Constructive Criticism in a Crisis

by James C. Sherlock

Steve Haner and I have expressed the exact same three-phase reaction to state government missteps in the COVID-19 crisis. At first we gave the Governor slack because we knew he was unprepared and is supported by bureaucracies similarly unprepared for the new realities and that both needed time to adjust.

Then, when some of the Virginia bureaucracies important to this crisis showed inescapable evidence of a lack of nimbleness that rose to a level of incompetence, we called them out. Someone has to, or Governor, unschooled in the machinery of crisis response, will not get a sufficiently clear picture to seek alternative advice. Certainly, no one who works for him is likely to tell him.

That is the reason that I listed a “bill of particulars” the other day about major missteps in his April 1 press conference. He needs better advice. A follow-up article was about official malfeasance. He needs to fire the culprit.

Third, we recommended how the problems can be addressed. I recommended  the Governor seek support from MITRE to bridge the unpreparedness of his government advisors. The advice was for now, not for the post-crisis review. We want and need him to succeed.

What happens to government bureaucracies in a crisis?

Government bureaucracies often succeed at their basic day-to-day missions, but in many cases it is best not to look closer if you don’t have strong stomach.

Bureaucracies with day-to-day operating responsibilities tend to be more useful in a crisis than purely administrative ones, because they have self-adjusted to the requirements of those missions and have a built-in feedback loop that imports necessary changes.

I worked for more than 50 years for or with the government at the federal and state levels. In the second Clinton-Gore administration, I worked under contract for Vice President Gore’s “reinventing government” initiative. It proved to me, if I ever doubted it, that bureaucracies are seldom if ever nimble and most often fiercely protective of the status quo in their work environment. They resist change, usually covertly but sometimes even overtly, even when change is directed from the top.

One very senior official in the Senior Executive Service told me to my face, “We’re not doing that,” meaning implement change at the Vice President’s direction. He was happy to participate in the studies of what changes might be required in his department, but pointed out that Clinton and Gore and his current boss would be gone before the recommendations of the study could be implemented.

Those same five decades also showed me that when events require nimble adaptation to new circumstances, administrative bureaucracies often stumble. Despite excellent paper planning and the availability of excellent federally funded full scale exercises in emergency response, senior leaders often don’t prepare in any rigorous way.

Unrealistic expectations 

There was severe criticism during Katrina that FEMA “failed.” Those of us familiar with government, including Washington reporters, knew that FEMA was never tasked to do what it was “expected” to do.  Before Katrina, FEMA was tasked to implement pre-existing support contracts and to directly fund state needs under the Stafford Act, not to marshal the full resources of the federal government and non-existent FEMA forces to march in and solve everything. Didn’t matter; that was the “expectation” of most people who before Katrina couldn’t spell FEMA. Like many today, those same people had no basic understanding of the Constitution and its separation of powers.

It should be but is not reasonable today to expect VDH to step up as an action agency in matters it doesn’t oversee daily, such as healthcare capacity, staffing, equipment and material and the distribution and re-distribution of same. The only way that expectation would be realistic were if VDH exercised a full-scale operational role regularly in exercises.  It has not. Thus, VDH and the Governor have discovered together in real time that VDH does not have enough information or experience to provide the Governor the answers and advice he needs.

Must we judge government performance in a crisis during the crisis?

My rule: Never in the absence of strong evidence attribute to individual malfeasance what can be explained by bureaucratic self-defense mechanisms, sloth, awkwardness or incompetence. If you use that as an axiom, you will find exceptions, but seldom. The removal of the planning document from the state website was an exception.

Competent criticism often must come from outside government to alert leaders to incompetence and malfeasance.

My experience with government at federal and state levels is that, except in the command-and-control operational environments of the military, state police and a few others, “lessons learned” developed after a crisis are seldom learned and acted upon because inertia takes over again.

Real-time criticism, done with the goal of improving government performance rather than self satisfaction and aggrandizement, is patriotic and can be as it is meant to be, helpful. Changes must be made during a crisis to be of any use during or after it. 4

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59 responses to “Constructive Criticism in a Crisis

  1. You guys are so ready to attack the public sector but not the private one. This is the same lame philosophy i dealt with at the RTD nearly 40 years ago.

