might still be relatively cheap.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

                As noted, police lt — not road worker. Police also get to do fun stuff like stack overtime and play other games that mere construction workers don’t get.

                One thing about this story — two guys getting paid to sit on their ass all day because “LOL. Government” or “LOL. Public union”.

                Your union is there between you and management, not between you and your coworkers. I’m having a really, really hard time imagining a bunch of guys doing construction work (roads or not) who would be, shall we say, happy at the idea of some of their fellows kicking back and doing nothing and getting paid.

                They can’t even swap out positions, because half the road work involves specialized equipment — which means the guys doing the more specialized stuff can’t really just swap jobs with the flag-wavers.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:

                because “LOL. Government” or “LOL. Public union

                Thank you for missing the point. Badly. Wildly. Or rather, thank you for reading only M.A.’s comment instead of my post.

                On another day I might be inclined to explain further, but not today. You’re intelligent, so read the OP and just note how insignificant that little example plays. Just go ahead and conclude it’s all wrong, mentally cross it out, then look at the actual argument.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Morat20 says:

                Actually, I flat out asked for a source for the claim. I’d like to actually research it.

                I can think of a number of reasons why you’d have two guys at a construction site not doing anything visible, but not a whole lot of reasons that their fellow workers would put up with it — unless their job involved more than I saw as I drove by.

                And since my default view towards government is not ‘Lol, Government’ or towards unions ‘lol, unions’ — I’m actually a little skeptical of the claim that a union not only got a “we get one spare guy who does nothing all day, paid for” into a contract, I have a hard time believing they even tried.

                Which is why I’d like a source, and I tried about an hour’s worth of googling and couldn’t find squat.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

                I regret making the joke I made.

                I should have merely quoted Bastiat and left it there. I regret the error.

                “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Morat20 says:

                I’d just like a link backing up the original claim. No MA’s stuff, just the “contract has two guys for a one-man job” thing.

                You know, something concrete? A news story? Maybe something with a bit of explanation about what and when and how much and any justifications by either side?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:

                Morat, for fish sake, I said that I heard this from my brother who worked road construction in Indiana, that I cannot find a link to verify it, that I withdraw it, do not defend it, and wish I hadn’t made it.

                So what’s your goal in harping on it? This doesn’t seem like you. This seems petty and stupid, and while I often disagree with you I’ve not previously thought you were being petty and stupid.Report

              • Mr. Blue in reply to Morat20 says:

                James, but have you renounced your god?Report

    • Roger in reply to M.A. says:

      You can’t envision a more efficient way to accomplish this?Report

      • M.A. in reply to Roger says:

        Did I fail to mention these are ALSO the guys on-call to drive someone to the hospital if an accident occurs? I guess I did.

        This IS the most efficient and safest way to do it.Report

        • Kim in reply to M.A. says:

          *blink* you really need two guys on call for that?
          No, seriously…?
          Where I come from, one of the guys is Working (as a flagman or whatever),
          while the other guy is on Watch Duty.

          If the sign falls over, he radios for help (if needed), and in the meantime works as a flagman, warning people to not drive into construction.

          Now, I’m not going to say that there arent’ good reasons for this system (be a good place to put someone who is recovering from a back injury).Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Kim says:

            Road crews are pretty accident prone. Cars whizzing by, heavy machinery, power tools, heavy loads…

            Generally everyone’s working — even the guys sitting idle tend to be coordinators, overseers, or foreman. They’re running the place more than sitting on their tails.Report

            • Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

              Okay. I get that.
              Because it seems, really and truly, unbelievable that folks would vote for things that are Totally Stupid. And having two people sit by and be idle the whole damn day? In public view? That’s damn stupid.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Kim says:

                I suspect, you know, that it doesn’t actually happen like that.

                I’ve certainly never seen anything like that, and while the flag-wavers job seems pretty easy they’re also by far the lowest paid.

                As I said upthread: Even if you’re of the mind that “lol, government” is dumb enough to employ people to do nothing, their actual coworkers who are having to work for their money aren’t gonna let that slide.

                Whatever those guys in the truck are doing, the guys running jackhammers and cranes and whatnot apparently feel whatever they’re doing is vaguely worth the money they’re paid.

                I know that in a regular office people get damn pissy (and aren’t shy about showing it) about workers who aren’t doing squad but making good money. I suspect the road guys aren’t any more shy about it.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

      correlates with Indiana’s being a very flat state with a tendency towards gusting winds. Put the signs up, and they’d be knocked flat by the wrong winds.

      Indiana is now a Great Plains state? Damn, having been born and raised there, and living only about 40 miles away from it, you’d think I’d have heard about that!

      They were the ones managing the cones or barrels directing traffic around the road work.They were ensuring the signage STAYED UP,
      Did I fail to mention these are ALSO the guys on-call to drive someone to the hospital if an accident occurs? I guess I did.

      And you came by this knowledge of their duties… (Imagining possibilities and typing them out stream of consciousness does not count.)Report

      • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

        Lived the next state over, knew plenty of people who had lived there and who had worked on those crews.

        Now stop misrepresenting what they do. You’re just being fishing dishonest and you know it.Report

        • M.A. in reply to M.A. says:

          Also: Here, some free education to counter your willfull igorance.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

            Nice link. It doesn’t support your argument about Indiana being particularly gusty at all. Look, I grew up in NE Indiana, some of the flattest areas around (old Lake Maumee lakebed), and while spring especially could be gusty, I never experienced real wind (other than the occasional tornado) until I moved out west. I’ve had Santa Ana winds in Southern California almost break the hinges on my car door, and driving up out of a river canyon in Oregon I had winds almost push my truck off the road. Indiana winds are nothing.

            Now, how about you stop getting all fired up down below about attacking what is, after all, merely an example, and not a substantive argument? I stand by the example, but let’s say you’re right, and it’s a lousy example that I’ve got completely wrong. What does it do to my actual argument? Nothing. Because even if INDOT workers never shirk a moment it wouldn’t prove that workers (public or private sector, blue-collar, white collar, or CEO) never shirk.

            Try giving a serious argument or just go away and read some other posts. Don’t just hang around and make an ass of yourself.Report

            • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

              And I grew up in Rockford so stop lying.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                Oh, the old “you’re a liar” line. It must be, like, 3 or 4 days since you pulled that one out on someone who disagrees with you.

                So, you grew up in Rockford, IL, I grew up near Fort Wayne, IN, so the guy who knows Indiana best is…obviously the guy from the next state over.

                No, more seriously, I get where you’re coming from, and suspected you might be from Illinois (because that would make more sense of your wind comments than if you were from Ohio). But you know I lived in Illinois, too. Went to a college down south for several years years and spent a year working in Springfield. And, frankly, Illinois ain’t Indiana. Cross the Wabash, and then the Vermillion River, on I74 going west and within a couple of miles the landscape flattens out dramatically. I made that drive many times when I was commuting to Springfield, and let me tell you, that flat tree-bereft (in comparison with Indiana) landscape never failed to spook me a bit. Indiana’s a veritable Hobbit’s Shire compared to central Illinois’s Grand Prairie.Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                I’m more like a rolling stone. I grow no mas.Report

            • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

              but let’s say you’re right, and it’s a lousy example that I’ve got completely wrong. What does it do to my actual argument? Nothing. Because even if INDOT workers never shirk a moment it wouldn’t prove that workers (public or private sector, blue-collar, white collar, or CEO) never shirk.

              So your dishonest, fishing, lying claim is also un-falsifiable.

              You are a master of sophistry with a doctorate in fecal dispersal.Report

              • Chris in reply to M.A. says:

                You are a master of sophistry with a doctorate in fecal dispersal.

                To do precisely what you do in such situations, some light reading for you.

                Seriously dude, you make a thread unreadable when you go on like this. You’ve said you think he’s wrong (you say lying, but then everyone says anyone who makes a mistake on the internet is lying), you’ve provided links, we can decide for ourselves. Get on with your day so that people can actually have a conversation.Report

              • North in reply to Chris says:

                Also, as a fellow liberal I’d like to add that you’re seriously making liberals look awful.Report

              • Russell M in reply to North says:

                seconded. if only our trolls did not have internet access.Report

              • Dave in reply to North says:


                No he’s not. He’s only making himself look awful. I’ve been around long enough to know he’s an outlier.

                You have nothing to fear from me.

                I do appreciate your commentary though because personally I think the guy is a complete jerk that adds absolutely no value to the discussion. Too bad I am no longer in charge of the commenting policy. I would have given him a good working over to the point that he wouldn’t come back. 😉

                If he’s smart, he won’t respond to me. I’m not as nice as Tod.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                So your dishonest, fishing, lying claim is also un-falsifiable.
                You are a master of sophistry with a doctorate in fecal dispersal.

