The Super-Nanny of New York

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening ...

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At http://politicker.com/2013/01/bloomberg-slaps-down-criticism-of-painkiller-restriction-plan/ is an article focusing on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to restrict the number of painkillers in emergency rooms. He argued that the increasing abuse of pain pills required mitigation, and that restricting pain pill supply would be an effective method to reduce such abuse.

Mayor Bloomberg, like many liberals, sees himself as a nanny–in his case, a super-nanny–who is there to protect the people from their own foolish decision-making. He apparently believes he is Plato’s philosopher-king who knows what is good for the ignorant masses. This behavior was seen in his restricting the size of cola drinks in order to reduce sugar consumption and thereby reduce obesity. Even at a practical level, that will do little good–someone can buy several two liter colas at the local grocery or convenience store and drink away.

Bloomberg’s actions may not only hurt the poor who use the ER as a primary care facility; it may also harm other patients who require painkillers when the allotted supply runs out. The fact that some addicts take advantage of a ready supply of painkillers does not entail that the supply should be limited. There are always going to be people who take advantage of the medical system to feed their own addiction or to meet their psychological desire for attention. Does Mr. Bloomberg have the medical expertise to tell hospitals what to do? The answer is self-evident. Such a decision smacks of totalitarianism of the kind found in Huxley’s Brave New World.

If anyone wishes to see the future of the United States under President Obama, take a look at Michael Bloomberg’s actions. Mr. Obama has put forth federal regulations at a record level. They supposedly meet a particular need–for example, as a university professor I have to turn in my textbook list for the following semester by a particular date or the school could theoretically be fined. The idea is to give prospective students the price of an education, including book costs, at a particular college or university. When colleges and universities take federal funds, they are subject to federal regulations–but other than the required statement on the syllabus for students with disabilities, this is a rare time that a regulation has directly affected me as a professor. In addition, I must use the university’s e-mail address due to abuse by degree mills. I do not mind doing that, though I like my account through a major search engine provider and use it more often–the point is the depth to which the federal government is getting involved in what a professor puts in his syllabus. How many more regulations will come from this administration? The New Deal of FDR and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson created the modern nanny state in the United States, Mr. Obama seems intent on outdoing both of them. To the mammoth state, citizens are like children–and people treated like children tend to behave like children. Aid means control–that is one principle the recipients of benefits from the welfare state forget. Given the decline in character resulting in the childification of people in the United States, I doubt they will protest–most people, like a frog in slowly heated water, will accept their enslavement without a whimper.

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The Need for Practical Wisdom in the Federal Bureaucracy

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Washington DC - Capitol Hill: United States Ca...

Washington DC – Capitol Hill: United States Capitol (Photo credit: wallyg)

With the massive growth of the federal government comes growth in a complex bureaucratic structure that creates multiple layers of administration between government agencies and what they are designed to do. In the 1950s it was relatively easy to begin the interstate highway system–the government was more simply run and the number of “checkers” was reasonable. These days it takes years from conception to finish to build a small limited access route around a growing city. This is not only an issue of environmental regulation–it is an issue of paperwork, finding the right codes, administrator egos, and too many layers of management. In addition, any bureaucracy operates on a system of strict rules. In the case of the federal government, these rules are said to be necessary to protect the public from fraud, from unsafe products, from incompetent health care, or from shoddy construction on buildings and roads. Rules are essential to any organization–it would be irrational to deny that. People, left to themselves, are not often an orderly lot, and efficient, competent operation requires rules. However, beyond rules that are absolutely essential for safety or another vital value, rules often get in the way of common sense. A needed highway may be delayed by the failure to fill out some obscure paperwork that very few people knew about at the time. People in a local area may realize that what they request is badly needed, but someone in the bureaucracy nicks the request. Often, the requests of local people who know the needs of the communities inĀ  which they live are overridden by someone who has never set foot in a particular community. The current trend in the federal government seems to be to follow the model of private business and focus on efficiency. Admittedly the federal government could do a better job of being efficient. However, efficiency should not trump service, and federal supervisors from upper management to “ordinary” employees should be given enough discretion to use practical wisdom to react in the proper way to a particular situation. As Aristotle pointed out, practical wisdom has to do with the local, the particular, rather than with an overarching universal. It is all too easy for federal officials to get caught in their abstract language and multiple abbreviations and lose sight of the very people that pay their salaries and whom they are to serve in a caring, responsible way. Discretion in spending of money should be broadened. Civil service should be reformed in such a way that seniority does not imply that an incompetent person or someone abusing his authority cannot be fired. But there should also be room for dissent and questioning of the decisions of middle and upper management as long as it is done in a respectful way. For example, suppose a federal employee lives in a community where a new bridge is supposed to be built. The employee knows that the road over which the bridge will be build will be re-routed so as to avoid the need for a bridge–at cost savings to the community. Higher federal officials say, “Congress appropriated the money for a bridge, and a bridge you shall have.” What would be wrong with local federal employees who know the situation informing their managers and those managers going up the chain of command so that Congress can allow the community to use the money appropriated for the bridge for re-routing the road? It is not insubordination to question a ruling. Not following a ruling after a final decision has been made would be wrong–but questioning if there is good reason to question should be a right of any American citizen including one who works for the federal government.