    • Peter, please enlighten us. How has the private sector failed us in the COVID-19 crisis?

      • Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you go back to the weekend of March 14? Restaurants/bars didn’t close that night across the country. As it was the Saturday before St. Patrick’s, it was going to be an enormous night of crowds and bar/restaurant owners knew it. We also had more than enough public information by then to realize that gatherings of crowds was likely to lead to spread and death.

        I even remember some conservative Twitter accounts pointing out how irresponsible it was for them to open that night. We all saw the pictures from NYC and other major cities that night.

        That’s just one tiny private sector failure during this crisis. I can list many more examples of businesses not taking this seriously and contributing to community spread.

      • I don’t see this as a contest between whether the govt or the private sector -“failed” us.

        But I would ask perhaps, what if the govt had not closed the restaurants and left it up to the private sector to decide – what might have happened?

        We STILL have people who say the govt overreacted and took Draconian steps that Grievously harmed the economy AND that it’s time to open up the economy and let the chips fall where they may.

        So what would have happened if we had not “shut down the economy” and let the private sector decide what to do or not?

        • I worked my entire career in the private sector. I’m happy to criticize it. While it is true that we have seen some generous acts from the private sector, I don’t know that we’ll ever understand the damage the private sector has caused in this public health emergency.

          More and more documents are coming out (and I’m sure many are being shredded as I type this) that the airlines absolutely knew the danger they were creating in January. And, yet, they kept operating and spreading this around the globe. How many global business conferences occurred in February where people were assured that just using hand sanitizer would make it “safe”? Those conferences were major contributors to global spread.

          We are constantly told by Mr. Bacon and his ilk that, if left to their own devices, the private sector can govern itself. That is a lie. I can assure you that unless the gov’t told our firm we couldn’t do something, we did it if we could enhance our margins.

          Ask yourself this: If Governors didn’t order bars to close, what % would still be open with business as usual? I’d guarantee at least half of them would be.

          • “We are constantly told by Mr. Bacon and his ilk that, if left to their own devices, the private sector can govern itself.”

            I am flattered to hear that I have an “ilk.”

            However, CREGUY’s statement is not a remotely accurate description of what I believe or have advocated on this blog. I refer you to excerpts from the “Guiding Principles of the Rebellion” on the About page:

            ■ “Free markets and the individual pursuit of enlightened self-interest are the most efficient means of allocating resources and creating wealth – most of the time.”

            ■ “The vitality of the economy and well being of a community also require collective action, either in the civic realm or in the governmental realm.”

            ■ “The managers of all institutions, whether business, educational, civic or governmental, tend to shun accountability. The rules of governance, by which citizens hold these entities accountable, must be constantly updated. And leaders of these institutions must be subject to continual scrutiny.”

            Free markets cannot exist in a state of anarchy. Government must monopolize the means of coercion, and it must set the rules within which businesses operate. Government also must provide for the common good — such as public health.

  2. I understand what is being said – don’t agree with much of it but expecting any organization, either govt or private sector to change in the middle of a crisis is mostly wishful thinking.

    And as they say, govt in a crisis is a “target rich” environment for things going wrong.

    It happened during 9-11, during Katrina, and during the mortgage security meltdown. It happens in the military on air craft carriers than have something happen to them that they obviously did not plan for.

    I still do not see Northam and company much different than other states. They all got their problems – fairly predictable – no one, including the Feds expected this monstrous pandemic.

    Nope, this is not really “constructive” – when that kind of criticism is going from all sides some of them polar opposite from each other, for instance, Noretham is also getting hammered for not “opening up the economy”.

    He’s going to implement criticism from every Tom, Dick and Harry he thinks they got the answers?

    And NO, I am not calling Jim S a Tom, Dick or Harry, only pointing out that he is not alone in his “suggestions” as to what to do.

    Northam is going to go with those he knows and are part of his existing team. Dumping staff in the middle of this is not something anyone is going to do unless that person is just totally out of phase with the others on the team.

    And yes, I’d have the same exact view if this happened on McDonnells watch.

  3. johnrandolphofroanoke

    The Truman Committee did some good work 80 years ago. Good ole Harry spared no one. It turned out to be very beneficial to the war effort.

