My Corona: Authorities, Bureaucracies, and the Illusions of Safety


Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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64 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    Govt may not be able to manage a quarantine, but gov’ts are a lot better at keeping people out of countries…except for the US. We could be better and we could say ” our borders are closed until this crisis is over”. Of course, if the us was more self sufficient, we wouldn’t need all that cheap chinese slave labor kit either 🙂Report

  2. Avatar George Turner says:

    Trump got wildly upset at the State Department for deciding to fly those sick cruise ship passengers back to the states. One corona patient ended up in a facility in Washington State that’s about a mile or so from an assisted living nursing home. Now about 25 elderly patients at the nearby nursing home (out of 108 total) are showing symptoms, as are about an equal number of a much number of staff.

    Either Kolchak needs to investigate an ancient curse that caused an outbreak in such close proximity to the one known case, or we can bet that medical personnel were working shifts at both facilities without taking appropriate precautions, acting like Covid-19 was a cold or mild bacterial pneumonia instead of treating it like Ebola or smallpox. Or perhaps they had the patient properly isolated but caught the virus from the health care workers who delivered the patient to them, because they just assumed that other health care workers weren’t carriers.

    But I’m suspecting sloppy procedures because the Daily Mail ran photos of the responders loading an infected nursing home resident into an ambulance. None were wearing face shields, much less bio-hazard suits, and one was just wearing a surgical mask, jeans, and T-shirt, and handling the patient with his bare hands! Heck, around here a cop will put on disposable gloves just to touch your driver’s license at a traffic stop, but apparently during a pandemic it’s too much to ask a health care worker not to pick their nose after handling a plague victim.

    I wouldn’t be shocked if the ambulance crew went to coach a Little League Team as soon as their shift ended. Since the CDC ordered all the first responders into quarantine, I’d guess they saw the same eye-popping mistakes. In China even people spraying down the streets are in full bio suits, much less people handling actual patients.

    There were earlier reports that some of the personnel involved in flying the infected Americans back to the states had filed complaints about improper procedure and a lack of protective gear. Whoever was in charge over there had them handle patients without much of any protective gear at all, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of those personnel have been spreading the infection on the West Coast. That’s why I suggested above that even if the patient was isolated properly, the people transporting the patient might have been the vector.

    So when you complain about a quarantine, don’t forget that some of the people enforcing the quarantine might be Typhoid Mary, going from site to site to make sure all the procedures are being followed – while infecting everyone they’re supposedly protecting because they don’t have enough common sense to pour pee out of boot.

    Obviously a lot of personnel are not treating the threat seriously, and some of them have created dangers where none had existed. Without a government bureaucrat’s decision to fly infected Americans to the states, there wouldn’t have been a patient with corona virus in Washington State. Without a health care worker getting infected through some kind of mistake, sloppy procedure, or lack of a good understanding the threat, the folks at the nursing home wouldn’t have been infected – by the virus that shouldn’t have been in Washington State.

    The elderly folks in the assisted living nursing home are of course at a very high risk of dying from Covid-19, so that chain of bad decisions is almost certainly going to kill Americans who wouldn’t have even been exposed absent actions by government personnel or health care workers making very bad decisions.

    It’s these chains of bad decisions that might make some take a favorable view of North Korea’s decision to shoot stupid people who endanger the group. A quarantine only works if it’s a real quarantine, not a “wink wink” quarantine that only applies to Joe Six Pack.

    Governor Inslee has said he’s ready to deploy the National Guard to get things back under control, and if he is it would make more sense to do it now than wait until it’s a futile gesture of just inserting soldiers into a sea of already infected citizens just to show authority, and then having the soldiers spread it even further because they’ll catch it too.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner says:

      If only there had been a government office of public health devoted to this very problem and staffed by competent medical professionals, chosen for their expertise instead of political loyalty!

      But alas…Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        I’d prefer the politically loyal ones who would be trying to prevent an outbreak to the resistance folks who would be trying to create an outbreak so Trump doesn’t score a win. Seattle is part of the soft underbelly of total government dysfunction that causes the rest of us to worry.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner says:

          This is a perfect example of how the American conservatives have become Sovietized.

          They can’t even imagine the possibility of neutral government officials who have expertise and competence; Everyone is either a Loyal Party Member or an enemy.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            Might that have something to do with the left spending three years bragging about how they’re the resistance that’s going to bring down Trump, and then proving their zeal through countless actions?

