Our Institutions Are Failing

Our Institutions Are Failing, by Charles Hugh Smith.

When was the last time you heard the top management of a university system take responsibility for the unprecedented rise in the cost of tuition and textbooks? The short answer is “never.” The insiders benefiting from the higher-education cartel’s relentless exploitation of students and their families act as if the soaring costs are akin to cosmic radiation, a force of nature that they are powerless to control.

The same can be said of every other cartel plundering the nation … an endless profusion of insiders whose self-serving plunder and gross incompetence rarely generates consequences (such as being fired or indicted) due to an absence of accountability and transparency.

It seems to be impossible to change:

Incompetence has been institutionalized, and is now the accepted norm. Schools fail, municipal agencies fail, oversight agencies fail, state agencies fail, and the public feels powerless to effect any systemic change.

Changing the elected officials who are the citizens’ representatives does nothing to rid the system of incompetence or enforce accountability and transparency; the insider elites have wired the system to avoid responsibility and maintain their institutionalized skims regardless of who is in elected office.

Budgets never decline, they only expand. The system is organized to punish frugality and reward incompetence, sweetheart contracts, overtime, and ever higher public spending.

Calls to trim waste are met by gestures of powerlessness: rising costs and institutional failure are presented as the equivalent of gravity: we can’t change the system, it’s unstoppable. …

If citizens had a choice to renew their drivers license at (say) Amazon or the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles], do you reckon Amazon might not make everyone cool their heels for hours? …

Yes, many transactions are more complex now than they were 30 years ago. 30 years ago it took less than a day to obtain a building permit for an entire house in the rural county I lived in. Now it takes 3 to 4 months in the same county to get a permit, which must now be stamped by a licensed architect or engineer (at great expense, of course).

OK, we get it– things are more complex now. But how does a one-day process balloon into a 100-day process at best? We can understand a one-day process becoming a 3 day process, but did the complexity really rise 100-fold?

Conscientious public servants and institutional insiders are thwarted by incompetent managers, lazy co-workers and institutional bloat designed to increase costs and inefficiencies because higher budgets and inefficiencies boost payrolls and thus power. …

Our institutional failure reminds me of the phantom legions of Rome’s final days. Legions existed in the bureaucracy, and payrolls were sent to the pay masters, but the Legions were mere fictions–there were no soldiers, and no fighting force; there were only a few insiders skimming their take, confident that accountability and transparency had been irrevocably lost.