  4. Sherlock, if you haven’t read “Yes, Minister” or “Yes, Prime Minister,” or seen the DVD’s, you should. I have the DVD’s and can lend. The episode that came to mind in all his involves a giant, brand new NHS hospital with hundreds of staff but no patients, and all the bureaucratic reasons it would be too expensive to fill it with patients.

    Understanding the lesson of those TV scripts turned into books was invaluable during my four years “inside” with a state agency.

  5. Larry and Peter, read my column again. I did not attack the public sector to the exclusion of the private sector for one simple reason: I don’t have any on the ground experience in private sector logistics and there are not sufficient public data on which to base such a critique.
    I was deeply involved after the crisis in studying private sector emergency logistics during Katrina, and it proved immensely superior to government logistics in that same crisis at the federal, state and local levels. That does not inform how it is performing in this crisis, other than food continues to be available daily at the commercial supermarkets. The other details are not in focus.
    The embedded message is that people should criticize in public in a crisis only:
    1. to the degree that they have been in the arena at some point and sufficient data are available to form an opinion; and
    2. then only if they have suggestions that will help.
    I hope I have met those standards. Jim

    • Jim – There is no question, the private sector has an exceptionally important role in a pandemic because they “make stuff” and govt does not.

      But in a pandemic, the private sector does not have a leadership role, that’s the govt job – for better or for worse.

      I just don’t think criticism in the middle of a crisis is productive. All it will succeed in doing is for the gov to pull back and not engage.

      In terms of you meeting Jim’s standards – I’m quite sure you’re A+++ – but as usual if you post – others will comment. That’s the purpose of a blog,in fact.

      Once again, I much appreciate your contributions and your perspective – it does promote folks thinking on what you have said.

  6. I entirely disagree. The private sector most assuredly has a leadership role. Otherwise they would do nothing without a government directive. We depend upon them to hold up their end, which is keeping all of us fed and supplied with the normal necessities of life. That alone is what lets the government concentrate on crisis-related supplies. Even in the government’s search for crisis supplies, it is the private sector that fulfills the orders.

    • Jim – you gotta admit it’s the govt that tells the private sector what is needed. Right? The govt decides what is needed then tasks the private sector to provide it.

      • Larry, the government only tasks the private sector for emergency supplies, not the necessities of daily life.

      • “The govt decides what is needed then tasks the private sector to provide it.” Seriously, Larry. That it right out of 1920s Russia, 1930s Nazi Germany (socialists, remember) and 1950s China. That is their SOP in a nutshell and you still preach it?

        • It’s just the simple truth. In a pandemic or just plain disaster planning The private sector does not know how many ventilators the govt needs until the govt says what they need.

          Even in a regular economy, the private sector does not know how many ships the military wants – more appropriate to your own experience.

          The frame of this discussion was a pandemic. Got it?

          • I think I finally do. Thanks Larry

          • Steve Haner

            So I wait for the government to find me a mask……

          • re: ” So I wait for the government to find me a mask……””

            in a pandemic, uh,,, yes… and about the same time the
            free market is saying ” help, help, I need a massive bailout”.

          • Nancy_Naive

            Steve said, “So I wait for the government to find me a mask……”
            Okay, so there’s a delay, but then that paper mask won’t cost you $10K

    • Ah, the leadership of the Free Market… uh yep. One word: cafe…well, CAFE.

      • knock. knock.

        Donald… this is the “free market”, ya’ll are about to have one hell of a pandemic and we got some ideas how to stop it.

        Go away – we don’t want any – see that sign: NO SOLICITATIONS

        Ralph. Ralph. This is the free market , ya’ll are about to have one
        hell of a pandemic and we are here to help.

        Ralph – who did you say you were?