            Note that if anyone in the Obama Administration had claimed they were working secretly on the inside to destroy him, they’d have been hunted down and eliminated like a dog instead of getting lauded in the press like they were a super hero.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner says:

              Was it the Resistance that disbanded the team tasked specifically with handling epidemics?

              Was it the Resistance who demanded that all questions about this be answered, not by trained epidemiologists, but by the wife of the guy tasked with immigration?

              Did the Resistance overrule medical professionals and force the political appointees to encounter those people without proper equipment and protocols?

              The staggering incompetence of this administration is entirely self inflicted.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                What team was disbanded, and what disease had they been formed to combat?

                Who is the guy tasked with immigration, Mark Morgan? Is Morgan even married?

                Which political appointees are encountering people without proper protocols?

                The evacuations were run by the State Department, a department that seems to be almost entirely resistance members. The person in charge of State’s medical response is an Obama appointee.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to George Turner says:

                Reading sources other than Fox and the Washington Examiner will give you much food for thought.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to George Turner says:

          the resistance folks who would be trying to create an outbreak so Trump doesn’t score a win.

          “The Coronavirus is a hoax perpetrated by the left to take down President Trump.” lol

          KT McFarland stated categorically, without any pushback from her interviewers, that Covid-19 was created in a Chinese bio-weapons lab. The Chinese are apparently so fearful of Trump’s tough trade policies that they’re willing to destroy their own economy to get back at him. (Conservatives think this reasoning actually makes perfect sense !! )Report

        • Avatar rexknobus in reply to George Turner says:

          Is this some of that “deep state” crap? Why didn’t I hear anyone talking about all the conservatives among the millions of gov’t workers who were diligently working to sabotage Obama? Or are all gov’t workers, millions of them, revolutionary liberals? Maybe you, and your (insert orange-tinged insult here) leader are just looking for some sort of excuse for (insert long list of incompetencies here).

          For crying out loud, there are millions of people showing up every work day to do the jobs that make the whole thing work. Are some of them not perfect? No doubt. Could the numbers be reduced (or increased)? Make a reasonable case for it. But (clutching pearls): “OMG! They are a Deep State that wants Our Guy to fail!” is nonsense.Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    An example of a competent efficient government response to the pandemic which doesn’t require draconian human rights violations:
    Free, Covid-19 testing…in a drive thru.

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Early in the Covid-19 cycle I expressed to someone that China, being a totalitarian country with a highly centralized decision-making structure, was uniquely situated to control the spread of the pandemic, and the fact that it couldn’t was evidence of how difficult these things are to contain. Right after I said that I read a comment from ex-Soviet chess player Garry Kasparov who wrote (not to me, of course) that no, authoritarian societies aren’t well suited to containing epidemics like Covid-19 because they’re decision-making is *primarily* motivated by blame-shifting and denials rather than addressing the underlying problem. He’s undoubtedly right, at least based on personal experiences which I lack, but I think the deeper moral of the story is that aggressively containing an epidemic requires two things which are politically dicey for any government, authoritarian or otherwise: the amount of disruption required to contain an epidemic’s spread can only be justified politically *after* the threat of contagion is established by facts on the ground. Ie., that it’s already spread.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Stillwater says:

      But that decision is also easy after the public has seen how the disease has spread somewhere else. Many countries, totalitarian and otherwise, should be ready to employ early and effective measures because everybody has now seen how fast the disease spread in China, Korea, and Italy. They’ve also seen the resultant lockdown measures that had to be employed to contain it. Thus most folks should be quite willing to wildly inconvenience travelers and take a hit on trade just to avoid either being in a lockdown or coughing their lungs up until they die.

      And leaders can point to what other countries just did and do the same. Apparently the Australian public is giving credit to Trump for his early travel ban, which helped motivate their government to buck WHO’s advice (that travel bans were premature) and go ahead and do the same as the US. Australian universities took a huge enrollment hit after the Chinese New Year because they’ve become highly dependent on Chinese students, but the public isn’t sympathetic to the whining from the universities that have been rolling in foreign money. Everybody instead seems happy that they’re not yet overrun with a deadly virus.

