I am happy to announce that I have completed the return drive from North Carolina. In total, the round trip was about 1,500 miles with my wife, my 2 year old son, and my 8 month old daughter in an SUV for approximately 25 driving hours. As I was doing this, I encountered a scene which struck me as a metaphor for bureaucrats of Mitch Daniels’ nature. I’m not saying it is insightful or elegant; in its delerium, one’s mind can conjure up all sorts of metaphors during that sort of road trip.
In several states, but particularly in Indiana — perhaps by coincidence, I saw long stretches of road torn up for construction while only a very small portion of that road was actually being worked on, creating delays for drivers that are longer than apparently necessary. I’m sure there is a reason for this. My non-cynical suspicion is that it is cheaper to do stages of construction in fewer longer stretches than to do the stages in more numerous short stretches. My cynical suspicion is that contractors want to rip up the road before anyone changes their mind.
Going with the non-cynical explanation, that it’s cheaper this way, it occurred to me that it’s only cheaper for the costs that are being measured. If you count the cost to individual motorists of lost time, inconvenience, fuel, increased time in close quarters with a screaming infant, and decreased family harmony as the occupants of the vehicle turn upon one another (o.k., those last few may not be generally applicable), then the cost/benefit equation looks a lot different. And here is where Mitch comes in. His brand of “smaller” government seems, in many cases, to be nothing more than shifting costs to where they can’t be measured. Sweeping them under the rug, as it were. In fact, the road construction I described is probably a little more useful as a metaphor than as an example. I doubt this method of construction is at all peculiar to Indiana or Gov. Daniels. But he seems to have a passion for shifting costs in this fashion. A better example is FSSA closing the state hospitals. It doesn’t eliminate the costs, it just shifts them on to those in need who will in turn create other costs, most likely for local law enforcement which ends up being the provider of last resort. The jails can’t say no.
At the moment, I’m a bit road weary to develop this idea further at the moment (yet another cost!), but when you hear Mitch or purported advocates of “small” government like him bragging about cutting costs, look closely to see whether the costs have actually been cut or merely externalized where they can’t effectively be measured.