                The cold inevitable logic in the comment shakes my beliefs to their very foundations.Report

              • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                You’re willing to defame people.

                You’re willing to lie, 100% lie, about what their job duties are. People I’ve known, who told me what they went through on a given day after getting home far too late at night.

                There’s no validity to anything you say. You can’t be trusted.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to M.A. says:

                MA –

                I wish I’d continued reading the threads here before giving my “running out of warnings” comment above.

                We’re not going to a place where post commentary is endless streams of calling people with different opinions liars. I feel like I’ve been fairly explicit about this many times over the past month. So now I need you to cool off.

                I’m suspending commenting privileges for the day. You’ll be good to go again tomorrow morning.Report

      • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        I know for a fact that all of the corn blocks the wind anyway.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

          So how come that doesn’t work for Iowa?Report

          • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

            Ummm…. higher winds as a result of higher latitudes. They go right over the tops of the corn. Yeah, that’s it.Report

          • Russell M in reply to James Hanley says:

            because the Iowa corn gets brutalized every 4 years due to the rampages of the caucus and the attending chattering classes. no mere ear can withstand that.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Russell M says:

              Iowa caucuses: January/February.
              Corn: ?

              You wouldn’t be a city boy by chance, would you Russell? 😉Report

              • Russell M in reply to James Hanley says:

                the closest i get to corn is when i boil the ears. but i have to guess that the weight of all the eh.. creative reality around the caucus poison the ground somewhat.

                next on silly statements by russell. the Iowa corn is weaker because it is gov subsidized! tune in next time to see this shocking report!Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Russell M says:

                Heh, all American corn is government subsidized. But I’ll buy your poisoned ground theory. I can’t imagine the Ricks Perry and Santorum not poisoning anything they come into contact with.Report

              • Russell M in reply to James Hanley says:

                The Iowa corn is special though. if the Iowa caucus was not first in the nation the ethanol sub. would be a lot less protected. as is every empty suit running has to go on stage and swear fealty to corn sub. forever.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to M.A. says:

      Actually, I’m gonna go ahead and ask for some links to this rule. Contract requirements? Descriptions of the job? Anything?

      Google isn’t bringing up anything other than a few stories from 2010 about a strike (including my favorite phrase ‘up to’ for wages — if you translate ‘up to’ as ‘The highest paid guy, generally a supervisor, working 80 hour weeks’ you’re generally right. ‘Up to’ is what people selling you something use. Medians or even averages are a heck of a lot more accurate. ‘Up to’ is to ‘as little’ and generally used by someone grinding an ax, not informing you).

      So, yeah. Anyone got links to anything here? A news story? The contract? Something concrete? I’d like to read up on this two guys with a sign thing.Report

  3. James Hanley says:

    What a compelling argument, M.A.! Such subtle and complex logic, such irrefutable evidence! Truly you are a master of serious political thought, and I bow before your awe-inspiring space-awesomeness.

    And your expertise on INDOT is? (For the record, my brother was a construction manager for a private contractor, and worked on a lot of state road projects.)Report

    • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

      And this is why I previously gave up responding to your blatant nonsense.

      I should have followed my first instinct and let your blowhardiness here speak for itself.Report

    • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

      “Construction Manager” = “sits on his ass in an office, never sees the sites.”Report

      • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

        Once again, you are talking about what you do not know. My brother was out at the work site most days, and many was the time we were off to do something on an evening or weekend and he had to go by a site and check to see if the pumps were still running to keep a hole from filling with water or some such business like that.Report

      • Shazbot5 in reply to M.A. says:


    • Rod Engelsman in reply to James Hanley says:

      Wow. So that’s why you racked up over a hundred comments so quickly. And I was hoping it would be substantial conversation.

      Let me just say that M.A. is being an ass and I hope you won’t judge the rest of us liberals on this site from him.

      Let me also say that I’ve driven through more highway construction sites than I care to remember, and I would also say that having a couple of guys doing “safety surveillance, ” which would include setting up signs and cones, on a major construction site isn’t out of line. Highway construction is very dangerous work. Maybe it would be required by a union contract, or maybe it would be required by the contractor’s insurance carrier, or maybe they had a couple guys get killed last year and that’s just the way the owner wants it done from now on.

      Safety is a huge deal in my company and they spend money and sacrifice profits to improve it.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

        I know most of the liberals here well enough that in no way would I judge any of you based on what some other liberal says or does.Report

      • Kim in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

        I once drove behind a construction guy who was litterally tossing cones out of his vehicle. On a highway. (I think someone else was probably supposed to have put up a sign warning us to get the hell out of the lane). At any rate, it was hella dangerous, and I’m surprised there weren’t accidents.

        A few folks on safety surveillance might make sense.

        Hell, I know someone who “Liked to Race” people into cement barrels (in fairness to him, the other guy could clearly see the barrels, and really ought to have stopped before running into the damn things). So, eh, maybe I can see why you might need a few people on “get people to the hospital” duty.Report

  4. Roger says:

    Damn good and informative post, James, and thanks for the links. This site is one of my launching pads for my daily reading, and you have given me several good leads.

    I had not heard about Phoenix’s system. For those Leaguers on the left, do you have any concerns with this type of competition? What if it leads to weaker unions or downward pressure on wages? Just asking….Report

    • Rod Engelsman in reply to Roger says:

      Sounds like a good system to me. Waste collection is one of those things with a potential for being prone to waste, fraud, and abuse no matter how you go about it. Reason being, as I see it, is that unlike something like building maintenance, there isn’t much of a private market for it. That means that in most cases the waste hauler is a monopoly supplier to a monopsonist customer.

      I assume that the waste haulers that don’t get a contract from Phoenix are still operating, likely in the suburbs? If that’s so then it’s a good system but only applicable to cities large enough to have a substantial ring of suburbs surrounding it close by.Report

  5. Michael Drew says:

    My basic intuition is that the problem with privatizing force is that you’re giving away part of your ability to enforce that very contract, i.e. the layer of oversight beyond just democratic accountability you mention earlier in the post. It may be that there’s a degree of privatization that works fine, but that just going down that road gives people the willies, so there’s just not enough experience with it to show it doesn’t work. Indeed, you don’t really go into the actual record that persuades you that it’s not a good road to go down as a matter of results. But from my perspective, the issue in people’s minds is likely concern about potential problems in unwinding failed experiments in the contracting out of the delivery of the force that carries out the will of the state (hopefully as given by law). That’s not a problem that presents itself in the same way in the contracting out of any other government function (or function deemed to be the job of government to provide), and its prospect may be enough to simply offset whatever expectation of public gains might motivate considering contracting out the use of force in the first place (since those gains aren’t, obviously, thought to be as great among the public at large or among all public servants and politicians as they are by advocates who promote the practice).Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

      My basic intuition is that the problem with privatizing force is that you’re giving away part of your ability to enforce that very contract, i.e. the layer of oversight beyond just democratic accountability you mention earlier in the post.

      This was one of my thoughts, too. But how does that actually differ from the accountability problem of government’s own use of force? (Just because only they can legitimately use force doesn’t–obviously–mean all their uses of force are legitimate.)Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

        Oh, well, it doesn’t, necessarily. But I think people look to government, for better or worse, to be the final holder of the legitimate use of force. Perhaps more dispersed force would better in some calculations, but in this matter my suspicion is that this preference may be prior to, or impervious to, cost-benefit analysis. It’s maybe the one thing people think government finally is, so the possibility that it could be better to decentralize it just doesn’t present attractive alternatives to people (at least people who would plausibly not come in for just as bad treatment under a privatized force as under the government’s own arm).

        Again, still just my intuition, but my sense is that what people want with respect to the actual use of force in society is not maximal efficacy (since no one really wants to run into it in any case), but rather maximal predictability (so long as they have recourse when they’re seriously harmed and need protection). I think people view just one organization as more predictable, even if via predictable inefficacy, than multiple orgs, even if one of them is nominally controlled by another (though only via contract, not organizationally). That makes accountability and, even more immediately, predictability (and thus avoidability) that much more complicated when you have to account for how this organization will behave subject to its contract with this other organization (the state), as well as continuing to account for how the second one behaves (which you’ve always had to do). This difficulty may account for some resistance to privatization generally, but in the case of the actual use of force (rather than just the provision of services), that uncertainty, again, I think is likely to discount expected gains from privatization rather significantly from each individual’s perspective.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

          …Important to note that I’m insistently talk here about how people feel about all this, cuz I really don’t have any intuition about whether it’s really undesirable to ever privatize the use of force. it seems to me there’s likely some marginal degree to which it would be gainful, but that it’s probably just not worth tinkering around finding out what the safe boundary on that is, since you’re not really sure where you end up if you cross it.