      Also, in my earlier comment I thought that the Seattle patient had been one of the evacuees, but a subsequent story says he’s one of the cases of unknown origin. However the nursing home cases are still likely related due to simple proximity. And now two cases of unknown origin have popped up in Chicago. Perhaps the travel ban wasn’t quite quick enough or extensive enough for a virus that can slip past simple checks because carriers often won’t have any symptoms.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to George Turner says:

        Remember Trump’s first press conference on the4 coronavirus? I thought he said some pretty good things. But one thing he didn’t say, which I think was necessary in that moment, was to clearly and unambiguously say that measures to prevent the spread of the disease are necessarily in tension with individual’s personal desires to be unencumbered by quarantines and so on. He really needed to hammer the basic point we all know: that preventing the spread of the disease will require some disruptive measures.

        But he didn’t say that, which in my mind implies that he thinks there’s a way through this which doesn’t require authoritarian-type impositions. That’s a dangerous game to play!Report

    • authoritarian societies aren’t well suited to containing epidemics like Covid-19 because they’re decision-making is *primarily* motivated by blame-shifting and denials rather than addressing the underlying problem.

      If there had been any doubt about what sort of society we’ve become, this should dispel it.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater says:

      In all the stories I’ve read about life under repressive regimes, whether the Soviet bloc, or Latin American banana republics, or just any of the miserable kleptocracies around the world, is that that what they all have in common is staggering incompetence.

      They are exceedingly skilled at ferreting out dissidents, or graft or bribes, but the basic functions of governance like keeping the lights on and catching common criminals is beyond them.

      And Kasparaov illuminates why, that their resources are devoted only to managing appearances, not managing the reality.

      And the idea that a government can simply choose to turn off that tendency and suddenly become efficient and competence is as laughable as thinking some couch potato can just get up and throw a 35 yard pass.

      The time to create a governmental structure which was capable of testing thousands of people within weeks, or quarantining millions of people in Chicago or New York was last year and the year before that and the decade before that.

      These sorts of things are entirely possible; We see other countries doing it right now. But it first of all requires that we want to do it, that we the voting public believe that government is capable of being efficient, swift, and staffed with competent well trained people who are managed effectively.

      But for the past few decades America has become the place where allegedly clever people walk around saying that the nine most terrifying words are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.Report

  5. Avatar Aaron David says:

    So, this isn’t specifically about this post (much crunch, most chewy) but about COVID-19 affecting society, and such. Not really political, just interesting.

  6. Avatar greginak says:

    DMV!? Heavy sigh. Why yes i’d trust the people at the DMV. When i’ve been there they have been quick and efficient. The only delays have been from my fellow citizens who didn’t have the easily available forms. They got me through so fast i didn’t have time to sit down…. But but but, they are “passionless drones”….Umm yeah. All the facepalms here. Simple name calling. Lord knows people at terminals in private businesses are full of passion, independent and creative. Yeah i know ragging on the DMV is a trope. A shallow trope. I stopped reading here for a bit.

    Came back to the rest of the piece. Tom Cotton and the wash examiner. Cthulu on a crutch. Yeah that is crazy tin foil hate conspiracy hat crap. Sure govs have done terrible things in the past. That doesn’t provide any evidence COVID is human created. Until there is some evidence it’s as good chemtrails.

    Lets just hope for good public health measures that find a healthy balance i guess.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

      Yeah, nothing but love for my DMV. Sometimes there’s a long wait, but it seems to occur on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. Easy enough to avoid. Weird that it’s continually used as a whipping post by libertarians and conservatives.Report

    • Avatar rexknobus in reply to greginak says:

      Not to mention the post office. I’ve been using the post office’s services for something like 50 years now, sending and receiving thousands of documents, many of them very important (checks, tax forms, you name it) and I doubt if I have had more than one or two problems in all of those decades. And I can still send a letter to my pal across the continent for just a few dimes that gets there, dependably, in a couple of days. But who is often trotted out as a Big Failure? The post office.

      At least in my ZIP code, the counter staff is invariably nice, efficient, even funny. People (some of them named Turner) just seem desperately to want gov’t services to suck, and then very purposefully avoid mentioning the myriad that don’t.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to rexknobus says:

        Our local library just underwent an expansion. Pretty sweet! A baker’s dozen computers to access the World Wide Web; computers for in-house searches; sharing with 8 or 10 nearby libraries; plenty of places to conformtably sit or do work…

        Terrible. 🙂Report

        • During the 2007-8 unpleasantness, our county commission broke a long-standing informal deal and diverted “library” money to fund other things. At the next available opportunity, an initiative to split the library’s piece of the county property tax levy into a separate category and make it impossible for the commission to touch it went on the ballot. Won by an enormous margin.

