Faster Government?

It’s tempting, in this always-on, ever-faster age, to wish for faster government.

Why isn’t government more responsive? More flexible? Where’s my high-speed rail line? Where’s the new bridge we’ve known we’ve needed for 20 years? Why can’t we vote online already?

Speed, flexibility, and responsiveness are to be wished, but we need to recognize that they come with a price. Namely, a more responsive government must be designed and staffed to be more responsible, too.

Consider how much government has changed in just the past four or 10 years. As legislation ground to a standstill, we had executive action, and then a more-than-equal and opposite reaction. Add Twitter, some fancy footwork on appointments, and a whole lot of non-appointments, and what you see is a government deeply changed by intellectual arrogance and fairly basic (if unprecedented) bureaucratic maneuvering.

Now, imagine it could have been harnessed, re-directed, and re-purposed even faster.

Even in the best-case scenario, this set of tradeoffs is going to be upon us soon and hard. If we re-engineer the scope and speed of government but skip the hard work of re-examining how we elect the people in charge, too, we’re likely to re-learn the executive orders lesson, only more stiffly.

Building a faster car is only worth it if you can train and select more capable drivers.