Some government programs work well; most do not. Why not work with those who do not to improve them, and if they are not viable, eliminate them? Federal programs, like federal employees, seem to be self-perpetuating no matter how useless or incompetent they are. This demoralizes good employees and empowers the cynical. Instead of focusing on “Which set of rules must we follow now,” focus on “What is the best thing to do in this particular situation?” The best thing will depend on the particularities of the situation and will require practical wisdom, learned by experience, rather than a list of rules to reach the best decision. This implies good observation and evaluation skills as well as the skills to creatively find ways to stay within the rules while stretching them to fit the limits of a particular situation. Experienced local officials should be trusted, unless they have proven untrustworthy, to make prudent decisions. Normally middle and upper management should, if sufficient funds are available, yield to the suggestions of the people who know an area and its problems best. Civil service, designed in the Chester Arthur administration to prevent political favoritism, should not be used to maintain the incompetent, the arrogant, and those managers who harm others by their laziness in performing their tasks. At the local level, conversations in the workplace between different units should be as open as possible so that “the right hand knows where the left hand goes.” Wise decisions are based on the most accurate and thorough information possible. Hopefully federal employees can then go beyond mere rule-following and exercise their discretion

Sucessionism

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Map of USA with Hawaii highlighted

Map of USA with Hawaii highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A colleague of mine compared secessionists to the people in Germany who supported the rise of Hitler into power. Despite the obvious oddity of a group in favor of decentralization of government being linked with a group in Germany who were for more centralized government, the claim remains absurd for other reasons. A number of people in more conservative states feel disenfranchised by the recent re-election of Mr. Obama. Older members of this group are frightened as a man who hates their vision of America is confirmed in power. Now Mr. Obama clearly won the election–even if accusations of voter fraud in Pennsylvania and other places were valid, Mr. Obama still had the numbers to win. Yet if one examines a map of the vote for Mr. Obama, a few densely populated urban areas, especially in the northeast, along with the usual “left-coast” voting, determined the outcome of the election. Small town voters, rural voters–most voted for Mr. Romney. A map of the United States showing counties won by Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney reveals a sea of red surrounded by a few urban pockets of blue. Urban tax consumers can now routinely outvote rural and small town taxpayers. In addition, the values that many Americans hold dear–moral and religious values–are increasingly under attack by a more aggressive federal government. The “contraceptive mandate” is the most egregious threat to religious freedom in recent years, yet it slides through court challenges as if the constitution no longer means anything–which is de facto what has happened. The succession movement is symbolic–no person who signed the petitions thinks that the federal government would allow a state to succeed. The petitions are expressions of frustration, a way of “letting off steam.” Now I have always believed that the states are sovereign units, that any unit that voted to join the United States should not be forced to stay within the United States. This was the general viewpoint before 1861, and Mr. Lincoln went against established law in trying to force the Southern states back into the Union. With the illegal passage of the 14th Amendment, the domination of the states by the federal government became enshrined in law. Although I believe succession to be legal under the original Constitution, it would be practically impossible to pull it off today. Now if in the future a massive economic collapse occurs and a country of this size becomes ungovernable, then succession may become a realistic possibility. Given the diversity of populations within the individual states, I doubt that even a nonbinding resolution for succession would pass. The recent petitions, however, reveal the complete frustration of people who have seen the world in which they were reared turned upside down by the forces of radical leftists. Mr. Obama does not govern as an economic socialist; however, his background is Marxist and I doubt that he has fundamentally changed his earlier philosophical stance. Conservatives realize that Mr. Obama supervises, albeit indirectly, a vast federal bureaucracy which is already dominated by leftist thinkers. They also realize that it will be further radicalized by the Obama Administration appointments, especially at the middle management level, and that such bureaucrats write federal regulations. The regulations coming down on the states are growing exponentially. How long will it be before such regulations wrest control of education from the states? How long will it be before abortion is rammed down the throats of religious organizations or else–excuse me, that has already happened. Conservatives would like to be free from such overarching control, and they resent the fact that the difference in the election was the votes of people dependent on the federal government (this is not to deny that many working people also voted for Mr. Obama, but to point out one of the key voter blocks supporting Mr. Obama). They want real independence from the overarching tyranny of the federal government and see no way out. Thus they sign (foolishly, I think since they have to give their names on a federal government site) petitions for succession to assuage their emotions. This is the opposite of a Fascist move to force their views down others’ throats–if anything, it is the most peaceful form of protest in which people can engage–in signing a petition. At least the left should stop making ignorant comparisons between groups, especially if they do not understand one of the groups they are insulting. Such behavior is all too typical of the political left.