          What has been useful to me over the last few years is that our local library is not only networked with nearby libraries, it’s networked with a couple dozen research university libraries. I am able to borrow some of the oddest things from the stacks at those schools with about a three-week delivery delay.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to rexknobus says:

        When I last had to update my passport, which involved both a name and gender marker change, I showed up at the post office, told the woman there what I was doing, and she grabbed the forms I needed, explained what I needed to do, and then even took my picture for me.

        The social security officer was likewise helpful.

        The best, however, was the DMV worker. When I came up to his counter with my forms, he glanced at the form, glanced at me (visibly early transition), and said, “Oh honey, congratulations.”

        I’ve heard the stories of people with invalid parking tickets getting caught in a bureaucratic hellscape. I believe them. I’ve had similar experiences trying to get help by my cable provider.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

          You know those people probably voted for Trump, right?Report

          • Avatar veronica d in reply to DensityDuck says:

            The DMV guy was pretty femme, so probably gay. The post office lady had a kind of feminist/butch vibe. I honestly don’t remember much about the SS person, tbh. It was a number of years ago.

            So, maybe they were Trumpaloos — I didn’t ask — but probably not.

            Have you ever been to Boston? There are, of course, a number of Trump supporters here, but they’re not necessarily the “WWC” that everyone assumes. That’s a media narrative.


            It’s funny. At my work, we have the “facilities” staff. They’re the people who run the kitchens and clean up and shit. They don’t work for {my employer}. Instead, they work for a contract company. They don’t get the kinds of benefits that we full employees do.

            (Which is bullshit, honestly. But late capitalism is kinda ass.)

            Anyway, do you think they’re Trumpaloos, because they’re “working class”? I’m sure a few are, but actually not really. I talk to them. We hang out outside sometimes, on smoke break. (Except I recently quit smoking, wish me luck.) We talk. I ask about their kids.

            One dude, for example, white guy, unmarried, has a kid. He struggles a lot, but he’s a damn good line cook. Anyway, he has very obvious untreated ADHD. (It’s very obvious to me. We know our own.) Anyway, I talk to him a lot. We relate. Sure, I’m a software engineer. He’s a cook. I’m trans. He’s dudely af. Doesn’t matter. He’s my bro. We both have weird brains.

            We don’t talk politics much, but he’s def not a Trumpaloo. Fuck that bigoted garbage. He ain’t like that.

            Trump isn’t popular among this group, for all the expected reasons.

            The Trump supporters around my office are all James Damore types, just right wing shitheads. Guys like that have a kind of stench. (Not literally, but you know what I mean. They have a vibe.)Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

              “ We don’t talk politics much, but he’s def not a Trumpaloo. ”

              Haw. It’s important to cut toxic trump supporters out of your life unless they’re, like, your cool friends, right?Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to DensityDuck says:

                We discuss politics enough to know he thinks Trump is hot garbage. And indeed, I have no Trumpaloos in my life. Why would I? I have no shortage of friends. I can afford to be choosy. Setting a standard of “didn’t vote for an obvious fascist” is a pretty low bar to clear anyhow.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to greginak says:

      My experience with the DMV has been—so so. Stuff I can do via mail or electronically–easy. Having to go in person and get stuff done…less so. What worse was the damn emissions control people….Like when they don’t remember to screw in the gas cap and you “fail” your emission test. So I told him:
      Yah, gotta screw in the cap.” And he ran the test and “you failed” ” Dude, you have to turn off the car and restart it”. finally passed.. shesh. Oh, and guys don’t know how to drive a stick.Report

    • Avatar Mark in reply to greginak says:

      Concur. The DMV ran me through promptly and efficient. I am free to go at non peak times. People who are forced to go at peak times do face delays. We don’t staff the DMV sufficiently to prevent this because we don’t want to have a bunch of redundant people much of the time to avoid the extra expense.
      If you want an example of being unhelpful to clients, try the airlines.Report

  7. Avatar Sam says:

    Meanwhile, millions of Americans don’t have health coverage (which would allow people to pursue testing and treatment without fear of economic calamity) nor nationwide sick leave (which would allow people to stay home without fear of economic calamity), all because the freedom of business owners always manages to trump the freedom of literally everybody else, no matter how nightmarish that freedom always ends up being for everybody else.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Sam says:

      That this category of workers are the ones preparing food and caring for the elderly and children is maybe the most under reported aspect of this.

