Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Central Planners Stymie More than Just the Red Cross

Warren Meyer's been on top of it.

While turning down offers to help, when everyone agrees not enough is being done, may seem unthinkable, these are actually predictable outcomes from a bureaucracy of technocrats. Technocrats value process over results, order and predictability over achievement. More important than having problems fixed is having an ordered process, having everything and everyone under control. In this context, you can imagine their revulsion at the thought of having private citizens running around on their own in the disaster area trying to help people. We don't know where they are! We don't know what they are doing! They are not part of our process! Its too chaotic! Its not under control!

Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse - after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be in government trying to override those efforts. But most emergency organizations are off the scale in this regard. 99% of their time, they don't actually have an emergency to deal with - they are planning. They are creating elaborate logistics plans and procedures and deployment plans. Planners, rather than people of action, gravitate to these organizations. So, once a disaster really hits, the planners run around in circles, hit by the dual problem of 1) their beautiful plans are now obsolete, since any good general can tell you that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and 2) they are by nature still planners, trying to get order and process underway and create a new updated plan, rather than just getting every possible resource out there fixing the dang problem.

So is it gonna get better?

Unfortunately, I fear that the lessons from this hurricane and its aftermath will be that we need more top-down rules and authority rather than less. It is the technocrats on the sidelines who are most appalled by the screw-ups, and will demand more of whatever next time.

He's right, of course - and that's depressing.


Post a Comment

<< Home