        😉

  7. These discussions highlight the primary difference between conservatives and progressives.
    Conservatives wish to preserve freedom and the fruits of capitalism and the system that produces them. Conservatives support crisis actions by government that produce outcomes that the normal manufacturing and supply chains will not produce.
    Progressives, unschooled in the benefits of either a market economy or personal freedom, want to subjugate both to programs they consider improvements. They will want to turn COVID-19 emergency actions into full time government surveillance and control of wide swaths of an economy that government bureaucracies are demonstrably unsuited to control, even if one thinks that government surveillance and control are good things, which conservatives most assuredly do not.
    If you think I exaggerate about the goals of the left to turn this crisis into opportunity for expansion of government, you don’t listen to Speaker Pelosi or read the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Boston Globe. Read the articles and opinion pieces that praise the totalitarian regime in China for its “control measures” that they claim, without evidence, reduced the spread of COVID-19 in China.

  8. To prove that government disfunction in a crisis is not limited to Virginia, read https://nypost.com/2020/04/04/coronavirus-health-clinic-exec-says-offer-to-help-nyc-is-being-ignored/ It happens with government systems unused to crisis operations, and it is always heartbreaking.

  9. Good Lord Jim. ” If you think I exaggerate about the goals of the left to turn this crisis into opportunity for expansion of government, you don’t listen to Speaker Pelosi or read the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Boston Globe. Read the articles and opinion pieces that praise the totalitarian regime in China for its “control measures” that they claim, without evidence, reduced the spread of COVID-19 in China.”

    In a pandemic like we have right now – the Govt must take the lead in prioritizing what the needs are.

    In a regular economy, the private sector does that.

    I have no idea what “speaker Pelosi” is doing but I do know that the folks on the right go ape-crap over her and what she says and then you bring it up in a supposedly non-partisan discussion…

    Geeze.

    Surely all of this you have posted to this point is not rooted in what you just said about the primary difference between conservatives and progressives.
    Are you actually saying this?

    ” Progressives, unschooled in the benefits of either a market economy or personal freedom, want to subjugate both to programs they consider improvements. They will want to turn COVID-19 emergency actions into full time government surveillance and control of wide swaths of an economy that government bureaucracies are demonstrably unsuited to control, even if one thinks that government surveillance and control are good things, which conservatives most assuredly do not.”

    wow…. just wow…. okay, so now we know where we are… moving on…

    Might need to rewind a bit here….

  10. Steve: regarding russia. The communists didnprovide s very basic health care system to a backward, agrarian country back 100 or
    More years ago. They could not keep pace with the West. Higher level medical care was ok; but hospital and nursing care was awful due to sloppy infectious care. Have been in s few if their
    hospitals

  11. I am going to print JS’ earlier comment and save it, under the banner headline: “My rule: Never in the absence of strong evidence attribute to individual malfeasance what can be explained by bureaucratic self-defense mechanisms, sloth, awkwardness or incompetence.”

    Indeed, Yes, [Prime] Minister is the embodiment of that rule. But one reason that show resonated so phenomenally with our generation was that we grew up surrounded by organizations that demonstrated it. After military service during the Vietnam War it was time for me to understand the “administrative law” beast and I spent a career practising that understanding — in a large organization (a private “public service corporation”), rearranging many molehills and the occasional mountain in order to achieve by increments for my client what no frontal assault would have. But I also learned that when the unexpected happens, when years of learned bureacratic procedures are suddenly rendered inadequate, or even irrelevant, there are people in every organization who have a clearer vision than most of what has to happen, of what are the new priorities. And they are usually not at the top of the organization. They are rarely well liked within the organization because they tend to call it like they see it, not tactfully dumbed down.

    But people in the organization know who they are. A good chief executive has informal networks within the organization that bring these irascible savants forward. He has the leadership skills to translate their advice into action, to build support for that action, and to cut through the “bureaucratic self-defense mechanisms, sloth, awkwardness [and] incompetence” thrown across his way.

    The organization I’m talking about may be private, or public, it makes no difference except that public organizations are, in general, far more risk averse than private ones (who are at least forced to respond by market forces beyond their control). The same leadership skills are needed in either a public or a private organization, but more often lacking in public (where politics plays such a larger role).

    So Larry asks, “you gotta admit it’s the govt that tells the private sector what is needed. Right?” No, not right; not at all right. “The govt decides what is needed then tasks the private sector to provide it”? No; I agree with your reply, JS, the private sector does not and cannot wait for government directives. At best the government provides a needed layer of coordination to align what are normally competing private interests in a common effort to defeat a common societal enemy. This is the very thing our antitrust laws are designed to prevent under normal circumstances.

