Multiplicity of Illinois governments just symptomatic of American government overall?

Whet Moser at the 312 Blog links Illinois’ long-standing issue of having lots of government bodies with how government works at the national level:

Yesterday I went on CNBC to talk with Rick Santelli about the unusually large number of governments (not just cities and counties and townships, but school districts and mosquito abatement districts and whatnot) the state of Illinois has. It’s a lot—more than any other state, including states with bigger populations and more square mileage. I wrote about this awhile ago; the BGA did a report last year; it’s been a political issue for awhile, one that both Kirk Dillard and Pat Quinn have floated…

It’s not big government; it’s kludge government. I loved this passage from Teles (emphasis mine):

Conservatives over the last few years have increasingly claimed that America is, in Hayek’s terms, on the road to serfdom. This is ridiculous, for it ascribes vastly greater coherence to American government than we have ever achieved. If anything, we have arrived at a form of government with no ideological justification whatsoever…

This comes from Suzanne Mettler’s “submerged state” thesis. It’s a kludge in action: keeping the political system functioning by burying the actual actions of government under a confusing web of laws. And the greater the number of laws, the more nooks and crannies for the “kludge industry” to embed itself: “having pulled the fundamental knowledge needed for government out of the state and into the private sector, thus becomes nearly indispensable.”

This argument could provide a way between the current debate about whether to have a big or limited federal government: let’s just make sure the system actually works rather than burying itself under a blizzard of rules and exceptions that few people can fully understand. Both small and big government can be run poorly or in less efficient ways.

This also provides good insight into the nature of complex social systems. When institutions become larger and larger (and don’t forget American government today is setting policy for over 300 million people), it is really hard to keep things simple. This reminds me of Max Weber’s warnings one hundred years ago about the threats of bureaucracy. While such systems might be the best way to deal with complex problems on a broad scale, they can become bloated and reified. Weber was pessimistic about the options but the fate of modern nation states like the United States might just depend on being able to cut through some of the complicated structures.

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