          One situation in which contracting the use of force obviously does make sense for a state (or protection association) is where there just isn’t a hegemonic dominator of the means of force period, or where a state’s grasp on that status is tenuous. Then you bring in whatever guns you can by whatever means you can deploy of buying quasi-loyalty. But that’s really a completely different situation than the one we’re considering here.Report

  6. Shannon's Mouse says:

    There was a pretty good episode of This American Life about a year ago that touched on a lot of the themes discussed in this post:

    One of my biggest takeaways from the show is that the decision to contract-out (or not contract-out) services often might have nothing to do with efficiency, cost-savings, etc. It’s often driven by the desire of voters to implement a system that flatters their ideological prejudices, results be damned.Report

    • Dave in reply to Shannon's Mouse says:

      One of my biggest takeaways from the show is that the decision to contract-out (or not contract-out) services often might have nothing to do with efficiency, cost-savings, etc. It’s often driven by the desire of voters to implement a system that flatters their ideological prejudices, results be damned.

      This was a takeaway but not my biggest takeaway. My biggest takeaway was that Robert Smith got extremely lucky by finding this conclusion because when he was talking about the situation with Roland, he all but made the argument that having Roland no longer on the city payroll but providing the same service at a lower cost (by Smith’s calculations) and at a higher level of productivity (Roland’s own admission) was a good deal for taxpayers as far as cost was concerned. Instead, his ideological opposition got the best of him and he began to hedge and by the time that he got around to what you mention, he tells us not to pay attention to calculations.

      Just because people don’t think about the benefits of doing something doesn’t mean that benefits don’t exist.

      I’m not a passionate advocate of privitization or third-party contracting, but in Roland’s specific case, a strong argument can be made in its favor, but that would require more time than I have to write it out and shred Smith’s commentary to bits of nothingness.

      Nevertheless, thank you for sharing the link. I did find it informative.Report

  7. Matty says:

    The objection I usually hear, and tend to give some credence to is not that private companies are motivated by gain but that they add extra layers of people to satisfy. So you can have Bob the council refuse manager and Sid the binman both trying to get what they can out of the system or you can have Bob the council refuse manager, Fred the contractors manager, Sue the contractors shareholder and Sid the binman all trying to get what they can.Report

    • Shannon's Mouse in reply to Matty says:

      The TAL episode I spoke of above provided an example of this phenomenon. Colorado Springs slashed their Parks Department staff and contracted out park maintenance to private landscaping companies. The city couldn’t provide any data that they were saving money from the move. Roland the Parks Department grass cutter was laid off and hired by a landscaping company with a contract to maintain Colo Spgs parks. Roland took a signficant hit to his pay and benefits and now there is a landscaping company owner and manager making more money. And the fine citizens of Colo Spgs can rest easy with the knowledge that justice has been served.Report

    • Roger in reply to Matty says:

      Matty and Shannon,

      The point about contracting it out is to establish competing companies vying for service. Thus if there are four companies competing, the provider who is able to fulfill the contract the best for the least will win. If one contractor over pays the owner and manager, another can win the contract out from under them by providing the market rate.

      This of course assumes a reasonably freed market, controls on cronyism and a well managed bidding process. Failure on any of these I elements is an institutional failure of government though, not markets.Report

      • Roger in reply to Roger says:

        After reading James’ link, this artile covers this exact situation…

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Roger says:

        I’d suggest that the departments pray for more diligent workers. This assumes sincere prayer, correctly composed, and addressed to the proper god. Failure on any of these is is an institutional failure of the department though, not prayer.Report

      • Shannon's Mouse in reply to Roger says:

        I’m at a loss to figure out what I wrote that indicated I was unaware of the benefits of competitive bidding.

        Also, if we want to talk about the effects of contracting, I think the discussion should be grounded in the real-world political economy. Let’s not “assume a can opener…” when talking about how to open the can of beans.Report

        • Roger in reply to Shannon's Mouse says:

          Unless I read it totally wrong (certainly a very real possibility), your comment seemed to imply that the bidding process was not realistically open to achieve market rates of quality, profit and compensation.

          As to the real world politics grounding, on a blog discussing institutions, I totally disagree that the quality of the political institution is out of scope. To go to your analogy, we aren’t just talking about how to open this can of beans, we are discussing what type of can openers we should bring to the kitchen.

          James article and link aims at these very issues. That said, Mike’s comment still has me laughing.Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    My ADHD* prevented me from reading the piece in full, but the parts I did read ran counter to things I’ve been suspecting lately. My gut, oddly enough, tells me that I am wrong on these suspicions having read what you’ve written. No small feat!

    When I think about government waste, which it seems this post was at least indirectly discussing, I think of the lack of accountability. I see how privatization and/or contracting out is one way to address this, but only if done so in a way that increases accountability. I don’t think that is the only way to do so, but the evidence provided here suggests it can be a damn effective means of doing so when done well.

    (Edited to add the *: I don’t actually have an ADHD diagnosis nor do I think I would qualify as such, but I do struggle to maintain sustained attention when reading long pieces.)Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

      When I think about government waste, which it seems this post was at least indirectly discussing, I think of the lack of accountability.

      Quite often, “government waste” (such as it is) is engineered in. It’s not a matter of a lack of accountability, it’s a matter of a systemic failure to align accountability.

      We’re good at that last. We make people accountable to people who are accountable to people who are accountable to somebody who is appointed by someone who is elected.

      So guy #2 decides to sign off on a contract to buy some paper targets from the company of a friend he met at a shooting range. Not in return for anything, explicitly. Just hey, an invitation to play golf next week. Not a perk, just two guys bein’ buddies.

      There’s so many layers of abstraction in there, who is that guy accountable to? Probably someone who can’t really assess whether or not those are appropriate or necessary paper targets, or not.

      Who is accountable to someone who doesn’t even see the line item in the budget. Who is accountable to an accountant who only cares if the numbers come in under X% of an allowable expense. Who is accountable to a bureaucrat. Who is accountable to a board. Half of whom are up for election next year, the other half of whom are up for election two years from now.

      There’s no accountability there, in a pass-through sense. But there’s accountability at each step of the way!Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

      I really didn’t think about it in terms of “waste,” both because the term is too often used as an ideological trope that displaces meaningful analysis and because the logic applies even when no-one can seriously argue that there’s actual waste.

      For example, my own community is so cash-strapped right now that they might have to shut down all parks and rec programming. As revenues have declined dramatically (both from falling property values/taxes and from the state reneging on the agreed upon distribution of sales taxes), the city government’s done a great job to date of reducing expenditures in a way that has shielded the citizens from feeling the real impact of the decline (good governance, but maybe lousy politics, since now we’ll all suddenly shocked to realize how serious the problem is). I don’t pay close enough attention to know all the details about how they’ve cut spending (other than having a city-employee per 1,000 citizens ratio that’s about half the state average), but let’s say one of the ways was through contracting out some services. Would that have meant there was real discernible “waste” in their prior budget? Possibly, but not necessarily, I would argue. They may have been running pretty lean already, and then found a way to outsource something that would provide even more savings. Perhaps the city agency would have had to make a costly purchase of new equipment to replace old failing equipment, not a waste in itself, but something the city couldn’t scrounge up the pennies for right now, while the private firm has already made that investment and the cost is being covered in part by their contracts with other municipalities.Report

  9. Citizen says:

    I thought Tod had a very lucid point in his post:
    “I suspect that most of this is a question of which hill you want to die on, distrusting government or distrusting corporations.”Report

  10. North says:

    I’m not adamantly opposed to contracting out government services but it’s within that gray landscape that I detach from my neo-liberal inclinations and sit just slightly to the left of them.
    I certainly believe that in some limited form contracted out services create savings for the public and incentives to efficiencies for the government so that’s a big plus.

    OTOH we have seen phenomena like private prisons and prison guard unions colluding to actually push policy (especially the abomination of the war on drugs) in a direction that generates more benefit for their specific and specialized interests. So I think I sign on with Matty above in that I fear that contracting out services may in some circumstances add too many divergent interests that work to influence policy.

