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Archive for April 18th, 2011


I know this is goes without saying, but human nature is inefficient. Stearns and Zywicki just made it more readily apparent. I just found it interesting to see how it affects the bureaucracies in government. “Restrictive delegations substitute congressional mandates for agency expertise and force Congress to expend more time and resources on articulating and enforcing limits on agency discretion, thereby reducing the anticipated workload savings resulting from delegation and reducing the agency’s flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.”(p.367-368)

Why then would we want to congress to “narrowly define” any agency? Motives seem to be the argument for most of the chapter. Bureaucrats are neither worried about being tempted by money or votes. We can then be sure that each bureaucrat is going to do what is good for the nation that he is employed by. He might as long as he is accountable through confessional oversight. On the other hand he may just do the minimum that congress demands of him, and then use the gray area of his legislative delegations to bring home the bacon and his government benefits. It would be efficient for him  to be honest and spend his time doing that which he has in his interest as an expert in the field that he has been delegated as long as he sees fit, and it is efficient for congress to spend as little time as possible watching over his shoulder, but human nature proves to get the best of us at times.

Consider the alternative.

I am not a fan of bureaucratic agencies. Not one little bit.

Concern #1: “the Supreme Court will even disregard its own prior interpretation of an ambiguous federal statute if an agency acting within the scope of its proper jurisdiction subsequently provides a different, yet reasonable, interpretation.” (339) What constitutes a “reasonable” interpretation? Does “reasonable” require constitutionality? This really bothers me. Yet I’m unsure as to why I trust the judicial branch so much more than I do bureaucratic agencies. I will have to figure out this weakness in where I stand, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that court cases (at least high profile ones – hahah) receive a fair amount of attention, something I feel like agencies lack. (Then again, there are certain “high profile” agencies that receive a lot of attention. Shoot. Maybe I shouldn’t trust the judiciary either! However, at least the judiciary is supposed to be basing its actions on constitutionality rather than whatever “reasonable” is. But yet again, constitutionality can be as much up to debate as reasonableness. Shoot, I’ve lost myself. Moving on…)

Concern #2: “Once insulated from improper influences, bureaucrats were expected to be able to identify and pursue the public interest in a relatively selfless and disinterested manner.” (341) Well, yeah right! Insulation may protect from some improper influences, but it creates a massive one in terms of the lack of accountability that results. BS my friends… And a quick side-note gripe about discussing public interest… There are so many publics, and so many interests. What is considered the public interest is going to be different among even the most public-spirited individuals/entities.

Concern #3: I agree very much with the “agency-expansion hypothesis” and the “agency-autonomy hypothesis” in terms of what incentivizes agencies. The Congressional Control Model, however, gave me some pause through the way in which it questioned the assumption of lax and passive congressional oversight. But… I was ultimately unconvinced, the reasons being, “Congress itself does not speak with a unified voice” (354) and “although Congress as a whole might have incentives to monitor agency waste and inefficiency, individual members of Congress do not.” (355) And, some other reasons too, but time and space is limited…

Concern #4: A personal concern regarding my opinions on this matter: If agencies are so bad, what would be the alternative? As I constantly ask myself, consider the alternative. I’ll be sleeping on that one tonight!

It seems like no matter topic we are discussing in class or reading about, a common theme of  is always there.  We always seem to end up talking about the efficiency of the system.  Are newest victim on our list is the executive branch and by association the bureaucracy that surrounds that branch of government.  The president has his cabinet that are leaders of multiple different types of agencies.  Furthermore there are many other agencies that are formed by congress.  Why on earth are these in place?  There very existence comes from congress and the president but what purpose do they serve?  The logical answer would be that with out them it would be up to the elected officials to carry out there policies that they have implemented.  To me that just doesn’t seem very efficient.  I don’t really want Senator Hatch deciding how CHIP should be run.  Don’t get me wrong I respect Senator Hatch and the work that he did with CHIP.  I just feel that his time and ideas should be used elsewhere.  We need an agency, or bureaucracy to do that.

Now no one not even me would make the argument that government agencies are efficient or the best way to get things done.   Have you ever been to the DMV, or the had to call the social security administration?  Recently my roommate had an issue where they had his birthday wrong.  He couldn’t file for his tax return because his actual birthday was not listed.  Of course he knew his birthday but in a panic he called his mother to confirm that what he had thought his whole life was in fact correct.  He was right.  He knew his birthday all along.  Yet it took three long and drawn out calls to convive them that he knew when his birthday was.  A simple typo was the only issue yet it took his time and the governments to fix it.  What is my point?  That really there isn’t any way for things to be done super efficiently, unless you just remove all rules and turn everything over to private enterprises.  So short of a revolution bureaucracies are the best bet we have.

