A Name for the Approach: Weaponized Government Failure

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I recently stumbled upon a term that feels like it captures a common quirk of Rhode Island in an article by The American Spectator’s Scott McKay (emphasis added):

If Cuomo didn’t offer a future presidential prospect, he would surely be someone to throw under the bus. He’s a gubernatorial Biden — a shameless clown devoid of credibility or competence who represents everything regular Americans despise about the political class. Cuomo is the very picture of our coastal elites: his success owes almost completely to the name he inherited from his father Vito, er, Mario Cuomo and his membership in the ruling-class club. Cuomo spouts all of the pieties of the managerial elite, and he’s mastered the art of faking sincerity when he does so. His abject corruption and incompetence in office is easy to paper over — the Cuomos have run so much of New York’s middle class out of the state there are no longer enough of them to ever vote a Democrat out of office, and therefore their party has perfected at the state level the Weaponized Governmental Failure that’s usually reserved for Democrat machines in the cities.

The basic principle is that what is good for the community might not be good for the people who wish to govern that community.  Think of your workplace and imagine some super-talented coworker who’s difficult to get along with.  He or she is the type who drives the company forward toward productivity, innovation, and profit — so much so that the executives might even see the role of middle management as being to harness that force while mitigating the disruption.  But that’s a pain in the neck for the manager.

If the manager isn’t especially competent and prefers security and comfort to high achievement, he or she doesn’t much care if some points are shaved from the company’s value in order to make the workplace easier through the exclusion of the difficult-but-talented person.  So, the manager implements rules that stifle the go-getter, who always has career alternatives, until he or she goes elsewhere.  McKay points to an elaboration of the point on The Hayride:

 … It’s a choice to do a poor job with the more mundane tasks of running a city; if you do those what you will get is middle class voters moving in. Middle class voters tend to choose to live in places where they can expect to get actual value out of their tax dollars – good roads, safe streets, functional drainage, decent schools, a friendly business climate and a growing economy, among other things – and those things are hard to produce when you govern the way the Left does.

Put a different way, middle class voters are a pain in the rear. They want lots of things which make for grunt work out of a mayor, and a Democrat mayor like a Mitch Landrieu would rather spend his time on vacuous crap like “social change” and other cultural aggressions, and offering wealth redistribution and excuses for the bad personal habits which cause so many people to be poor. Accordingly, it is no great loss if those middle class voters decamp to the suburbs. Their exodus simply makes for an electorate which is a lot less demanding and easier to control.

Rich voters don’t really need anything, because they can generally pay for whatever they need out of pocket (for example, their kids go to private schools and they’ve got private security in their neighborhoods). All they require is the politicians give them access and the occasional favor, and they’ll not only vote for them but write campaign checks. Poor voters are generally unsophisticated and susceptible to government dependency, and thus manipulating them is no great task.

This can be put more concisely and with emphasis on how constituencies for this approach turn into troops for political combat:

What he’s interested in, and he has made this clear, is doling out as much free stuff to as many people as possible in an effort to hook a large number of Democrat voters up to the gravy train. For that mentality, which is perhaps best described as weaponized governmental failure, bad economic news isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. The more private-sector jobs he can chase out of the state the better – those people vote Republican, after all. And if their jobs go, he’s got food stamps and Medicaid and welfare checks at the ready, so in a few years when they’re government-dependent he can mobilize them practically to riot over the mere mention that their free stuff might get cut.

Of course, once politicians have established troops who are motivated by the danger of losing benefits or handouts, they’ll look for ways to create the impression of that danger:

[The politician] will do everything he can to “make it hurt” by deliberately weakening the quality of service state government delivers to the people of Louisiana and then attempt to foist the blame for that decline on state legislators who voted against tax increases.

We’ve seen this dynamic with no ambiguity over here in Tiverton.  School employees, for example, openly discuss ways to scare parents into voting for bigger budgets and the school committee puts the blame on budgets from a few years back when voters held tax increases down around inflation, saying those years created a deficit.  They count on the parents (many of them new to town or at least to town politics) not knowing that in the years of those limited budget increases, the school department had an annual surplus of about $1 million, so any larger increase would have simply added to the surplus.  (Hey, how’d those surpluses turn into deficits, anyway?)

The key point, though, is the incentive structure.  If your approach to advancing your organization is to prove your value to clients so there will be more of them and they’ll be willing to pay more for your services, you’ve got to stay on your game.  If, on the other hand, your approach is to make your clients feel as if you can’t possibly do what they need you to do without more money, failure is built into your business proposition, and you can take it easy.

In a free market, where customers have choices, they’ll eventually tire of guilt trips, and other organizations have incentive to perform better and attract their business.  In a government setting, which takes money from some people to provide services to other people, not only is leaving less of an option for the subsidized clients, but the blame for failure can easily be shifted onto a political party… or a taxpayer group.