    But: we are in a sustained public crisis here where public opinion has to be shaped and rallied to a near-patriotic fervor. We must do this in support of a highly unpopular, highly abstract, even obtuse goal, preached by condescending scientific “experts” in the big city whose advice is to forego all venues for ‘community’ just when we feel we need them most, to achieve an end result both devastating to every local business we admire and mocked and undercut by the populist in the WH. Shaping public opinion in support of a crash societal effort is one thing that private organizations are poorly equipped to do, and that politicians ought to be good at.

    It is in this role, as cheerleader and consoler-in-chief, that Governor Northam has let us down. The coordination and crisis management breakdowns I won’t forgive him because he should know how and to whom to delegate those tasks — but the public leadership role is one he has to take on personally, and he has failed miserably at that.

    I go on television and I see new conferences featuring DeWine and Cuomo and Hogan and even Mayor Bowser. I hear them articulating the very concerns I have and then telling me what they are doing in their states about those concerns. I have yet to see Northam — at all, let alone addressing my concerns. In fact, what I hear suggests he doesn’t appreciate the public’s concerns and isn’t engaged in seeking answers. This is not poor leadership, as in the WH, but the absence of leadership entirely — particularly when judged by the example of his peers. Virginia has a leadership vacuum at this critical time. Not even Mitre can fill it.

    There are competent people in State government nonetheless; why are we not hearing from them? Who are they? What can ordinary citizens do to call upon them for answers?

    • re: ” So Larry asks, “you gotta admit it’s the govt that tells the private sector what is needed. Right?” No, not right; not at all right. “The govt decides what is needed then tasks the private sector to provide it”? No; I agree with your reply, JS, the private sector cannot and does not wait for government directives. At best the government provides a needed layer of coordination to align what are normally competing private interests in a common effort to defeat a common enemy.”

      NO dude, you have to get the context FIRST. That comment was made in the context of a Pandemic where I said the Govt takes the lead.

      But even in more normal times – for the things the govt takes the lead on – LIKE how many GPS satellites to put in orbit – The govt decides that and then they DO task the private sector. Ditto for Air Craft carriers, or USDA food or border walls , etc, etc.. a wide variety of things the Govt does lead on.

      But especially so in a pandemic. The free market does not KNOW what is needed and where it is needed until GOvt itself has determined what is needed.

      • Actually, in Virginia, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA), with better data than the state, is telling the VDH, which did not track relevant capacity, equipment, staffing and stockpile information in “peacetime”, what is needed. VDH had collected for years some (like hospital capacity and annual staffing requirement numbers but not vacancies) but not nearly all of that information and stored it at contractor vhi.org, but I never saw any evidence that they used it. It would have been used and gaps identified in a multi-day operational exercise, but none was conducted.
        One of several issues is that VHHA does not represent or have data from independent healthcare providers.

  12. My favorite lesson on the free market, government, breakfast cereal, and childhood obesity and diabetes came from an interview with Terry Gross with a representative of the cereal manufacturers. I have on many occasions tried to find it via search on NPR’s site, but with no success, so just the quick and dirty here without links.

    There is one rule in the manufacture of breakfast cereal: Additive sugar is directly proportional to market share. Corollary 1: A breakfast cereal with no sugar is suitable only for making the box that the cereal with additive sugar comes in.

    The cereal manufacturers were being beat up by the consumer groups over contributing to bad childhood health.
    The cereal manufacturers knew that unless they were held to standards, via law and penalties, they’d cheat (see Rule 1, it is a free market).
    So, the cereal manufacturers formed a consortium to work with Congress to write laws limiting sugar and still maintain a level playing field.

    They struggled mightily and the consortium finally had the law crafted, and it went to committee… then nothing. The Bill never left the committee.

    It was everything everyone wanted; reduced sugar for the consumers and the general health of the country, and a level field for the manufactures with limits, testing by the USDA/FDA and penalties to keep everyone honest, including restrictions foreign imported cereals to keep them honest too.

    So why didn’t it reach the floor?