    This also can be a problem because, much as we hate to admit it, the fact of the matter is that the masses of the people pay pretty much squat all attention to local politics. So local politicians and local contracted out services don’t get the sunlight that would make them behave optimally. I’d also add that our current re-org of journalism is gutting the kinds of journalistic institutions and practices that normally would dig into this kind of stuff.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to North says:

      Thing is, the problem doesn’t go away if you stop using private prisons. Prison Guard Unions still have an incentive to push policy.Report

      • I agree Mad but with public prisons the unions are alone pushing policy. Also with regards to prisons specifically you have a horribly synergy going on with privatization: the private prison companies have ties to the GOP and the unions have ties to the Dems so you get bipartisan lobbying for bad policy. If it was just the unions by themselves there’d be at least a hope that some level headed republican (they have been mathematically proven to exist) would pop up and smash the racket for both principled AND partisan reasons.Report

      • greginak in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        +1 So true. This has always driven my crazy about proponents of private prisons. Private prisons have little or no competition since they get sweet long term contracts and it is very difficult to impossible to have much of any actual competition in prison provision. PP’s also have no incentive to do what can be done to reduce recidivism rates.

        From what i’ve seen private prisons don’t have unions but the big companies that own private prisons have a strong incentive to push policies.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        For the record, I oppose the use of Private Prisons specifically because it creates incentive’s to put more people in prison.Report

      • Gaelen in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        True, but privatized prisons did seem to double down on the problem. And we can’t (and shouldn’t) seriously limit their ability to lobby and campaign. I also think North makes a great point about local politics as opposed to state and national contracting.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to North says:

      The only re-org of journalism I’ve seen lately is the fact that for the most part, journalists & editors fall all over themselves to stay in the good graces of government so they don’t get shut-out of the information pipeline.Report

      • Mad, the re-org I’m thinking of was the acquisition of most of the local subscription papers by larger papers/media firms that have subsequently been devoured alive by the internet.
        The kind of digging into local politics that we could use was mostly done by reporters working for those local subscription papers.
        You still have free papers with very limited resources scratching a little at those issues but it’s nowhere near the same punch.Report

        • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to North says:

          Is that still going on? I thought all the media gobbling was done 10 years ago?

          Still, valid point. It’s hard to dig into local politics when you answer to a boss who wants you to lead with the latest Kardashian debacle.Report

          • No I believe it’s all over now. But the consequences are coming to light and an even more diminished level of scrutiny on local politics is definitly one of the costs.

            Now perhaps in time the internet will evolve to fix this: once the populace becomes universally conversant with the new maybe there’ll be local blogs or something that dig into local politics but right now there isn’t really.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

            It’s hard to dig into anything when you have no budget for reporting. Printing slightly edited press releases is much more cost-efficient. If you’re really feeling creative, combine bits from two contradictory press releases and say there’s a controversy.

            I wish I were making that up.Report

  11. James Hanley says:

    You know, folks, I’m done here. M.A. has succeeded admirably, driving me away from my own post. The one area where I truly am stupid is in not knowing when to ignore a person like that, so I’m just getting off the intertoobz for the day.

    I’d actually like to ask Tod to take down this whole post, scrub it, pretend it never existed. I know that’s not the League’s style, but, man, I’m just depressed as hell that I ever decided to submit it.Report

  12. greginak says:

    James- This is a good post, lots to chew over. I think you’ve hit on most of the factors about why we should or shouldn’t privatize or contract out or let gov provide directly that nobody ever discusses. Most of these debates are about values and upholding poli philosophy.

    I’m not against contracting out some gov functions in some cases. I don’t think it works well for social services as you noted. Garbage collecting, meh, i don’t see why that can’t be contracted out. Contracting out seems to be the simplistic easy solution for looking like you are cutting a budget and praising the good Gods of the Free Market if you are a Repub politician.Report

  13. Rod Engelsman says:

    Before I read through all the comments, and you’ve racked up a gob in short order, let me say this is a fine posting and I find very little daylight betwixt our positions here. Kudos.Report

  14. Russell M says:

    I like this Post. It has much thought behind it. my short take on privatization is I don’t see how it saves money any other way than by paying the people doing the job less and cutting corners. the people doing these jobs are more or less going to be the same people whether or not they are drawing the check from uncle sam directly or at second hand. and thats where the profit motive kills me i think. why is paying the workers less so a private company can make a profit does not seem like a savings to me. seems more like a politician rewarding someone who supports him financially by cutting off part of the public pie and handing it over.

    plus at least I can vote the local sheriff, mayor, congressman out and replace him if he is corrupt. good luck voting the head of the trash collection company out when he makes service decisions you don’t agree with. but public money ends up paying for them both.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Russell M says:

      Colorado Springs has two trash collection companies. At the very least, it feels like I have the option of switching.Report

      • Russell M in reply to Jaybird says:

        yeah but if they both suck what then? we need a centrist third party trash collection agency to break out of this horrid paradigm!

        (entirely snark. but i felt the call of the snork, and eating that makes me snark.)

        but i dont have a huge objection to contracting out on certain services. as i said it just bothers me on an ideological level. not so much a practical one. as long as it works and does not degrade the quality of service I am willing to listen on a case by case basis. you probably will not convince me but i will listenReport

        • Jaybird in reply to Russell M says:

          If they both suck, I’d like to think that one of the companies would get the bright idea that they could totally steal customers and, by extension, make more money by reaching for the stars and achieving mediocrity with only the most modest of efforts.

          “Perhaps we could paint ’employees must wash hands’ on the side of the truck.”

          Electricity, Gas, Sewer, and Water strike me as necessarily monopoly powers at this point in time. I know of no way to get from here to competition without a “then a miracle happens” leap for any one of these.Report

          • Russell M in reply to Jaybird says:

            Have to concur on utilities there birdman. I don’t see a way to privatize those without just trading one monopoly for another.

            my only concern with the marginal improvement is collusion. maybe they both make more money by providing the marginal service because they have found their rent to seek.Report

  15. Nob Akimoto says:

    An interesting riff on your theme. An expose on the private prison system. It seems to me it’s a good place to start this discussion on contracting.

    • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Prison is one of those things that I suspect we’ll look back upon in horror someday.

      “So you take young men and put them in rooms where they will be raped unless they are strong enough to be rapists themselves until they are middle aged men at which point you put them back into society?”

      The horror show that is private prisons does not cease to be a horror show when government is in charge of the keyring.Report

      • Gaelen in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m with you on how our kids and grandchildren will view our prison system, but private prisons really make the problem worse. They don’t save any money*, and by scrimping on guard pay there is greater inmate on guard and inmate on inmate violence **(and probably guard on inmate violence, though I didn’t see that in my quick search), all while lobbying for more draconian regulation (see the ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force). To me it just seems like a push-lose-lose for civil liberties minded folks.

        *”it was discovered that, rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only about 1 percent, and most of that was achieved through lower labor costs.” Department of Justice, Emerging Issues of Privatized Prisons

        ** Page 57 of the report, inmate assaults per 1,000 prisoners–public, 20.2–private, 33.5
        Its worth noting that private prisons also take less violent inmates, so these numbers are probably a little biased in favor of private prisons

        • Morat20 in reply to Gaelen says:

          Most privatization or contracting plans ARE basically “pay the workers less” plans. Generally there are strict requirements for materials and the like which means labor is really the only place to cut.Report

  16. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    The guy who writes the Coyote Blog runs a business that manages & operates public parks. He talks a lot about how he saves money while still getting the job done.Report

  17. Stillwater says:

    This may be the most depressing thread ever.Report

  18. James Hanley says:

    I deeply regret my shirking example. On the one hand, it seems a tremendously silly point for folks to get hung up on, especially as to me it was just a throwaway example, ment to be illustrative, rather than a proof. And it’s a marvel how many people took it as simply a jab at public employees, choosing to ignore my comment that

    Nor, I want to emphasize, is shirking relegated solely to the public sector—private sector employees, like their public sector counterparts, are also human.

    On the other hand, it’s the author’s responsibility to avoid putting red meat into what’s supposed to be a throwaway lines, so, my bad for not anticipating how distracting the example would be.

    Now I admit I can’t find a link to support that example, so for the sake of getting over that hump I withdraw it. As a mere example, not an essential argument, it’s not important enough to fight for. But here’s where my reference to the concept of shirking in public employment comes from. See also here. The concept is standard in the study of public administration. The only question is the degree to which it occurs, particularly in comparison to the private sector. And even a superficial read of my OP will reveal that I neither put extra emphasis on this idea nor suggest it only occurs in the private sector. My argument there was pure standard public administration studies, nothing more nefarious than that.

    Can we now please put this silly obsessing over a mere example behind us, and think about the actual argument?Report

    • Gaelen in reply to James Hanley says:

      I am shocked and outraged that you would imply that people shirk (he said while checking blog posts at work).