      “On Saturday, state and King County health officials reported a possible coronavirus outbreak at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., a long-term residential facility where more than 50 residents and staff are reportedly ill with symptoms associated with the novel virus. At least two of King County’s six confirmed cases are connected to the Life Care facility: a health-care worker in her 40s and a resident in her 70s.”

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Sam says:

      Isn’t testing still under the thumb of the CDC? They’re the source for the test kits, and seem to still have pretty strict standards for who qualifies to be tested from that scarce supply.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

        “In New York state, the person who tested positive was only the 32nd test we’ve done in this state. That is a national scandal. They’re testing 10,000 a day in some countries.” – ER Dr. Matt McCarthyReport

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Good news. The FDA issued a new policy over the weekend allowing “high-complexity” laboratories—such as certain academic medical centers and other institutions—to develop and operate their own tests.

        So, prior to this, the FDA apparently forbade this from happening.

        But they’re no longer forbidding it.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

          “to develop and operate their own tests”

          WTF? “their own tests”? Did I *read* that right?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

            Well, the next paragraph says:

            The policy authorizes CLIA-certified laboratories to immediately field molecular diagnostic tests validated for the disease, known as COVID-19, before any agency review or approval of requests for official Emergency Use Authorization.

            So… I don’t know?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              There already exist tests for this virus, though. Seems like a more effective policy approach would be to, oh, I don’t know, require healthcare providers to use already existing tests on patients with the symptom profile.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                If you’re hoping to get me to say that the FDA is a net negative and this is yet another example of that, consider it done.

                This strikes me as absolutely insane under the best of circumstances and if it’s as bad as the paranoiacs are saying, it’s downright suicidal.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater says:

                it depends on whether the Tests are a Thing or a Process. I don’t know the answer, but the CDC Tests are a definitely a Thing that’s being shipped… presumably at rates insufficient to allow for broad testing.

                So… *if* the FDA is allowing sufficiently advanced labs to develop their own process/kits then decentralizing the solution is indeed a better plan than a single bottleneck of just the CDC test kit.

                If, that’s what’s going on.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

              “We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in an agency statement.

              The right balance between … what exactly?Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Relevant to the “well DUH, just DEVELOP A NEW TEST, or USE THE ONES WE’VE GOT” yelling:

    (all text from here is quoting )

    The covid-19 testing saga continues.

    Recall from my previous thread that:
    . The CDC lab test can be used by others, says the FDA, because it’s an emergency
    . The CDC lab test can’t be used, because one of the reagents is apparently faulty
    . The hospital labs could make their own tests that are EXACTLY like the CDC’s test, but without the faulty reagents
    . But the hospital labs can’t make their own tests, says the FDA, because it’s an emergency.

    Well. There’s been some news here, and it’s mixed.

    Good news: the CDC tests work well enough to be useful, even with the faulty reagent. There are three reagents in question – two detect Covid-19, and one is a “negative control” which is used to confirm that the test is working correctly. The negative control is the faulty one.

    So the CDC has proposed that everyone just go ahead and use the test, but ignore the faulty negative control reagent and just run the test without having a negative control

    More good news: the FDA commissioner has said that that’s okay!

    Some bad news: the CDC can’t distribute the kits with the instructions “just ignore the negative control” because THAT MAKES IT A DIFFERENT TEST. The FDA has to grant a NEW EUA (emergency use authorization), even though it’s the SAME TEST but with part of it thrown out.

    More bad news: The FDA commissioner said that the new test is okay, but that’s NOT THE SAME as the FDA issuing an EUA. The CDC and FDA still have to go through the steps of filling out paperwork and getting it signed off by official channels and so forth. Which means more delay.

    More good news: the hospital labs (or, more specifically, at the very least, the lab at the New York State Department of Health) has started producing their own tests using the CDC specs.

    More bad news: they still have to get an EUA from the FDA to use their own test.

    More good news: they “plan to” seek an EUA.