    Three words: Archer Daniels Midland

    And that is why, we cannot rely on industry to handle emergencies.

  13. Larry, I was just messing with you a bit. It is boring in the world of social distancing. I made a bet with my wife that you would write more words in your comments to my column that I did in the column itself. In a close race, I was behind, so I chummed the waters with my progressive – conservative comment. Now she is cooking dinner tonight. Jim

    • Jim – glad to know you actually DO have a sense of humor! I was wondering!

      So you like Speaker Pelosi ? 😉

    • I usually write more words just to describe the thoughts Larry has provoked; forget, answering him. But earning the title “dude” is a new achievement!

      • The point is that the “free market” cannot and does not make decisions with respect to dealing with a pandemic. It has to be led and coordinated by govt.

        The free market WILL produce what is said to be needed – if it can – but in no way does the free market “lead” the response to the pandemic.

        There are some roles the govt does that the free market just does not do.

        If in making this point about pandemics and the “free market” is a “provocation” , then yes.. you might be a Dude, yep. 😉

  14. March 24, Trump said, “You’ll have packed churches all over our country … I think it’ll be a beautiful time.”

    Just now Trump said, “There will be a lot of death.”

    Ah HA! Finally he’s giving insight to his reasoning….

  15. Mr. Sherlock has offered some excellent commentary on the public sector’s preparedness and the usefulness of criticism for process improvement. Of course any measured and effective criticism should be factual based and complete.

    When Mr. Sherlock noted, “If you think I exaggerate about the goals of the left to turn this crisis into opportunity for expansion of government, you don’t listen to Speaker Pelosi or read the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Boston Globe. Read the articles and opinion pieces that praise the totalitarian regime in China for its “control measures” that they claim, without evidence, reduced the spread of COVID-19 in China…”, he evidently ignored or missed the voluminous praise heaped by Mr. Trump on China’s handling of the pandemic crisis.

    One earlier report provided the following:

    “President Donald Trump has in recent days criticized how China handled the coronavirus outbreak, saying Thursday that the “world is paying a very big price for what they did.”
    But as the virus spread rapidly across China in the month of February, Trump repeatedly praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the crisis, saying he’s handled it “really well” and that he was doing “a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”
    A CNN KFile review of Trump’s public statements identified at least 12 occasions in which the President praised or projected confidence about China’s response to coronavirus.
    This shift in tone from Trump represents a broader change in the President’s view of China, as he attempts to deflect responsibility for the ongoing global pandemic to Beijing’s initial handling of the crisis. It also shows how the President sought to downplay the threat of the virus in the weeks before the uptick of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US. ”

    So evidently, praising China in this situation is not simply a left-wing or “socialist” stumble, unless you consider Trump a leftist. Methinks some bias may have trickled into that comment. But the overall perspective provided on improvements needed to implement a more effective public sector response to such an emergency certainly stands as good analysis.

    Thanks for the posting and discussion.

    https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/25/politics/trump-coronavirus-china/index.html

  16. Strong buys:
    Hillenbrand, Inc. (HI),
    Service Corp. International (SCI),
    Carriage Services Inc. (CSV),
    Rock of Ages Corp. (ROAC), and
    Stewart Enterprises Inc. (STEI).

    Vultures gotta eat, same as the worms.

  17. As a progressive who would take this crisis as an opportunity to pass legislation, I propose the Open Season on Anti-Vacc’ers (OSAV) Act.

    If they won’t come in for inoculations, legalize darting.

    This will provide States with a stream of income through licensing hunters, air rifles sales and leasing, and tags and stamps. I especially like the idea of ear tags.

  18. Who around here, opened the gates to the San Diego zoo? That is what I want to know. It’s Palm Sunday, and barely dawn, for God’s sake.

  19. Interesting Article:

    Most of us are under stay-at-home orders. So why are 6 out of 10 still on the road?

    Traffic around the country has plummeted since governments began enacting stay-at-home ­orders amid the coronavirus outbreak, but data from vehicle navigation systems and other monitors shows many of us are still out of our homes and on the road.