      I also just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post. It provided some background and structure for thinking about how (or if) the contracting out of police or prison services is different.Report

    • Dave in reply to James Hanley says:

      I deeply regret my shirking example. On the one hand, it seems a tremendously silly point for folks to get hung up on, especially as to me it was just a throwaway example, ment to be illustrative, rather than a proof. And it’s a marvel how many people took it as simply a jab at public employees, choosing to ignore my comment that


      Because it is a tremendously silly thing for people to get hung up, you should regret nothing. Don’t regret the decision to write what you wrote. It was a good post. You don’t need to qualify anything or explain yourself. You made it clear above.

      The fact that one rotten apple that should no longer be allowed to post here after the disgraceful display that made even some of the most liberal commenters here uncomfortable got to you is understandable; however, the best thing to do in the face of jerks like that is stand your ground.

      You can’t win against idiots like that. You write “the sky is blue” and you’re a FYIGM libertarian because you will have forgotten to mention it’s cloudy. He’s a demented pull string toy that spews nonsense that would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. He makes some of the more irrational people I’ve come across on right wing blogs seem lucid and that says a lot.

      You keep doing what you’re doing. If he does come back and pull his nonsense, I don’t doubt that the League moderators will deal with him, and if I happen to get to him first, then at least he won’t focus his attention on you. 😉Report

    • Rod Engelsman in reply to James Hanley says:

      At the risk of beating this thing to death, resurrecting it, and beating it some more, I had a thought on this as I was reading your exchanges with Blaise, Morat, and M.A.

      The problem is that you, for whatever reason, flogged a stereotype that stepped on some old, raw, nerves.

      Example: Stereotype: The defense lawyer that gets guilty people off on technicalities.
      Reality: Every time a defendant is freed on a “technicality” is an instance of all our civil liberties being protected. If the cops and D.A. had done their job right, there wouldn’t have been a technicality to exploit. By vigorously representing their clients, defense attorneys perform the crucial function of keeping the rest of the system honest.

      Example: Stereotype: Failing public schools.
      Reality: Most of our public schools are doing a good job. When you see what looks to be a failing school, invariably you’re really seeing a failing community.

      Example: Stereotype: Evil corporations.
      Reality: Corporations, despite what the S.C. thinks, are not moral entities. They’re a kind of virtual machine that operates according to the rules laid out by laws that supposedly represent the will of the “people.” Unless they’re actually breaking the law they’re basically doing what they’re designed to do. Don’t like it? Fix the laws.

      Example: Stereotype: Those who can… do; those who can’t… teach.
      Reality: Stereotypes suck, huh?Report

  19. Recovered Republican says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Done a lot of reading and a lot of thinking.

    James Hanley doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Deosn’t know the first thing about construction. Probably never worked an honest hard day in his life. Me, I’ve worked construction. Been a ditch digger. Been a guy working with cranes. Been a guy putting up houses. Been in half the states in the country doing this before my back gave up but I made manager so now I don’t have to worry so much.

    Anyone tells you construction workers don’t do their time, don’t put in 110 percent, they are lying or they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about.

    See here’s the thing. The two guys digging a hole to get to a cracked pipe, one of them digging the other one standing up top? They switch off every so often. One rests his back and arms while the other one digs. The one not digging keeps his eyes out in case the hole caves. Or in case something else happens. The pipe starts spraying, you’re up to knees in mud in no time. One time we had a mama badger come out a hole 10 feet away because we were digging too close to her babies. You get the hole down 5 feet and you’re in up to your shoulder. Get much deeper and if it caves you could be dead. Your spotter keeps you alive. Calls for help. Makes sure your head is still up and you can sill breathe until enough guys are there to dig you out.

    Same thing for other construction. You want spotters. You want enough spotters to call an ambulance, do first aid, talk to you, make sure you can breathe if something goes wrong. You want the guy with the truck there so you can be taken out if you can so you don’t have to wait for the ambulance. You want the spotter there to tell you if a load is shifting bad because you can’t see it. You want the spotter there to tell you where you are if you working a forklift because all you see is a wooden crate in front of your face.

    I reread this half a dozen times since I first saw it. Everytime I see the same thing. One guy gets it, one guy stands up, one guy takes the side of the working stiff. One guy stands with me.

    So I gotta say thank you to M.A. for telling it like it is.

    And I gotta say fuck you to James Hanley who’s the kind of fatass idiot never worked an honest day in his goddamn life who talks about us, calls us union thugs, and thinks we don’t do real honest work.

    You want to kick someone out, kick that lazy asshole out. Don’t kick M.A. out for telling the truth and being the only one of you honest enough to do it.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Recovered Republican says:

      I can’t say I was there to see it, but from previous conversation I feel safe vouching for Professor Hanley that he has done his fair share of hard days of physical work in his time. His road to a well-earned life of intellectual pursuits was not the easiest one anyone has ever had to take. Not that he probably cares to defend his set of life experiences to you, but I care enough to make sure it’s said.Report

    • Roger in reply to Recovered Republican says:

      Can someone please delete this post? Clear violation of League standards and probably written by MA’s mom (MAma)Report

    • Glyph in reply to Recovered Republican says:

      Recovered Republican –

      1.) MA wasn’t kicked out, he was blocked for one day, to cool off.
      2.) This occurred because in the course of making his arguments, he resorted to personal invective and accusations of lying, much as you are doing now.
      3.) In both his case and yours, the points you are making can be made just as well, if not better, without personal invective and accusations of lying. It is possible to believe James is Wrong, and say so and explain why, without accusing him of malice.
      4.) I personally think James’ example was fairly innocuous, since I believe everybody – EVERYBODY, private sector, public sector, union or no – has a natural human instinct to maximize their gain and minimize their loss (not to mention related human natural tendencies to procrastination and laziness), which invariably results in incidents large and small (and, crucially, in both public and private sector) of padding & shirking; etc.
      5.) HOWEVER – you and MA may be right that in this specific instance James was incorrect; that there are many valid reasons to have more on-site construction staff than at first appears necessary to the outside, ignorant observer. In this case, please re-read #3.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

        As a guy who’s done government contracting for many years, I steered clear of this post. James Hanley doesn’t understand anything about this subject and it shows. His examples are not innocuous. Confronted with angry remonstrance from people who find them less-than-innocuous, he flees away, squirting out apologies like so much squid ink.

        For someone who rhetorically swans around like Hamlet, saying he hasn’t worked this out in his mind’s eye, Hanley sure does seem to have reached an awful lot of conclusions on this subject.Report

        • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Blaise, you know I love ya man, but this isn’t helping.

          And as much as I enjoy your own prose, insight, erudition and occasional scorched-earth rants – even when (sometimes especially when) I disagree – “rhetorical swanning” is sometimes not entirely absent.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

            Like I said, I’ve done government contracting for a living. Now I will tell you what Isn’t Helping: your Affirmative Action for the Uninformed. All, it seems, are equal but some are more equal than others.Report

            • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Not sure what “my Affirmative Action for the Uninformed” is, but it probably made me what I am today. I’m not about to deny someone else the same helping hand I got. 😉

              In any case, “Personal Insults For The Uninformed” sounds like a much-less productive program. The Uninformed Are People Too.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

                This sort of thing: I personally think James’ example was fairly innocuous, since I believe everybody – EVERYBODY, private sector, public sector, union or no – [insert much hand wringing and assorted whiny noises here]

                That’s Affirmative Action for the Informationally-Challenged. I believe everyone has the right to make any ignorant noise which comes out of any of his orifices. I content the examples were not innocuous. Your opinion may differ from mine. Mine is tempered by many years of Government Contracting, a subject upon which I have opined on many occasions.

                I am not amused by this sort of feeble crap: Yes, the League, including its accursed and damned-to-statist-hell liberals, have influenced my thinking. The only influence we Liberals seem to have upon Hanley is this: we push back against some particularly fatuous opinion and he farts out yet another of these ill-considered and tendentious posts. That’s an established pattern. And what’s more, inevitably, they produce the same angry remonstrance, time after time.

                So I just stay away from his stuff. I did, right up to the point where MA got a Time Out. Now, channelling Jack Nicholson Heeeere’s Blaise!Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Here’s the point on the graph where you tell James that he’s wrong, off-base, factually wrong and/or using faulty thinking – even go so far as to say he’s gaming the argument or using straw men.

                Here’s the point on the graph where you go to the place MA did.

                The thing about those two points? Whole lotta real estate between ’em.

                And the whole sock-puppet who’s a “long-time reader” that just has to speak up about the injustice of the editors thing? Getting old.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                That last big not directed at BP, obviously.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod, I’ve tried to put up meaningful posts. I put a great deal of work into them. They don’t get many comments. I asked about it, worked out I was writing stuff people wanted to read on the basis of the validation I got in response to those questions.

