“Why,” Michael Barone asked on Monday, “can’t government build big public works projects any more?” He noted that Rachel Maddow fault “greedy rich Republicans [who wouldn’t] pony up enough money.”
That pundit well-versed in American (and English) history referenced Glenn Reynolds’s post where that prolific blogger faulted a government which “focuses on process instead of product”, contending that such focus prevents the government from “doing big things“:
To pick an example from my neck of the woods, the TVA had its first dam filled within 18 months of the TVA Act’s passage. That could never happen today. Now arguably TVA built too many dams, but at least taxpayers who wondered where their money was going could see dams springing up all over. Now it goes into the pockets of lawyers and consultants and Environmental Impact Statement reviewers. Not surprisingly, that’s less impressive.
Today, as Steven Hayward noted in a post linked by both Reynolds and Barone, no one in our various government agencies seems to be able to “decide what to do. . . without endless ‘process’ and ‘public input.’”
In California (and in other states like Ohio) there’s another problem. Many who love this state, as I do, stand in awe at the great public works projects which have turned barren landscapes into (once-)bustling metropolises and fertile farmlands and built roads across tortuous mountain passes and along rugged coastlines. They did all this well before Jerry Brown first became governor in 1975.
A sexagenarian friend of a liberal friend echoed this when he reminded me in a Facebook thread that he is “old enough to remember when CA had unparalleled infrastructure, education and public services.” He was attempting to defend granting collective bargaining privileges to public employees. In the thread, he has also been lamenting the decline of the Golden State. It no longer has the services it once had. Its engineers no longer accomplish the feats they once did.
In reminding me of California’s glorious past, he made my point. You see, the then-Golden State enjoyed such high-performing public schools and amazing engineering accomplishments — not to mention top-notch public services — before the once- and current governor, in 1977, signed the Dills Act which “formalized collective bargaining for State employees.”
In other words, state employees accomplished all those things without collective bargaining privileges. No wonder such workers accomplished a great number of “big projects” under FDR. That much-heralded (on the left at least) Democrat opposed granting collective bargaining privileges to public employees.
It seems public employee unions hamper the ability of state and federal governments to accomplish big things.