    Nationwide, traffic analytics firms say, daily traffic remains at about 60 percent of normal levels, even as the vast majority of Americans tell pollsters they’re staying home more

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/most-of-us-are-under-stay-at-home-orders-so-why-are-6-out-of-10-still-on-the-road/2020/04/04/162adcc6-7434-11ea-87da-77a8136c1a6d_story.html

  20. dunno if you are serious or not… sometimes…. 😉

    the data is coming from companies like INRIX (and others) which basically “count” vehicles by cellphones.

    It has revolutionized traffic analysis and planning…

    they’re even using it now to measure how many are staying at home and how many are not… anonymous – not specific identifying data.

  21. interesting article: [excerpts}

    Germany Pays Workers to Stay Home to Avoid Mass Layoffs
    The post-World War II Kurzarbeit program lets companies keep employees and their know-how.

    … The entrepreneur availed himself of a state-funded program called Kurzarbeit, which translates into short-time work. Dating back to the period following World War II in Germany, it’s designed to help companies weather difficult times without having to resort to mass layoffs, disruptive to businesses and the larger economy. “We would have had to let go pretty much everyone if it weren’t for short-time work,” Koch says. “Now we’re able to hold on to our people and their know-how.”

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-30/germany-pays-workers-to-stay-home-to-avoid-mass-layoffs?utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_medium=social&cmpid=socialflow-twitter-business&utm_content=business&utm_source=twitter

    • It IS a good article and Hogan IS a leader who will speak the unvarnished truth and just to remind you – he is GOVERNMENT not free market.

    • This is a debate that needs to unfold fully here someday: the role of government.

      The choice is not binary; it’s not one or the other; we need both, together; the problem is where to draw the lines between them.

      You said, and I actually agree with you completely about this: “The point is that the “free market” cannot and does not make decisions with respect to dealing with a pandemic. It has to be led and coordinated by govt. The free market WILL produce what is said to be needed – if it can – but in no way does the free market “lead” the response to the pandemic. There are some roles the govt does that the free market just does not do.”

      But you also said, “you gotta admit it’s the govt that tells the private sector what is needed. Right? The govt decides what is needed then tasks the private sector to provide it.” As a general principle that statement is red meat thrown amidst hungry lions! I’ve re-read what you said however and yes, you were talking strictly within the context of the pandemic, but it didn’t come out that way and several readers (including me) reacted accordingly.

      No, the government should not be in charge of the means of production in normal times. Yes, the government should be in charge of re-allocating the private sector’s resources in a crisis. That is the distinction here. Look at what CreGuy said above: “We are constantly told by Mr. Bacon and his ilk that, if left to their own devices, the private sector can govern itself. That is a lie. I can assure you that unless the gov’t told our firm we couldn’t do something, we did it if we could enhance our margins.” I see that illustrated all over NoVa today: “essential businesses” include liquor stores because that revenue goes to the State, and because, well, people want their booze. “Essential businesses” don’t include lawn services and leaf blower services, but they are still working all around here because people want their yards pretty and don’t see that there’s much incremental risk from some workers out in the yard they don’t have to get close to. All that misses the point of ‘social distancing.’ Those yard laborers have families and friends. They work and travel in trucks in close quarters to one another; they are not staying at home like they should, and that is a risk to every one else because it accelerates the spread of the disease, increases the hospital load, etc., etc., for everyone. We can disguise that by saying ‘we’re only concerned about the laborers remaining on salary’ but the truth is, we want our lawns to look nice and the owners of those lawn businesses want to stay in business. This is wrongheaded, and the government should be saying so. The point of social distancing is to slow the spread, lower the peak, and that is not slowing/lowering it.

      The government? Yes, that’s why we have a government — to do things for the good of society that the private sector won’t do, indeed has every incentive not to do or to take advantage of, for private gain. To run the police and fire departments and defend us militarily against our enemies. To make land use and building code and planning decisions that the private sector does poorly if at all. To provide roads and schools and public and (still in transition) private health. To prevent price-fixing and regulate necessary monopolies like public utilities. To provide public leadership during a crisis. And when Governor Northam is missing in action in the middle of the pandemic, I will call him out on it; I will blame him if need be! That is a failure of government; a failure of the man we elected as our governor.