                Really, it’s not what folks say. It’s what their audience hears. I’m not here to defend M.A.’s outbursts. I was of half a mind to blow away Reformed Republican’s comment based on Roger’s complaint. I thought we had a rule about No Personal Attacks.

                There is less real estate between M.A. and Reformed Republican and the other people Hanley has angered — and the post itself — than you seem to want to admit. This post is simply riddled with provoking statements and phrases. Hanley has apologised for a few of them. Good for him. He needed to apologise.

                Here is a point to consider: I’ve tried to confine my own posts to areas where I might inform and reveal. Tuareg poetry? Who else on the Internet is writing about Tuareg poetry as a revelatory statement about the unfolding nightmare in Africa? Absolutely nobody. I know I’m not going to get many comments. What’s anyone going to say in response? If I do not produce quantity, I produce quality and I’m not alone. There’s a lot of quality writing getting submitted here. And that, Tod, is why I’m sticking around here.

                Calling us Damned-To-Statist-Hell Liberals, even in jest, (a form of writing Mr. Hanley has not yet mastered) is not a good starting point for a conversation, but it did garner some nasty responses. I am not going to tell James Hanley he’s wrong about that. You can. And you seemingly haven’t in this situation.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Calling us Damned-To-Statist-Hell Liberals

                So, I can’t even poke fun at myself without stoking your outrage machine? I didn’t realize you cared so much about my feelings.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Consult the Shannon-Hartley Theorem, James. It will assist you greatly in mastering communications theory.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I suspect you know this, but just to be clear in case you don’t: I have no problem with your criticisms, BP. And I think James would be the first to admit he gets his hackles up and start swinging as much as anyone else; he’s also just as likely to apologize afterward.

                As to your posts, you probably also know this, but I think the nature of your posts and the amazing quality of writing doesn’t always lend itself to discussion, but they clearly make the site stronger. If I had any complaint at all, it’s that I’d like you to do them more often, but that’s just a selfish request because I like opening up my browser to see a new BP post.

                Dude, if I had my way, I’d have you (and Jason to, come to think of it) do a poem translation post once a week – at least.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, I’ve never fancied myself as someone with great delivery, but I do know that when your audience includes people who are looking for a reason to be outraged, that they will in fact find reason to be outraged.

                That _you_didn’t get joke that _I_ made conveys precisely zero bits of data about the quality of the joke.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’ll call it Hanley’s Law: it’s a variant of Planck’s Law. Hanley radiation is the maximum amount of flamebait any body at rhetorical equilibrium can emit. And like Planck Radiation, Hanley radiation is homogeneous and incoherent but like Planck Radiation, it’s quantifiable in commentons. Its comment quanta and distribution can be measured by the number of people it reduces to anger.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Maximum flame bait?

                As opposed to your comments?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                This is not about my comments, but your post, James. You have, in fact, angered some folks hereabouts. I’m not going to get 250 comments on any post I write here.

                Keep up the good work, James. I, for one, am deeply impressed with your ability to piss off so many people at once. M.A. is a troubled soul, not exactly up to the challenge of dealing with you, popped off and got an entirely deserved Time Out, courtesy of management. Proud of yourself, now? Feel vindicated? Well, you should. If this place ran its revenue model on clicks, you’d have this place buzzing like a Geiger Counter.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, I write serious posts about political economy. This is, in fact, my area of specialty, the area I have studied most carefully for two decades now. I’m not writing to be inflammatory, but to try to make sense of how the world works.

                Less than a handful of people actually get angry about those posts. Overwhelmingly I get positive feedback on them from the more thoughtful and intelligent commenters here, even when they disagree or are unpersuaded.

                So who gets angry? M.A., who is rabidly ideological and will get angry at any post that is at all favorable about markets, and repeatedly gets criticized by his/her own side for how he/she responds. They worry that M.A reflects badly on them, but, no, M.A is such a caricature that there is no reflection on the other liberals here. Does angering such a person reflect badly on me? That’s certainly not something that’s going to keep me up at night.

                Who else gets angry? You. A guy who in a recent thread repeatedly claimed I was advocating privatization of the police, even though I repeatedly noted that I wasn’t. You were either willing to argue against me without bothering to read what I actually wrote or you were willing to repeatedly lie. I don’t know which it was, but in either case it’s impossible for me to accord such a person any respect, so I’m not going to worry about angering a person like that, either.

                Blaise, I know you think you really understand the issues I write about, but from my perspective, having professionally studied these things for two decades, your understanding is paper thin, at the level of the average op-ed writer.

                You’re the guy who tried to tell me that Elinor Ostrom’s argued that tragedies of the commons required top-down regulation, although her entire career was dedicated toward demonstrating ways to manage common pool resources without top-down rule-making.

                You’re the guy who argued that we should just rely on our own ideas, rather than bother with what experts say.

                So when you, of all people, tell me you know these particular things better than I do, my take is that I’m being lectured by a person who avoids making the effort to learn what he is talking about, who thinks that his own personal life experience provides a level of knowledge superior to what is to be found in the collected works of those who dedicate their careers to careful analysis of these issues.

                This is why you I cannot respect you on these issues (please note that emphasis), and why your anger leaves me wholly unimpressed.

                Not long ago you vowed to no longer respond to either my (wholly imaginary) emails, posts or comments. Had you stuck to that (and note that I avoided criticizing you until you started attacking me again), we would not be having this unpleasant discussion now. The ball is really in your court.

                I’m a big believer in playing tit-for-tatin iterated prisoner’s dilemmas. If you don’t respond to me at all, I will do likewise. If you can ever manage to respond without immediately going negative, I will do likewise. If you insist upon going negative, I will do likewise.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Have it your way, James. Don’t dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back there, big guy.

                Mene, mene, tekel upharsin. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Paper thin my opinions might be but you are no professional pundit. Nobody’s paying for your opinions out here any more than they’re paying for mine. But I do get paid for government consulting and found this entire post a waste of my time. I only stuck my head in to observe you’re stinking up the joint.

                When we were talking about Elinor Ostrom’s notions of the commons, I put in a bit about how Do-Gooders wander into situations in the Sahel and put in a well, with no conception of how the well will actually be used or where it should be drilled. The locals do understand the problem: they’re acutely aware of what would happen: an imbalance between water for livestock and grazing land would develop. A cow can only travel a finite distance from the well every day before it must return for water. The resulting trampling down of the well area: the unsanitary combination of mud and feces will breed flies and cause diseases. The sheikh and the council of elders in the town are the authority structure which ought to be consulted.

                I have no problem with Elinor Ostrom’s theories, they’re mostly common sense. But someone would have to administer the commons and yes, it would have to be top-down. That, too, is common sense: I’m working on a post about American Over-Reach, making the point that the USA wanders into these terrible situations, thinking it knows oh-so-much-better. Your reaction? Jumping around like some enraged Rumplestiltskin, that anyone else would have read Ostrom, (a widely consulted authority in the Land of Do-Gooders) and reach a different conclusion than you about how the commons are actually administered and how such administrations have evolved over many centuries into working constructs.

                For once again calling me a liar, I believe you ought to be given a Time Out. I have not called you a liar.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Don’t dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back there, big guy.
                Ah, all your boasting about what a great software guy you are, about how you’ve been all over the world, etc. But let anybody else stake a claim to some expertise, and your only response is to try to cut them down? Isn’t it just amazing what a wretchedly small man you are? Is yourcsense of self-worth really so dependant on having others admire you for being more knowledgeable and superior in almost every way?

                For once again calling me a liar,
                I did not call you a liar. I said you repeatedly misstate what I have said, so that you either don’t read or you are a liar, but I don’t know which. It’s deliciously ironic that in responding to that you would yet again misstate what I have said.

                But someone would have to administer the commons and yes, it would have to be top-down. That, too, is common sense:
                And yet it’s been repeatedly disproved, empirically. Had you read Ostrom, as you claimed, you would have seen those empirical examples mentioned repeatedly, and would have some understanding of what conditions allow for self-governance instead of top down management. So once again you demonstrate why I have no respect for you–you want to pretend you’re learned about these things, but you don’t want to actually take the effort to become learned about them.

                Do you really want to keep this up? Everyone will be better off if this ends now, but you’ve been such a relentless ass that you’ve burned any forbearance on my part and I’m going to match you kick for kick. If you want it to end, though, just make the call. Agree to the deal, and do so without trying to sneak in a last blow, and it’s all over. Otherwise it’s a never-ending scorched earth battle.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You were either willing to argue against me without bothering to read what I actually wrote or you were willing to repeatedly lie.

                Well, which will it be, James? I do read what you write. I’ll give you some insight into how I manage my responses around here. I have two separate sessions open, with vi running in both. I copy the comment into one, tab over to the other and write accordingly, so I can cut and paste appropriately.