What exactly are the benefits of agencies?

Reading chapter 6 was fine and all, but it really got me thinking as to why agencies and bureacracies even exist?  I understand that laws that are created need to be enforced and the police can not enforce every law every where at every time.  But do we really need all of these agencies?  It just seems like there is a lot of money spent on the creation of agencies and the funding of agencies that could be done away with.  I remember reading an article somewhere (pardon my like of specific sources, but I’m sure I read it) about how the strict guidelines of the FDA was actually harmful to some people because they could not get the drugs they needed.  My dad was on an appetite suppressant called Meridia that was pulled off the market due to some heart issues it may have caused in some people.  Perhaps the FDA should make the information about the drugs more readily available to the consumer, and then let the consumer choose to take the risk or not.

These agencies seem to have free reign over their territory and perhaps that creates negative externalities and wrong incentives.  Can the EPA just start shutting plants down that provide cities with electricity because they weren’t up to code or polluted too much or something like that?  Should that even be allowed?  Should the FDA be able to pull drugs off the market because there may be some inconclusive evidence that it can cause some things in some patients with some pre-existing conditions?  I just can’t imagine why all these agencies are needed, appropriate, or effective.  They may be useful, but I’m sure there are some changes that can be made to make them more effective.

Agency Benefit?

I found the discussion of Massachusetts v EPA to be quite interesting. I had actually covered the case before in a class covering energy in the 21st century, but no nearly with this much depth. The case was about the EPA not fulfilling its duties. Now that the EPA is supposedly fulfilling its duties to protect our local air quality, I’m left asking how effective the EPA really is. Logan consistently has some of the worst air quality in the United States, solely because of the inversions we get in the winter. If I can’t look out my window and see the yellow house roughly 20 yards away because the air quality is so bad, the air is a problem. The EPA, if I understand correctly, will fine Logan City if it doesn’t develop a plan to make the air quality better. As long as Logan follows the plan, the EPA will leave the city alone, even if the air quality doesn’t improve. So really, what do the EPA regulations accomplish? Sure, Logan might have to pay a fine. But neither the plan nor the fine really accomplish anything.

I feel like I’ve been left asking this question with a lot of agencies, and many times, with the government in general. What are we really accomplishing?

Changing Views

The discussion about the medium voter theorem was interesting.  It really makes sense that the politicians would change their positions depending on the constituency.  However, I never realized the tradeoffs involved in taking a more moderate stand.  I guess that I just took for granted that the extremists would still have enough incentive to vote for a more moderate candidate rather than let the opposing candidate win.  It does make sense however, now that we have discussed the irrationality of voting, that these extremists would fail to vote for a more moderate candidate.  In order for someone to vote there has to be an extremely high sense of duty or emotional reason.

After reading that particular section, I started thinking about how often we change our views based on the environment that we are placed in and the “constituency” that we face.  I think that we can compare the caucuses or primary elections to the upbringing that we receive inside our own homes.  The teaching, instruction, and morals that we initially obtain have a residual effect with us even though it might seem logical to change our views once we enter school or the workplace.  We face a huge trade off of acceptance from friends and employers and disappointing our parents.  For most of us, we usually feel that even if we initially gain our parents approval we won’t deviate in favor of a larger constituency.

A large portion of the population likes to market themselves to the largest possible amount of people without offending their original constituency.  I believe that this analysis can be applied to dating as well.  The more moderate and accepting our view the greater amount of people we can date and get to know.  However, if we become to moderate we lose the support of our parents and more traditional friends.

Everything has a tradeoff; the difficulty is knowing exactly where that optimal point is and how to maximize the gains from our situations.

Expert Politicians

Stearns and Zywcikis say that “the modern administrative state is premised on the intuition that addressing problems in the complex modern world requires reliance on disinterested experts insulated from the rough and tumble of electoral politics and market incentives.”  In other words, or in Woodrow Wilson’s words, we should have a “trained corps of unbiased and disinterested experts” for “the implementation of policy” (341).

This sounds nice because of words like ‘unbiased’ and ‘experts.’  But if we called these ‘experts’ bureaucrats it wouldn’t sound so nice–bureaucracy is like a bad word these days, I think.  These bureaucrats (at least in independent agencies) are “largely immune from the direct electoral or financial incentives that motivate either eleceted officials or private market actors” (341).  When I read this I thought two things.  1. So then what exactly motivates bureaucrats? and 2. Do we really want people making rules who are motivated by neither our votes nor financial incentives?