    More bad news: they “plan to”. They haven’t sought it yet.

    More bad news: when they “do” seek it, the FDA will still have to actually *issue* it before the lab can use it.

    Which means more delay.Report

  9. Avatar Urusigh says:

    Excellent article. The trouble with putting bureaucrats, especially government ones, in charge of anything actually important is that it is notoriously difficult to hold them directly responsible for their results. In a competitive marketplace one can readily switch health care providers and those providers have financial incentives to fire those employees who commit gross malpractice, but it’s not nearly so easy to switch governments and there’s often neither incentive nor even ability for the government to fire it’s own incompetents. Then add the fact that government jobs generally appeal more to the mediocre workers who know they wouldn’t get hired in the higher-paying private sector versions of their profession… yeah, putting government in charge is a recipe for pervasive screw ups and corruption followed by cover ups and blame shifting.Report

    • Avatar Philip H in reply to Urusigh says:

      Dude just stop. For lots of us in government there isn’t a private sector equivalent. And we aren’t mediocre. We just don’t do something you want done. Which is fine. But the rest is bloviating insults and really beneath you. or so I hope.Report

      • Avatar Urusigh in reply to Philip H says:

        Philip, I work for the government and intend to continue doing so until retirement. I know perfectly well that not all of us have private sector equivalents. I have also spent more than a decade watching those of my peers who do use government service to get some training and experience on their resume and then leave for private sector jobs that pay at least 50% better doing the same thing. I’ve had many, many conversations with coworkers about why they chose this job and whether they’ll stay or go private: the recurring theme among those who aren’t top performers has been a lack of confidence that they could make it in the private sector. Bluntly, the main appeal of government service isn’t altruism and it certainly isn’t competitive pay, it’s benefits and job security. I’ve also seen some absolutely incompetent malcontents who do little work, badly, and yet take more than a year to actually get removed from our rolls. I certainly don’t think everyone in government is mediocre, but it’s not exactly a secret that we struggle to attract and retain top talent. On average, the coworkers I’ve seen leave for the private sector were better at their jobs than the ones who stayed and were promoted. Frankly, the only reason we retained even a few of the best were because they had family with severe medical issues and therefore valued the job security and health benefits more than a higher paycheck elsewhere.

        I’ve lived through the pervasive screw ups and subsequent blame shifting. Hell, my introduction to government work was being warned by coworkers that my superiors would try to steal credit for my work and that “Rule #1 is CYA, Cover Your Ass” because credit goes up the chain but shit rolls downhill. Maybe that sounds overly bleak to you. If your experience in government has been otherwise, that’s honestly encouraging to hear. Going by the studies and public data though, mine seems to be fairly common.

        “We just don’t do something you want done.” Huh?

        “to talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way.” I only wrote one paragraph dude.Report

  10. Avatar Blomster says:

    I sympathise with the critique concerning government inefficiency and corruption. I really do. The chaos outlined by DD above would have been funny in a Monty Pythonesque way if it weren’t millions of people’s lives we were talking about. The point Urusigh makes about the difficulty in holding bureaucrats directly reponsible for their results is absolutely true. As is the quote from the OP ‘Bureaucracies are fallible even when they have the best of intentions, which they usually don’t.’

    My personal life has been directly affected by the fallout of large scale government incompetence and corruption.

    But what I fail to understand is what libertarians propose as alternative. Let’s use this virus outbreak as example. We all agree that the chaotic good news/bad news roulette outlined above is just… not the way we want it to work next time. So, should we rely on the CDC to say ‘our safety systems for ensuring tests are accurate is not geared towards crisis situations, we better design better protocols for when this happens in future’? Or should we let natural market forces sort it out? I don’t know – perhaps somewhere right now there’s already people seeing the potential for making money in a future virus outbreak, and they are already busy making plans for developing vaccinations quickly so that next time the planet will be saved by entrepreneurial enterprise?

    Because the first option just seems a much more dependable strategy to me, even if imperfect.

    And it also seems to me the arguments against government officials and bureaurocracy hold just as much for private entities. Corruption? It takes two to tango – every dodgy government contract envolves a corrupt private entity willing to grease the palm. Holding people directly responsible for terrible decisions? Which big decision makers were ever held accountable for the 2008 mortgage crisis, which resulted in public money having to bail out privately made bad decisions and the top brass walking away with their profits? With the Volkswagen Dieselgate – who has been held responsible?