                I am therefore left to conclude you believe I am lying.

                I am a software guy. And I’ve been all over the world. These are facts and it’s not boasting to say so. Your expertise on government consulting seems somewhat lacking. I notice you didn’t respond to my question about that SF86. There’s no shame in not doing any government consulting. Truth is, I hate doing it. I avoid it now.

                Does anyone actually admire me? Well, don’t. I end up in hotels and apartments, year after year, looking out the window on Christmas Eve, alone, with a little cat in my arms. I’m alone right now, my girlfriend’s in Wisconsin and I haven’t seen another living soul in three days now. If I’ve led an interesting life, it kills most people. It’s killing me now.

                I’ll tell you what’s a Delicious Irony, is some guy who has absolutely no fucking idea of what I do and what all my friends do — getting on his high horse to write about the Essential Nature of Goverment and Government Contracting. You’re all over the first half of that title. The second half, well, that’s my part of the argument. Your argument was so breathtakingly ignorant I simply steered clear of it. I do not shirk.

                If, in the course of you saying something dumb like everyone shirks, there’s no shame in admitting you’re generalising from the behaviour of adjunct professors into people like me who get paid by the hour. We don’t shirk. We get in, we get out, we get paid. And we go on to the next gig. You don’t get to shirk in my game. One fart and everyone smells it. And we’ll lose our clearances and they’ll sue us for filing false time sheets. The very idea, that you think you can sit there on your non-hard-working ass of a Saturday afternoon and blithely talk to me about shirking, a subject upon which you are so obviously an authority in your own realm. Just don’t pretend your subject matter expertise in shirking translates to where I live and work.

                But if I do need an SME on shirking, I’ve got your email address.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:


                My post wasn’t about government consulting. I never claimed to be an expert on it. See, unlike you, I don’t try to pretend expertise where I don’t have it. I don’t share your need to pump myself up that way to cover my deep insecurities. So you can try this cowardly move-the-goalposts business of trying to turn it into a discussion about consulting, but since that was never the point of my post I’m not going to bite. I’m just going to laugh at the clumsiness of your effort.

                As to whether you don’t read or are a liar, in that other thread, you repeatedly claimed I was advocating privatizing the police. At least three times after I explicitly disavowed such advocacy you still accused me of doing so. So which is it? Did you fail to read? Or did you lie? Or do your false claims of expertise extend to a claim that you’re an expert in knowing what I really meant? Come on, Blaise, you did repeatedly misstate my position after I had repeatedly corrected you, and we can go look at the tale of the tap if you try to deny it. So you tell me why you repeatedly misstated my position. I’m curious to her what kind of pathetic dodge you’ll come up with.

                Do you really want to keep this up? Every time we’ve tried to have a rapprochement or truce you’ve fucked it up by going negative, I’m giving no quarter this time. I’m not going to treat you with anything less than mockery and disdain. I’ll civilly engage anyone on this site except you, because you have been relentlessly uncivil toward me.

                Are you enjoying this? Do you want this to continue? Because you have my vow that it will continue as long as you persist, but that it will end just as quickly as you resume your vow not to respond to me.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Every one of your Glittering Generalisations about government consulting is wrong. You stick to what you know, your end of the teeter-totter, where the Essential Nature of Government resides. You stay the fuck out of mine. Shirking is not part and parcel of my job description.

                I don’t get paid for shirking. You don’t know anything about government contracting, its advantages or disadvantages to society. It’s an industry controlled by big players who furnish huge contributions to politicians’ war chests. They pay for expensive whores to fly out from Vegas to service these sons of bitches. They are parasites on Uncle Sam’s nether parts. They take these procurement assholes out to play golf with Tiger Woods and if they ever had any scruples they long since had them surgically removed and I exist at the bottom tier of this greasy, squirming orgy of malfeasance, doing the actual work, me and people like me.

                Ere you say another word about outsourcing anything, you can park your Elinor Ostrom and write me an email. I’ll give you the low down on how this shit really goes down.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You really want too this, eh, you wheezy old gas bag? You want to keep up this on-going fight? What do you hope to get out if it?

                You talk about glittering generalizations, but you haven’t managed to offer a meaningful critique of any one of my points. As usual, you settle for make an assertion you can’t can’t back up, instead of even attempting a real argument.

                Given that, do you really think I would bother seeking information from you? Do you think you are the only government contractor I know or have ever talked to? Do you think the research I’ve read over the years is devoid of information from other government contractors? Just how stupidly arrogant are you to think that you have some special knowledge not available from numerous other sources, or that your experience is “the real” contracting experience? Get over yourself. You’re not they special, and you’ve been called out on your errors too many times for me to take up you seriously (really really dumb stuff, like pretending that having written some code for insurance companies makes you an expert on insurance). No, Blaise, when I email people for information, I select intelligent knowledgeable people, not geriatric crybabies who are desperate for a little admiration to fill their empty hollow lives.

                Besides, you said you were going to reject my emails. I never sent you any, so I had a laugh at the image of you busily rejecting phantom emails. But now here you are backing down from your vow yet again and begging me to give you some attention by emailing you.

                Tell you what, boyo, you just answer my question about whether your repeated misstatements about my position on privatizing the police was a lie or your failure to read. You got real hot under the collar about me challenging you on that, but when presented with the facts, you dodge like the cowardly little got that you really are. If you were 1/10th the man you want everyone to think you are, you’d just admit you were wrong. But you’re too small, to insecure, to much in need of admiration, too much of a cowardly weasel to simply admit what you did.

                Now, if you really want someone to pay attention to you, to give you the validation you so desperately need, write your own fucking post instead of asking me to do your work for you. Remember, the issue here is shirking, so you just see if you can prove, by reference to your own experience, that people in general never shirk.

                Remember, it’s not about whether you shirk, because I wasn’t writing about you. It’s not about whether public employees shirk, because I explicitly said private employees shirked, too. In fact in one way the only group I didn’t accuse of shirking was government contractors, so I’m not sure what the fuck you think you’re going to prove in giving your own personal life story of never shirking, but go for it. I’m sure you’ll believe it’s enlightening. And if you’re smart enough to leave me out of it, I won’t even give you any smack talk on it.

                Now, one more time, how long do you want this to go on? You’re about as intimidating as a flatulent arthritic cockapoo, and my position has been made clear. You vowed not to respond to my posts or comments, and if you can man up, dig deep and find your long-lost cojones, I’ll not respond to you, either. But if you’re going to continue to prove you can’t stick to your own vow, then you’re as good as saying you really do want me to publicly call you the leavings of a diarrheic dog’s ass.

                Your turn scheisskopf. You want to play some more, or do you just want to call the game now?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I believe everyone has the right to make any ignorant noise which comes out of any of his orifices.

                I, to, am a staunch defender of your rights, sir.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Very nicely played. Almost as good as the Catholic priest to the Methodist pastor: “We both worship the same God: you in your way, I in His.”Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Heh, I’m amazed I’ve never heard that one before. It’s awesome.Report

              • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “hand-wringing and assorted whiny noises”.

                Huh, I just thought I was pointing out that what some were taking as personal insult was instead speaking to IMO universal human nature. You don’t know anyone who’s ever shirked or padded? Isn’t it worth looking for ways to minimize shirking and padding on the public dime, even if this particular example doesn’t fit the bill? Isn’t the whole point of James’ post that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of “public or private, in-house or outsourced”, that both approaches have benefits/drawbacks, and so the answer is, as usual, “it depends”?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Glyph says:

                No, in point of fact I don’t know shirkers or padders. Government contractors like myself are managed within an inch of our lives, doing time reporting in fifteen minute increments.

                This line of rhetoric is going nowhere. I am deeply angered by being asked to undermine my own position in the interests of “fairness”. There is no defence for Hanley’s argument. Were it made from mere ignorance of the facts, I would find it tolerable. I might even chime in with some of my personal experiences were that the case. But there are too many disingenuous and tendentious phrases in this post for my tastes, if not for yours.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                So what is the purpose of a rule requiring you to do time reporting in 15 minute increments?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                In my experience, it’s ass-covering for management.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Hey, Mike. Have you done any government contracting? They make you put up a piece of paper in your cube, saying what you’re supposed to be working on: it’s all indexed to the project plan. It’s handed out by management, sometimes every day.

