Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Too much money and too much complexity

Steve Pearlstein on Top Secret America:

The series is a powerful reminder that it's not only bleeding-heart liberals who fall into the trap of trying to solve seemingly urgent problems by throwing too much money at them. It turns out that supposedly tough-minded conservatives are no less prone to runaway spending when their top priorities are involved. Sometime in the next week, I expect some Republican who has railed against the scope and complexity of the Democrats' domestic initiatives to stand up in the Senate and, with Goldwater-like conviction, declare that profligacy in defense of security is no vice. [...]

For those setting out to fix health care or the financial regulatory system, the takeaway should be that it is a lot easier to do it right the first time.

Doing it right means, first and foremost, keeping things simple, even when the work to be done is complicated. Setting up complex structures not only increases cost and reduces speed, it tends to badly blur the lines of authority and responsibility. And by insisting on simplicity right from the start, organizations are forced to step up and make the difficult tradeoffs that, if not addressed structurally, will become a constant drain on people's time, attention and patience, or will never be addressed at all.

Complexity, of course, is somewhat baked into the cake with both bills, as they each try to compromise with the existing status quo in the government and in the private sector, and thus layer new solutions and fixes atop old institutions and problems. For an interesting companion piece to Steve's, read David Leonhardt on the regulatory approach that some environmentalists are advocating now that cap-and-trade looks pretty dead.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 21, 2010; 12:38 PM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Tom Toles is worth a thousand words
Next: Lunch break

Comments

"Complexity, of course, is somewhat baked into the cake with both bills, as they each try to compromise with the existing status quo in the government and in the private sector, and thus layer new solutions and fixes atop old institutions and problems."

On a positive note, I hear that doctors' offices have gone back to the good ol days of accepting chickens for healthcare.

Seriously, though, Ezra, it's hardly a surprise to anybody that complexity comes with some serious tradeoffs. That secrecy and complexity go hand-in-hand. And that the more moving parts something has, the more likely it is to break down (Junkyard Wars, rule number one). The bigger question is: When is complexity the better approach? After all, no one individual knows how to make something as simple as an ordinary pencil. I, for one, prefer to not go back to engraving on stone tablets. At least not yet.

Posted by: slag | July 21, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

As to the complexity, as people on the internet love to say: This is a feature, not a bug. People are getting rich off this complexity! It's like the bloated Defense budget, only secret! So-called conservatives dream of schemes like this.

Posted by: qalice1 | July 21, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I stopped reading at "bleeding heart liberals." Why he thinks he needs to insult me in order to say something mildly critical of the fascists who are taking over the country is beyond me.

Posted by: Bloix | July 22, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company