    And to my ears the revised statement ‘Corporates are fallible even when they have the best of intentions, which they usually don’t’ ring just as true as the original.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Blomster says:

      Good comment, and I would add the following about the way we compare public entities and private ones.

      Markets achieve efficiency by exclusion. The healthcare market engages those with money desiring health care, and those with health care desiring money. No one else exists or needs to.

      Yet..there is a vast pool of people who exist, who need healthcare and have no money.

      Governments exist in part to provide things which we think should be made universal like transportation, education, and health care.

      The cliche about inefficient government arises most often from the fact that we are asking government to do something which by its very nature is not efficient.

      In the same way that 24/7/365 emergency response requires that we pay a bunch of firefighters to loaf around watching tv and waiting for the bell to ring, requiring that we deliver mail to every single address no matter how remote, or provide education to every single child no matter what, or health care to every senior citizen no matter how much it costs has “inefficiency” baked right into the program requirements.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        This is a lot of it. I work in a state court that has some budget problems. One easy solution would be close all the rural courts. They dont’ have a lot of cases and are expensive to run. Of course we’re not hear to make a profit and rural people need access to courts so we keep them open. We also let people who dont’ have money get court access for free…..How are we supposed to increase our stock prices that way!?!?Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to greginak says:

          I was also going to add that regarding corruption and outright incompetence, we the citizens often help create that.

          If we go around expecting that government services are cesspools of waste and fraud, and refuse to vote out of office those elected officials who wink at it, then waste and fraud isn’t somehow magically inherent in the DNA of government; Its something we choose.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            If there is a lot of corruption/ graft in gov it’s in lobbying mostly. Some reps get bribed. But the bribes are coming from businesses so it’s hard for me to see how that means market beats gov.

            For the most part people working in gov are no different then people in non profits or in business. They do their jobs good or bad depending on their own work ethic, bosses and systems. I see most gov employees where i work put out tons of effort and put up with a rash of shite from their fellow citizens. There are lazy or corrupt people all over. I still see plenty of Wells Fargo banks that are functioning instead of burnt down shells so i’m not sure people in business feel the brunt of consequences.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Blomster says:

      “ every dodgy government contract envolves a corrupt private entity willing to grease the palm.“

      That happens because the government grabbed the power to pick winners and losers.Report

      • Avatar Susara Blommetjie in reply to DensityDuck says:

        When a non-government entity has to award a contract they also have the power to pick the winners and losers.

        If it’s a mom-and-pop shop, the owners can ask their useless son-in-law to do the work and it’s their problem if the project goes pear shaped and they loose their own money. I worked in a 25-strong IT company where five of the staff members were close familiy of the two owners. Is that nepotism? Not that I like it, but I agree they have the right to pick the winners and losers because it’s their money.

        For listed companies, the providers of the capital are not personally envolved with the awarding of the tender – so formal tender contract rules are put in place to ensure that the contract is awarded to the benefit of the shareholders and not the individuals that have the power to pick the winners and losers.

        For government entities, it’s the public that provided the capital via taxes. Same holds – tender process to protect them.

        Whenever tender processes are not followed to the detriment of whoever provided the capital, it’s called fraud and corruption. I can’t see the difference in dynamics between a private listed company and a government entity.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Susara Blommetjie says:

          “When a non-government entity has to award a contract they also have the power to pick the winners and losers.”

          ahahahahahaha noooooo, that’s not what this is

          this is the government passing a law that says you have to use a specific reagent in your coronavirus test and then it turns out there’s only one company on earth that makes that reagent, and if someone else wants to make reagent that can be used in the test you need FDA approval to do it at all, they aren’t even allowed to make it with a sticker on the side saying “our tests show this is equivalent but it has not been evaluated by the FDA so use at your own risk,” it’s go-to-prison illegal to make Coronavirus Test Kit Stuff and sell it unless the FDA specifically says that you are allowed to do it.