                This isn’t just covering for management. It’s adherence to spec. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes it doesn’t. But once the spec is in place, that’s what you’re supposed to do, to the letter. Lots of other systems are being built alongside yours: it all has to fit together like so many Lego blocks.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Mike, why would management be concerned about covering its ass?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                @Blaise: Once at BART, once for a military project (though not sensitive: no clearance required.) Neither had the every-15-minute chargeback requirement. Both had weird rules . At BART, you couldn’t use the phone for personal calls. Not “You had to reimburse them.” “No”, period. Because walking down the hall to the pay-phone to check whether a prescription is ready to be picked up is really productive. On the military one, we had to argue for a week to so something a smart way instead of a stupid way, because the spec mandated the stupid one.

                @James: if your point is that people suspect shirking, yes, of course they do. All workers shirk, just like all of Those People steal to support their drug habit. Hell, I believe that all managers spend their time playing politics to increase the size of their empire.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The rules are what they are. Usually the “stupid” rules are the result of someone abusing liberties. Some jackass calls Malaysia and talks to his brother all day long, we’ve all seen such reactions. I’ve been in this business too long to care about such rules. They’re just features in the landscape. I get paid more than a two star general while I’m billable so I wouldn’t care if they made me wear a little bowler hat and Bozo the Clown shoes on site. I learn the regs and I get strack and that’s all there is to the argument. When I get in my car and drive back to the hotel, I can do whatever I like.

                When it comes to stupid things, I pre-empt them. Case in point: there’s a three-way translator I had to write. Same message, three different formats. Push an instance of a message into the translator, in any one of the three types, it translates it into the other two. Trivial, really. Three different ways of using the Factory Pattern.

                But one of the formats didn’t support all the members of the other two. So if you stuck in an instance of this message, it wouldn’t populate the other two messages correctly. Pointed this out to management. It went off like a grenade, all the way up the food chain. Meant huge changes to the model.

                But that’s not my problem as an SOA developer. I didn’t architect that solution. Some dummy hadn’t done his design homework.

                I’ve done this for many years. There’s very little shirking going on. Assembling a team is hard work. People aren’t always available. Sometimes you end up putting someone on a team a long time before he has anything to do. But when he’s needed you have him. He’s there, watching what’s going on.

                Contractors like me aren’t being paid for what we do. We’re being paid for what we know. And yeah, even while someone’s sitting there, “doing nothing”, he’s exactly the right guy for the job when he’s needed and I’m not going to say “oh, fly back to Denver, we’ll call you when you’re needed, you’ll have to be on the next plane out and we’re going to have you on site for two weeks, then cut you loose and send you home.” Doesn’t work that way. These guys are going to take another gig if you can’t get them lined up. You try to estimate when they’ll be needed, minimise the number of hours you’re going to need them, but nobody pays a lawyer just for the hours he spends in court, either.

                Most of this Management Fiefdom argument doesn’t hold up in practice. Consulting management is carefully looking at the burn rate, every minute. Most of the managers I know — okay, there’s one guy from California, he’s part of an ad-hoc team I work with. I always fight for him to get on a project, he’s such a great manager. He would rather hire one good guy than five mediocre guys. In consulting, it’s not about head count. It’s about profit.

                We call salaried managers Tree Huggers. They might want a bigger head count but I’ve yet to see one who wants to manage more people. They all want more mandate, sure, but more asses in chairs? Never once seen that.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:


                All workers shirk

                Which, curiously enough, is all I really claimed. Next time I want to make a “controversial” claim without invoking a pointless shitstorm, perhaps I’ll hire one of the League’s liberals to do it for me. 😉Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Are you really going to quote something I said sarcastically as if I meant it seriously?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Sorry, Mike, I did read that wrong. I apologize. All I can say is, if you don’t think lots of people shirk, you’re not looking carefully.

                I’ve shirked as a public employee and as a private employee, as a blue collar worker and as a white collar worker, as a union worker and as a non-union worker. And I never shirked alone, nor was I ever the shirkiest of shirkers (in fact I’ve nearly always been praised by my bosses for my work ethic, somewhat to my puzzlement since I do consider myself a bit lazy).

                Perhaps people misunderstand what is meant by shirking? I mean, it’s really not controversial. This is literally the first time in my life I’ve seen folks objecting to the concept, and I’m truly puzzled.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It depends how you define “shirk”. Do I work at my very hardest every minute, never taking a long lunch, or going home early, or spending a few minutes discussing what’s wrong with the Warriors? [1] Of course not. If that’s all you’re saying, sure, no question.

                How about this: at a previous job, my group had been putting in ridiculous hours finishing up a release. We finally got the thing put to bed, and then I saw that five days worth of all-day planning meetings had been scheduled for the very next week. I was livid. I was goddamned well entitled to spend that week sleeping late and going home early, or, in other words, shirking.

                1. Refraining from giving that topic the full week it deserves.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Mike, your final paragraph is about deserved comp time, not about shirking.

                As I said, this isn’t actually controversial. And really, the issue isn’t whether truly everyone shirks, but whether shirking does exist–whether it’s enough of a thing that it can be looked at analytically.Report

              • Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

                When your day is long
                And the night, the night is yours alone
                When you’re sure you’ve had enough
                Of this job, well hang on

                Just let yourself go
                ‘Cause everybody pads
                And everybody shirks…sometimes

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Comp time was never going to happen there. I was saying that after having worked very hard, I felt entitled to work less hard for a while.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s not about whether comp time was offered, but whether you’d earned it. You pulled your weight, I assume?

                But just ask yourself this. Have you ever been in a work environment where there was someone who didn’t pull their weight? If you have, then you know what I’m really talking about.

                What really puzzles me is why you couldn’t you just ask, “Hanley, what do you really mean by shirking” instead of just jumping to assume the worst? Don’t you know me well enough by now to know that I wouldn’t mean “anyone who doesn’t work non-stop at a furious pace for 10 cents an hour is a lazy ass who should be fired and left to starve to death?”

                In some ways you and I get along reasonably well here, but you still have this tendency it seems to me to automatically take the worst available interpretation of what I write, even though you know I’m not actually that guy.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I very much believe that more people care about doing a good job than want to slide by doing a poor one, so that overmanaging to catch the slackers while pissing off everybody else is a big net loss. Since I’m confident you’re in the first group, what would your shirking mean other than at times not giving 100%? (Which we all do, being human.)Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m not arguing that management always reacts wisely. In fact I’m not even arguing that management itself isn’t subject to slacking (have you ever had one of those managers who couldn’t really do their own job, so they sloughed lots of their actual duties off on others?).

                Nor am I seriously arguing that everybody slacks all the time. Just that enough people slack enough of the time that it is in fact a real thing, worthy of thinking about.

                Look at it this way. Everybody has their own sense of how much work they’re willing to put in for how much pay. If your pay gets bumped up, you’re probably willing to work a little harder. If your pay gets cut, you’re probably going to want to work a little less. Now, from your perspective this isn’t necessarily slacking, but from an organizational perspective it is because they can no longer get as much work out of you (or if not you, most people).

                An easy response is, the organization should pay you what your time is worth. Sure, but you and they may not agree on what your time is worth. Or your manager may agree, but her hands are tied by rules limiting how much you can be paid. The latter is often particularly true in the public sector, because of civil service laws (which are, on net, a very good thing, compared to the old spoils system of public employment, but, like anything, not without some drawbacks). So in the absence of ability to increase employees’ monetary compensation, we can expect that there will be some degree of reduction in intensity of effort.

                That is not referring to the person who puts in a needed 70 hour week to get a project done on time, then compensates by taking it a little easier for the next week.

                I’m sure you’re still not completely satisfied, and I’m really ready to be done with this thread and put the whole shitfest behind me. But, see, it’s possible to have a reasoned discussion of these things if people don’t start off by assuming the worst, screaming, and blasting insults around. I know there are two particular people on this thread that just don’t get that, but it seems to me that you are not like they are, and it disheartens me when you start off that way.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I don’t think I’m doing that. In fact I think I’m saying that I presume you look at this stuff pretty much the same way I do, but we’re emphasizing different sides of it.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Recovered Republican says:

      It’s all true. I’ve never done any actual physical work in my life. I was raised in a test tube, received all my education through electrical implants and looped recordings of Atlas Shrugged and Jimmy Buffet songs, and now live in my mother’s basement, feeding intravenously on a mixture of hummingbird syrup and cognac.Report

  20. Tod Kelly says:

    I don’t know if this has been touched on or not in the threads, but I read this story this morning and its relevance to this discussion made me want to link to it.

    I was unaware of this until reading this, but I guess one of the problems with privatization is that if there are questions and concerns about how the money is being spent, as with any other clinet-vendor relationship the government does not necessarily have the right to audit the books of the contractor to see if there’s something fishy.

    Could this be addressed in some way at the bringing? Probably. But it does seem like a good example of one of those infamous unintended consequences when you make such a change.Report