« "Virginia AG Cuccinelli Out To Kill Academic Freedom" | Main | links for 2010-05-10 »

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Antipathy Toward Government was at All-Time Highs"

Edmund Andrews reinforces the point about "degradation of effective government by anti-government ideology" under the Bush administration that Paul Krugman made this morning:

Reflections on the oil spill, by Edmund Andrews: Executives from BP and its partners in the Gulf oil spill will endure a heavy round of indignant and righteous grilling at Senate hearings on Tuesday, and they deserve it.

But it's also obvious that Congress and the Interior Department failed in all sorts of ways over the years. ...

The Interior Department's hapless Minerals Management Service failed miserably as well. As the Wash Post reported a week ago, MMS exempted BP's ill-fated rig last April from a rigorous environmental analysis after concluding that a big spill was extremely unlikely.

Less than a year ago, it gave BP's partner, Transocean a "Safety Award for Excellence" ("SAFE," get it?) for its work in the Gulf. Randall Luthi, the MMS's last director under President Bush, is now president of the National Oceans Industries Association. The Bush-Cheney, Texas-Wyoming crowd passionately wanted to ramp up drilling logging and mountain-top mining. It had a zero-tolerance policy toward objections of any kind.

I have a personal take on the MMS. Back in 2006, I wrote a long series of stories about how the agency was losing tens of billions of dollars in royalties on oil and gas being pumped in the Gulf of Mexico. (They still are, by the way.) The MMS's accounting was disastrously muddled; political hacks under Bush were blocking the agency's own auditors; and the Interior Department had fouled up leases going back to the Clinton administration. My stories unleashed a slew of investigations, which not only confirmed jaw-dropping incompetence and subservience to industry but also the famous sex-and-drugs scandal in which MMS employees in Denver partied hardy with oil execs.

Now, it's true that the Interior Department and the MMS were in some ways uniquely awful -- especially under the Bush administration. ...

But there was a broader lesson here: antipathy toward government -- any kind of government -- was at all-time highs. Republicans, and to a lesser extent Democrats, were hitting the peak of a 25-year rise in anti-government skepticism. If nobody thinks government can do anything good, then you attract mostly cynics and losers who are mainly interested in leveraging their jobs into lucrative deals with industry.

This wasn't unique to Interior and MMS. The SEC, which was a feared and prestigious enforcement agency back in the 80's (under Reagan, btw), became a laughingstock. The bank regulators competed with each other to make life easy for the banks, on whom most depended for their fees. It was the same deal almost everywhere else: consumer protection, food and drug regulation, occupational safety, the Justice Department.

By the end of the Bush administration, they were all emaciated, hollowed-out shells. Now we're discovering, a little late, that those gray government civil servants and those musty federal buildings might actually be good for something after all.

When appointments to these agencies become a way of rewarding people for their political support and to impose an anti-interventionist government ideology (but only where government might get in the way of profit, the view toward intervention in social issues was different) rather than as an opportunity to provide the best possible government service to the nation, we should expect a bad outcome. These appointments have always served political ends to some degree, but under Bush service became secondary and this was taken to extremes.

    Posted by on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 06:39 PM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (45)


    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.