The Health and Human Services Department’s Attack on Faith-Based Organizations

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Logo of the United States Department of Health...

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The United States Department of Health and Human Services mandated that employers offer health care insurance to employees that includes payments not only for standard birth control, but also for abortificants. Faith-based organizations are not exempt from this mandate. The Roman Catholic Church is resisting this mandate, as well they should, and since abortificants are also paid for, all faith-based groups who oppose abortion are being forced to violate their beliefs. I have no doubt that the social democrats and socialists who read this post will disagree, which is their right. What about the right of a faith-based organization to establish employment benefits in line with its beliefs? H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., a bioethicist and physician at the Baylor College of Medicine, has argued for ideological pluralism in health care choices. That is, if someone accepts abortion, she can buy insurance through a company that accepts abortion. Roman Catholic groups could have what Engelhardt calls “Vaticare” or something like that. Now Engelhardt is a Classical Liberal who is consistent that pluralism be respected. What the government is doing is the equivalent of telling “Vaticare” or similar organizations that their beliefs be damned. The government will now tell you what to do, and if you don’t like it, suck it up. The result, if this rule is not overturned, will be a mass closing of faith-based organizations that help a significant number of people.

Although Mr. Obama has tended to be a friend of Wall Street and warmongers, his ideological roots are strongly Marxist, and, I would claim, totalitarian. The fact that he is no more totalitarian than Dubya does not change the fact that Obama desires as much power as did Mr. Bush. Regulatory agencies have been one way that government can gain power without legislative approval. Congress should establish a conscience clause in the health care bill in order to allow for faith-based organizations to offer insurance to their employees consistent with their own beliefs. To do otherwise would be another step toward a “social democratic benevolent” dictatorship that the most radical on the left wing desire. Although this is by now a tired cliche, it remains true that freedom of religion was never construed by the founding fathers to mean freedom from religion. I am pleased that Eastern Orthodox Bishops (The Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops) as well as conservative Protestants have joined the effort to reverse this rule change. I hope they succeed.

BUREAUCRACY, EMPLOYERS, AND TRUST

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Bureaucracy cover art

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Susan, 55, has worked for a corporation for thirty years. Most of the time, that corporation was small, and even upper management was able to visit most branches of the business. For years, her vacations had to be approved only by her immediate supervisor.

One day, Susan gives her request for three days’ vacation to her supervisor’s new secretary. The secretary glances at her request, returns it to Sue, and gives her another form. “You need to fill out this form for vacation requests. They must be approved by both your supervisor and your senior manager. Susan protests. “In the past I’ve always given my request to my supervisor.” The secretary waves her off and says, “No paperwork, no vacation.” Susan walks away, furious, feeling powerless, and almost in tears–but she fills out the form anyway.

Most of us, if not all of us, must deal with bureaucracy in some areas of our lives. We may work for a large organization with a complex bureaucracy. We may have to deal with banks, electric and water companies, and other organizations that provide the necessities of life. Most of us find ourselves frustrated at bureaucracy in our lives. Why is that the case? Is it just a matter of the time it takes to go through person after person on the phone before we find help? Is it a matter of the loads of paperwork we have to fill out? In most cases, those reasons are adequate. But when it comes to dealing with bureaucracy in our workplace, as in Susan’s situation, there may be a more fundamental reason.

Most people recognize the need for complex authority structures as organizations grow. There must be a clear hierarchy and clear procedures for business to be accomplished; otherwise an organization would function poorly, and perhaps fail. But there are cases in which a bureaucratic structure can interfere with good employer-employee relations. The problem is a matter of trust.

No employee wants to work for a company she does not trust. Corporations require some level of trust to encourage loyality and hard work. But a corporation, without being naive, should trust its employees. Management should not assume that the employees are essentially lazy and “out to get” the employer (as in Theory X management). This will only result in a hostile work force.

Adding layers of bureaucracy, especially with a lack of good communication with employees, sends a clear message to employees: “We do not trust you.” For example, in Susan’s situation, upper management apparently changed policy on vacation requests without informing lower-level employees. Susan may think (and she might be right) that such action reveals a fundamental distrust of employees (“we’ll do this without consulting our workforce; this is an executive decision, and the workers can find out about the new policy as they make vacation requests”). Such action may also reflect a belief by management that employees will take advantage of their vacation time.

Now Susan may be wrong about all this. Management’s decision might be related to a desire to know when workers will be on vacation company-wide in order to discern patterns and make appropriate plans. And the lack of communcation might be due to the slowness of communication in any large bureaucracy. Even if that is the case, we can understand why Susan is upset–and why we would most likely be upset in similar situations.