Perverse Incentives: The Neglect of Social Technology in the Public Sector
a book by Theodore Caplow
(our site's book review)
This book is a scathing indictment of the American welfare state and the social engineering concept in general. Every liberal should be required to read this book over and over until they get it. The book makes its points very well. “Enormous amounts of money were poured into government programs that were designed in haste, installed without reflection, and operated without attention to results.”
Built into health care are powerful incentives for providers to raise their fees, and for patients to accept unnecessary procedures. Built into welfare are punishments for unmarried mothers who marry or take jobs. Built into the criminal justice system are lavish rewards for drug-dealing. Built into the education system are ingenious punishments for teachers and students who take learning too seriously. Built into the liability system are incentives for insurers to reduce protection, for claimants to seek extravagant compensation, and for lawyers to promote nuisance suits. Attempts to reform these systems have failed, and the interest groups involved have too much at stake to allow any tampering with the status quo. In each case, principles of social technology are ignored, and bureaucratic perversity prevails while efficiency, fairness, good sense, thrift, logic and scientific analysis are not even factors for consideration.
The incredibly naïve social engineers involved in all this actually evaluated social programs on the basis of the goodness of intentions, never once considering the goodness of results! This is equivalent to saying that our country has substituted witchcraft and astrology for the methods of science, and the Enlightenment was simply an interesting movie, not a reality that actually happened and changed the world.
Second Wave caving in to the power of coercion and wealth from special interests prevailed, and Third Wave application of careful science, knowledge and diligently applied social technology simply didn’t happen. We have a democracy which rests on the foundation of science and progress, but a political system which rests on the power of the almighty dollar of interest groups, on misinformation, and on infinite and merciless litigation from special interest lawyers to delay and impede the sanctions or restrictions from any regulation that is not aligned with their agendas. The fact that such things are legal does not make it anything less than the corruption of American democracy.
Referring to the neglect of social technology in the public sector, according to Caplow, “The large body of knowledge accumulated by social research about motivation, learning, behavior control, family structure, bureaucratic processes and many other relevant matters is seldom consulted by the careless designers. . . . [there] was a massive escalation of costs without corresponding benefits. Between 1960 and 1994, health care costs outpaced inflation by 5 to 1, education costs by 3 to 1, welfare costs by 2 to 1, criminal justice costs by 3 to 1, and liability costs by 6 to 1. The public got very little for its money.” These rising costs are still continuing as of 2013.
He says that “These defective systems are interconnected in many ways and their defects are mutually reinforcing. The failures of the welfare system undermine the public schools. The failures of the schools feed the mills of criminal justice. The aberrations of the liability system stimulate medical inflation. . . . If anyone undertook to make serious and realistic projections of the eventual monetary costs of the incipient child care program, it would be immediately apparent that the program is unaffordable.” (Of course, in 2013 they're barely funding such programs, even though there is lavish support for it verbally, all of which brings to mind the first thing they tell people in movie director classes: "show me—don't tell me.")
This latter is just another item in a growing pile of evidence that points out that the last thing we need from our government is its bungling interference in the childcare arena. We don’t need their “well-intentioned” social engineers to muck up yet another area of American life, nor do we need their bureaucratic inefficiencies to further inflate the already staggering cost of childcare for many Americans.
Childcare at a center
The childcare answers are contained in the MC movement, which empowers families and individuals without the slightest recourse to government (or any other type of) programs, or taxes, or reliance on “benevolent others who probably/maybe/perhaps have our best interests at heart (we hope). See Why Register for an MC?.
Registering for MC search and match
It allows people to solve their own problems, which is what they all want to do, and it does this in the most Third Wave style imaginable, using the best knowledge in all of science, but without one single person imposing any program, opinion, or decision on any other person—everyone may choose whatever they feel is best for themselves and not a single person will end up doing anything s/he did not want to do, choose and believe in. The best way to aggravate an already overwhelming problem is to take the responsibility out of the hands of families and give it to government bureaucrats. One would have to be insane, in light of all the evidence, to favor such an approach.
This 1994 book predicts that if the government is allowed to intervene in childcare, there will be profiteering, substandard care, regulatory costs, recruitment problems, insurance costs, and, of course, the inevitable price escalation. It is now 2013 and a smart-ass summary here would be: "They were. There is. And prices skyrocketed."
The author tells us that “All things considered, the principles of social technology are not complex or difficult to apply, but ever since it became the custom of the country to neglect them in favor of good intentions and symbolic enactments, the effects of legislative and judicial initiatives have been more harmful than beneficial.” Caplow looks at how most of the money dumped into the various systems end up lining the pockets of system personnel, not the people the system is designed to aid.
Money dumped into the various systems end up lining the pockets of system personnel
Those in the know have predicted that none of these systems will ever change until the greed that motivates the abuses drive these systems to the point of catastrophe. The fact that the people want these things changed is irrelevant, which means the democracy is dysfunctional. Special interest money talks loudly, and the will of the people is not backed by the only thing which ever seems to grease the political wheels—bucks. It’s pretty much a Frankenstein scenario, where no matter how much one intends to create an entity that is good, it always gets out of control and runs amok.
Frankenstein runs amok