Oct 12, 2022·edited Oct 12, 2022

"We also don’t have the mechanic or culture of centering the user. Instead we center the bureaucracy. Implementers don’t talk to end users enough in the design of our systems — because they’re overstretched implementing flawed policy — and legislators don’t talk to implementers (and end users) enough to know how they’ll actually use their “product” (policy) because they’re understaffed in terms of human capital."

This is such an important point. My day job is tech support, so I am very familiar with the idea of managing and passing around tickets, and having managers whose whole job it is to track our service quality -- how long do we take to answer our customers' requests, how many contacts does it take before we solve their problems, what is customer sentiment through the process.

We seriously need to get our government organizations to adopt this kind of CRM system, and to understand that "customer satisfaction" is critical to maintaining legitimacy and social cohesion. If the general public comes to feel the government doesn't listen to or care about them, it's very hard to maintain a democracy.

Everything from the DMV, to the IRS, to your local building department, needs both technical investment, and adequate staffing, so that people feel like their interactions with government run smoothly and treat them fairly.

Expand full comment
Oct 12, 2022·edited Oct 12, 2022

You have a lovely vision. You reference the Progressive movement of 100+ years ago, but you don't seem to recognize that most of the things you advocate were also things the Progressives advocated.

The problems you've identified with government action were natural results of the Progressive reforms - inevitable, even. I don't disparage the Progressives or their reforms - they addressed real problems of the spoils system and politics controlled by party hacks, of a scale that's hard for people of our era to imagine. Their solutions (civil service; detailed procedures for inspection, procurement, and approvals; local control of land use, etc.) are what have led to the current problems you identify.

You blame Ronald Reagan for turning people against the government, but you have the causation backward. Ronald Reagan was elected president because most voters had lost faith in the liberal vision of government; voters didn't turn against government because of Ronald Regan's rhetorical powers.

You seem to rely on increased government capacity to solve all the hard problems society faces. I think this is profoundly mistaken. If you could build a new government from the ground up, based on your vision of the ideal society and effective government (after convincing your fellow citizens), and if you could select government officials and workers to faithfully implement your vision, you might have success. However, anything you can build will be built atop the governments we already have, mostly under the rules we already have, with the workers and officials we already have, with organizational cultures that are the heart of the problems you identify.

If you want to make progress, pick one area, and lay out a plausible solution. If I were a Californian, I'd probably start with housing. I'd identify the problems as mostly coming from obstacles to building more housing, and more affordable housing. These obstacles come from excessive local control that is used to keep poor and working class (and even middle class) people out of "desirable" towns and neighborhoods. Rather than try to push new housing plans through current governing bodies and permitting procedures, I'd work to weaken (or destroy) the bodies: abolish the Coastal Commission, limit the power of zoning boards, with a strong bias towards rights of owners to use their land as they see fit.

Or, pick "Clean energy". You don't spell out your vision of clean energy, but most self-identified progressives take zero net emissions as a fundamental requirement. There is currently no path to achieve this goal while maintaining what we would recognize as a modern lifestyle. There is no way to deliver reliable electricity 24 hours per day without significant reliance on fossil fuels. (Technically, we could probably achieve reliable zero-emissions electricity with heavy reliance on nuclear power, but there doesn't seem to be any constituency working for this.) There is no path to maintaining significant long-distance transportation without the use of fossil fuels. There is no path to producing significant metal products without the use of fossil fuels. If you want to achieve anything in this area, you need to work with people who understand these areas, and start with some realistic goals. Then, try to convince your fellow citizens that the goals are worth pursuing at the costs that would be required. California's (and the US's) current approach is to impose mandates without regard to feasibility, and spend as much money as politically feasible, without regard to actual effectiveness.

Expand full comment