Then Stearns and Zywicki asked the same questions.  Or at least the first one.  “What then do bureaucrats maximize?” (342).  I read through the three hypotheses and felt really impressionable and small as I was convinced of each one in turn.  Is it about budget maximizing; ideological views; or is Congress really just running the show?  Frankly, though, I don’t think it’s so cut and dry.  All three of those factors combine to motivate different agencies and different individual bureaucrats.  But the fact that Congress has such influence would then cancel out the supposed insulation from the ‘rough and tumble of electoral politics’ achieved by making the agencies ‘independent’ from the executive branch.  They just become dependent on the legislative branch.  So it’s all politics still.  Expert politics.

Elections and Retention of Power

In the beginning of Chapter 6, Stearns and Zywicki try to explain the election process of both single stage elections, and multi-stage elections.  The US system in a multi-stage election, which we can assume from a study of economics, is a good thing.  This principle takes me back to our discussions on the prisoner’s dilemma and game theory.  If a player knows that he will have to play again, he will try to cooperate so that his second game will be built on trust.  If a candidate runs for his party’s nomination and wins, he must have lived up to some expectation.  If he is to be re-elected, he will have to have pleased people enough to have them cooperate.  This is not a sound example of game theory, because the people and the agent don’t have the same amount of power, but it is about cooperation, punishment, and reward.  It’s simply the best system we can come up with.

The problem in other parts of the world having these types of elections is where their power stands.  We may have reality TV stars and grown women shouting WTF running for office, but the power is in constituent hands to reward or punish the behavior through elections.  They will have a multi-stage election, so they have to behave in order to be rewarded with another term.  In despotic regimes, like those in the middle east and elsewhere, the power by tradition, and I assume often by law, is with the ruler.  Power does not change hands peacefully.  In the single stage system, trust means nothing.  Chance, and opportunity are rewarded.  Corruption at polls is rewarded with a retention of power for, in some cases, decades.  So in order to promote fairness worldwide, is it our responsibility to educate other countries on the economically correct way to hold elections, or is that forcing an American system on countries who often despise us?  This is part of the reason America is safe and prosperous, but who can say if it is in our best interest, or their best interest to educate them?

Characteristics of Bureaucratic Action?

I felt like this week’s reading was really relevant to the government of today. One of the sections in the chapter really caught my attention. It is entitled “Characteristics of Bureaucratic Action”. The author discusses the differences in motivation or incentive between an elected official and a bureaucrat. Because legislators and others are elected by the people their main objective during the term is re-election. However in order to get re-elected they must act as if re-election is not their number one priority. Instead they must pretend that maximizing profit is number one on the goal list. This point made me realize just how much this so-called act works. Whenever I have voted for local and state officials, I was not old enough to vote for national government officials, I have only looked at who has served the people best without thinking about why they did it. Did those officials serve the people because they knew it was the right thing or because they wanted to get re-elected?

Then I got to thinking about responsibility. If legislators are accountable to the “people” then who are bureaucrats accountable to? In the chapter it suggests that those involved in executive agencies are responsible to the person who appointed them aka the President of the United States of America. So my question is, which is better? Does direct responsibility to the people make the legislators more virtuous and less corrupt than the bureaucrats who are not directly responsible to the people? As far as I understood the chapter I felt that the authors believed that the bureaucrats are more corrupt and shady because they are not elected by the people. I can see how it would be possible to think this. However I do not believe that these bureaucrats are the shifty men the book would have us believe. In some manner the bureaucrats are responsible to the people because they are responsible to the president. And who is the president accountable to? The people.

I was reading something a few days ago about how the creation of agencies have taken originally delegated powers by the constitution away from the executive, legislative, or even judicial branches of our government. An agency is a program that has powers from each branch allowing them to run without the “checks” that are in place for any of the actual branches of government. On what grounds are the three branches allowed to create agencies? There is nothing in the constitution that grants that additional power. This brings me to my essay for one on my classes. I have to compare Jefferson’s interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution to Hamilton’s. In this situation, Jefferson would say agencies are unconstitutional because there is nothing in the document about them. As for Hamilton, he would have allowed it based on the Necessary and Proper Clause. He would claim that it is necessary for the government to create these agencies based on the powers granted by the constitution to complete the tasks. For Hamilton, a larger government meant a more efficient government. Each agency would be more efficient because it would specialize in a particular “task.” As things got more complicated, the specialized agency would be able to stay abreast of the changes – something your average member of congress would not be able to do. If all these agencies are created, where do the leaders of these agencies come from? They must be appointed – which would raise a red flag about the political nature of the appointments. If the appointments are changed every time new members are elected, doesn’t that defeat the desire for efficiency behind the creation of the agency? It would also introduce a certain bias into the workings of the agency.