Wednesday, February 06, 2013

How Does Washington Work? It Doesn't.

Read a good Rolling Stone review of the book Bailout from one of my favorite political writers Matt Taibbi. Bailout was written by Neil Barofsky, the TARP Inspector General in the years following the 2008 economic blowout. What Taibbi finds most interesting about the book is not so much the procedural details involved in the bank bailouts following 2008, but Barofsky’s anecdotes about how Washington works; how people in positions of power do or do not interact with each other. As Taibbi notes in the article:

“… it's a bizarre, almost tribal mentality that rules our capital city – a kind of groupthink that makes extreme myopia and a willingness to ignore the tribe's ostensible connection to the people who elected them a condition for social advancement within.”

The article helped clarify my understanding of the idea that our government today is not really in the business of solving problems. Those of us in the outlands may think that our elected officials and the people they choose to run various government agencies are working night and day to fix things that are broken, but that is a naïve and simplistic view of how Washington actually works.

You see, solving problems means making decisions. When you make decisions, it means that there are going to be people who are happy and people who are unhappy. The question is always: Who will be unhappy with the decision I make? Who will I alienate? Now, foolish you might think that the primary question on the minds of our officials should be: Will this benefit the people of the United States or not? Silly person. As insider Barofsky makes clear, the real needs of the huddled masses outside the beltway are far down on the list of political priorities among our government bureaucrats.

If Washington is not about solving problems, what is it about? It’s about the appearance of trying to solve problems. Officials make adjustments, recalibrate, fine-tune, issue course corrections and modify policies in an attempt make it look like somebody is doing something, when in fact they are merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  

With the iceberg fast approaching, the captain and his crew are more worried about keeping the first class passengers comfy than steering the ship to safety.

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