Toyota is a large organization: it employs more than 36,000 people in the United States alone. IBM is a large organization: it employs 23,000 people in India alone. WalMart is a a large organization: it employs 1,500,000 people worldwide.
Nobody I know has any complaints about WalMart's efficiency.
Thus my jaw drops when I come across statements like Arnold Kling's:
TCS: Tech Central Station - A Challenge for Brad DeLong: Large organizations, in the private sector and the public sector alike, are inherently dehumanizing to employees, clumsy, inflexible, and unable to handle sudden new challenges.... [S]urviving [private sector] large organizations tend to be slightly less dysfunctional than those that go out of business.... I wish that we could somehow re-run the history of the last three years with Bill Clinton as President and an administrator DeLong admires... as FEMA Director. My guess is that New Orleans after Katrina would have turned out approximately the same -- maybe a little better, perhaps a little worse...
[M]arket outcomes emerge from decentralized interactions among people.... [B]elievers in Intelligent Design.... The more government fails, the harder they want to try.... If pork-barrel public works projects contributed to the catastrophe in New Orleans, then appropriate billions for pork-barrel public works projects as "relief." Is President Bush particularly bad at administration? I do not think that DeLong is in a position to judge.... I do not believe that one can mold a spectacularly effective government out of the clay of imperfect human beings. I do not believe it is possible for large organizations to behave as if they were the products of Intelligent Design...
"Inherently" rather than "can easily become."
Shouldn't the fact that WalMart finds it more efficient to be a bureaucracy of 1.5 million people--rather than to split itself up into 15,000 companies of a hundred employees each--make Arnold Kling a little hesitant in his declarations that FEMA was bound to foul up this badly no matter what? Serious thoughts about when wants to use market and when one wants to use command-and-large-organizations--and how one then controls command-and-bureaucracy--would be very welcome here.
Mark Schmitt provides some:
TPMCafe: There are some good points in Matt Yglesias's article noting that plenty of Bush appointees aren't all that well qualified. His point that Michael Chertoff's background as a prosecutor doesn't make him well suited to manage most of the functions of DHS was borne out by the revelation that Chertoff bears responsibility for the delay in FEMA response to Katrina, and may not have understood what he needed to do to trigger the response. But I think this misses a bit of what's going on....
The head of any large agency is inevitably going to lack expertise in many key functions of the agency. Homeland Security, among its other problems, may be just too large and diverse for anyone to manage, but the same will be true of many agencies -- how likely is it that an Interior Secretary who knows a lot about open space and wetlands issues would also be expert in the Bureau of Indian Affairs issues, for example?
I don't really expect Chertoff to know exactly what form he needs to sign to trigger an "Incident of National Significance" declaration. But I expect him to have a chief of staff who pulls together the meeting that brings that information up to the secretary's level promptly.... [W]hat matters most about what's happened in the last few years is that career public servants don't have that same attitude anymore. As Paul Krugman pointed out, in places like FEMA, the FDA, Interior, EPA, top career people are leaving in droves.
There was a terrifying quote in Mike Allen's story about the administration: "Katrina has shown the incredible weakness of the notion that you can have weak players in key spots because the only people who matter are in the White House" -- quoting a Republican lobbyist. It would make sense to say, "you can have weak players in key spots because the people who matter are the operational bureaucrats." That's a familiar concept of government, it's how you survive an Ed Meese. But the idea that it's White House staff who would compensate for the weakness of individual cabinet officers -- that is really something new. And it's absolutely crazy. It shows a total disdain and disregard for what government does. White House staff can sometimes do the broad-brush development of a policy initiative. But even the most seriously qualified White House staff -- let's say the Program Associate Directors at the Office of Management and Budget -- can't manage an agency or implement an initiative or help it survive.
That's why it's so important to forget about Michael Brown or Chertoff or the individuals involved and focus some attention on the system that made it all possible -- a radical, unprecedented system of centralized, politicized control that is guaranteed to fail.
And yes, George W. Bush is bad at administration. He is bad at spotting administrative talent. He is bad at telling who among his subordinates is telling whom the truth and who is telling him pleasing lies.
Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.