Roy Spencer, Donald Trump, And The "Main Project" Of The Government

A recurrent theme here is that the "main project" of the government, and of each and every one of its agencies, is to promote and enhance further growth of the agency in particular and the government in general.  Examples of prior posts are here and here.  One of the great advances of the past twenty or so years is that the conservative movement has gradually caught on that this is a huge problem.  Without constant push back, the state has a tremendous internal incentive to grow unchecked like a cancer and rapidly take over our whole economy and our lives.

Roy Spencer had a post on Friday that addresses the climate change branch of this "main project," and is very related to my own post on Friday.  Roy's post is titled "On that 2015 Record Warmest Claim."   For those unfamiliar with Dr. Spencer, he is a research scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, and is one of the people (along with John Christy) responsible for producing the satellite-based temperature series generally referred to as UAH.

Unlike the guys from NASA and NOAA, Spencer takes on the problem that the NASA/NOAA temperature series show 2015 to be the warmest year ever, while the satellite series from UAH and RSS do not.  Spencer starts out by declaring a modesty that is completely lacking in the NASA/NOAA guys -- and which, to my mind, is the fundamental hallmark of the real scientist versus the unprincipled advocate:

I’m not claiming our satellite dataset is necessarily the best global temperature dataset in terms of trends, even though I currently suspect it is closer to being accurate than the surface record — that will be for history to decide. The divergence in surface and satellite trends remains a mystery, and cannot (in my opinion) continue indefinitely if both happen to be largely correct.      

And then he gets to what he calls the "elephant in the room":

By now it has become a truism that government agencies will prefer whichever dataset supports the governments desired policies. You might think that government agencies are only out to report the truth, but if that’s the case, why are these agencies run by political appointees?  I can say this as a former government employee who used to help NASA sell its programs to congress: We weren’t funded to investigate non-problems, and if global warming were ever to become a non-problem, funding would go away. I was told what I could and couldn’t say to Congress…Jim Hansen got to say whatever he wanted. I grew tired of it, and resigned.

"We aren't funded to deal with non-problems."  I would say it's an obvious truism.  And this principle goes way beyond the climate wars.  It's the complete explanation for why no amount of government anti-poverty funding can ever eliminate (or even reduce) poverty (as measured by the government); why no amount of government anti-hunger funding can ever eliminate (or even reduce) hunger (as measured by the government); why no amount of government housing funding can ever eliminate (or even reduce) the "housing shortage" (as measured by the government; and on and on.  More generally, it's the fundamental reason why government failure is a political rather than a managerial problem.  Better management can never do away with the fundamental problem that everyone in the government has a desperate need for the problem they are dealing with to persist.  The government fails because its fundamental imperative is that it must fail.

And then of course we have stepping into the Republican presidential nominating process a guy whose message, if he has any message, is that the government is failing not because of that fundamental imperative, but rather because it is run by incompetent people and if only you put a really competent businessman like him in charge, everything will promptly be fixed.  In short, this message is the opposite of the message that the conservative movement has been gradually building for decades.  The one message is, "Government is fundamentally not competent to fix or address the personal problems of the people, and therefore it must be drastically cut back."  The other (Trump) message is "The government's only problem is bad management by incompetent people; put me in charge and I can and will fix everything."

Last week the National Review ran a big forum in which some 22 prominent conservative writers expressed their reasons for opposing Trump as the Republican nominee.  Many of them remarked on Trump's message being very much the opposite of the main conservative message of smaller and limited government.  Contributors noted that Trump had supported, among other things, the Obama "stimulus," single payer healthcare, the auto company bailouts, the bank bailouts, aggressive use of eminent domain, trade protectionism, stricter gun control, and numerous other such government-as-solution-to-everything proposals.  

To me it seems almost impossible that anyone could be such a narcissist as to believe that if only the people put him in charge of the $4 trillion annual enterprise known as the federal government, that by the force of his brilliance and managerial competence he could cause it promptly to succeed at the myriad of tasks at which it has heretofore been failing.  But then, Obama is clearly such a guy.  Now we have another one in Trump.  With any luck he won't be given the chance to fail; but if he does get the chance, the odds of failure are virtually 100%.