          “Not that I like it, but I agree they have the right to pick the winners and losers because it’s their money.”

          yeah see if you don’t like what that company does you’re free to not buy their products, or to buy a product of equivalent function from another company

          however, it’s literally illegal to make and sell coronavirus test kits unless you’re the company that the FDA has approved to do thisReport

          • Avatar Philip H in reply to DensityDuck says:

            you misundersatnd how government regulation works – which isn’t surprising because we don’t teach it in highschools. There’s no federal law or statute mandating that reagent be used. There may be an FDA regulation that grows out of a general protective statute, but both Congress and the Courts have given the FDA and every other federal agencies wide latitude to implement those statutes as they see fit. As part of that implementing responsibility the FDA develops fine structures (and most of their stuff is civil fines not jail time).

            What you are missing however is that

            1) that stuff isn’t done in the dark – the FDA issues Federal Register notices on this sort of thing before it issues regulations, holds public hearings and also consults with affected businesses. This is why it takes years to get new and updated regulations from the federal government. ANd

            2) the FDA has the authority to waive its own regulations under pretty much any circumstance. Being a federal agency such waivers generally can’t come without White House approval or direction, but legally there is plenty of way they can get around the regs when they need to. Hell the WH has now essentially thrown out two Congressional appropriations – a job Congress gets to do thanks to Article of the Constitution – so the President can build his anti-immigrant wall on our southern border.

            Is it fair and proper to ask WHY the FDA hasn’t done this yet? You bet. but lets ask from a realistic understanding of how the system actually works.Report

  11. Avatar George Turner says:

    Trump got in a dispute with one of his advisers (an expert) who kept insisting that it will take a year to develop a vaccine. Trump said “Three months sounds a whole lot better” and the advisor kept repeating that he’d said a vaccine will take a year. Pencil it in. He will stretch it out to a year even if a private company drops a working vaccine on his desk next week. That’s how bureaucracies roll.Report

  12. Avatar Murali says:

    Here’s a bit of a public service announcement for you americans.

    1. Don’t be fooled by the low death rate (should be at about 0.7% outside of china). Even in the best of circumstances where the spread of the virus is as tightly controlled as can be and where the viral load is in general quite low, about 10% of people who contract the virus will end up in the ICU. If the numbers are kept low and the infection spreads at a slow enough pace, you’ll be able to manage. If the numbers get very high, then the viral load increases and the proportion who end up in the ICU can go up to 20% or higher. And when there are not enough beds in the ICU, the fatality rate will go up by an order of magnitude (it should be about 5% in Wuhan at least according to official statistics for whatever that’s worth).

    2. COVID eats up hospital beds like nobody’s business. There are only so many isolation wards. In order to contain the disease, people who show any symptoms at all must be isolated in order to prevent other patients from being infected in the case that said patient actually has COVID. But, converting existing wards (especially those with multiple beds) into ad-hoc isolation rooms means beds become unusable

    3. Taking quarantine measures and contact tracing is not about stopping the spread of the disease. That is unlikely to happen. It is about slowing it down enough so that people do not get the virus all at once. That would overwhelm the country’s medical resources. If instead the virus spread much more slowly, most developed countries should have the resources to handle the situation.

    4. Governments are not incompetent as of apriori necessity. It is partially about institutional quality and partially about whether everyone can get their act together. If incompetence and infighting lead to the decimation of the US population, that is on you (collectively as Americans).

    5. Quarantine measures may in some theoretical sense infringe certain civil liberties. Different measures are going to do so to different extents. To the extent that quarantines and movements bans are temporary the infringement might even be minor

    6. Lessons might be learned from countries like Singapore which have been more successful in containing the spread of COVID

    Now you do the math as to what measures are justifiable in the face of such risksReport

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Murali says:

      Further knock-on effects starting to show up in health care in the US. Reports of shortages of sterile gowns and biohazard collection bags, the entire US supply of which are apparently made in China in factories that are now closed. Report that a US drug manufacturer has notified the FDA it won’t be able to meet demand for a generic it makes because the source of precursor chemicals is China and the factories are shut.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

        What would an appropriate governmental response to this crisis look like? It would include identifying equipment and supplies required to treat infected people and either finding alternate sources of those products are facilitating a ramp-up of domestic production. Instead, Trump continues to lie about the severity and scope of what we’re dealing with for self-serving political reasons.Report

  1. March 9, 2020

    […] Kristin so ably pointed out the “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” folks will be happy to […]Report

  2. March 27, 2020

    […] some of you may recall, I’m not a super huge fan of government-mandated quarantines because I don’t trust the government to wield that kind of power and I don’t expect bureaucracies to do anything right […]Report