      There is a lot we can debate about what should be the tasks assigned to government during normal times. Government at its best has the interests of society in mind, above those of the marketplace; government at its worst is gross inefficiency and stifling bureaucracy that’s incapable of curing itself. Periodically government has to be cleansed of accumulated sloth; hopefully that can occur through the political process and not require violence — or the election of a “reformer” who beneath his hollow promises to ‘drain the swamp’ turns out to be nothing but a self-centered, venal, petty man, incompetent to tackle the real tasks of governing.

      Within those parameters I hope we agree; which also means, we should not fail to disagree about many particulars, which is why this blog is useful and fun. But this COVID business is a crisis, including, a crisis of failed government and failed leadership. That too is something on which I hope we do agree.

      • re: ” But you also said, “you gotta admit it’s the govt that tells the private sector what is needed. Right? The govt decides what is needed then tasks the private sector to provide it.” As a general principle that statement is red meat thrown amidst hungry lions!”

        Indeed if it was intended as outside a pandemic.

        There are roles for the govt. Perhaps there are disagreements about what they ought to be or not but for the things the govt IS responsible for – they DO decide what they need or not from the private sector/free market.

        The govt decides how many Trident missiles they want the private sectors to provide. They decide how many miles of border fence they want to build. They decide how many NOAA satellites they want to put up. They decide how many miles of interstate highway. They decide how many visitor centers and campsites they want the private sector to build in Yellowstone or the Skyline Drive. etc, etc, etc… the govt buys a LOT of stuff.

        For the economy, the private sector decides what the demand is for but keep in mind also that people buy all kinds of crap that is purely discretionary – like lottery tickets and condos, and big screen TV – at the same time they do not have enough retirement or long term care insurance,etc. It’s NOT a cost-effective system. It’s whatever people want to spend their money on from totally useless crap to things that make them happy.

        Typically when the govt buys something it is more than likely more than something frivolous.

        We probably agree way more than we disagree – the context of my comment was with respect to the pandemic and I do appreciate you circling back to deal with it.

        By the way -several people disagreed even with respect to the pandemic – the SAME folks who were hammering Northam for govt “failure”.

        He has not failed. He just is not a “communicator” like Cuomo is. ALL politicians tap dance about things not working as well as they should – even Cuomo – he just goes on the attack whereas Northam just falls back.

        If the folks in this block who tend to hold Conservative views lived in New York – they’d be after Cuomos butt… I guarantee you.

      • I generally agree, Arbar. I am for strong government confined to its proper rolls, what it does best. Problem is nobody gets fired, the system is rigged, nobody in government is accountable, and government as operated now does more harm than good. Making matters much worse is government increasing is in everybody’s business, enriching and empowering itself.

        I don’t trust private enterprise any more than government, especially now since so many are now crony, in league with corrupt governments. But at least non crony private enterprise is kept honest by the market, and incompetents get fired, or go broke. Then they’re are the crony non-profits, likely now the worse culprits of all, don’t get me started on them.

      • Thanks for joining in, Reed — we do have more we agree on than not; what concerns all of us is the absence of belief, by some, in the ability of our constitution and our political system to respond rationally to a crisis. I’ve been tough on Northam here but mainly because communications is THE key in a crisis to bringing the public along with whatever program the government[s] has decided upon. I’ve been faulting Northam for failure to communicate; JS points out how clueless he was about the facts, at the press conference he did finally hold on all this. But we’re all in this together, trusting to the same government[s] eventually to deal with it. At least, if you’re in Easton, you’ve got Hogan, not Northam.

  22. This talk of leadership kills me… The strength of our (relatively) market based economy is its decentrialized decision making… Millions of consumers and businesses adapting, inovating to the situation in ways a top-down, centralized approach never could. Here’s timely video by John Stossel: https://youtu.be/BC_03KH5Ans

    The only “leadership” you might find in a market is customer demand. I truely beleive that progressives suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect, mainly that they think they can allocate resources more efficently than markets. You’re always going to be able to find imperfections in markets, but you’re not going to do better than markets. If there’s a role of government, its to help businesses that are in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation with their customers.

    There is a “leadership” crisis, mainly our politicians falling over themselves to see who can “do more” than the next politician while the media does everything it can to drive up anxiety levels.

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