If people have too little money, the state needs to raise wages; too much money, it needs to raise taxes.
Too much violence in Iraq and Washington needs to stop policing the world; too much violence in Syria and Washington needs jump in.
Government needs to reform health care immediately; how else can they fix the problems created by their last reform?
Whenever there’s any problem anywhere, our politicians and chattering classes cry, “We need to do something!”
But too often, when government decides to do something, it makes the situation worse.
A few examples how government has make things worse:
The something-doers never learn that doing nothing often has the best result. Just imagine the economic growth over the past decade if Washington politicians had just relaxed in their hammocks rather than doing, doing, doing.
Before our leaders blindly jump in to “fix” things, they should consider G.K. Chesterton’s fence. The British writer observed that too many reformers come across an old fence blocking a road and insist that it be dismantled at once.
The more intelligent reformer will instead figure out why that fence was built in the first place. John F. Kennedy often cited this paradox to focus his team on reforms that would actually help.
Another leader who hated busy work was an anti-Nazi German general named Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord. When he was put in charge of personnel a century ago, his superiors expected him to surround himself with a bunch of “do something” addicts.
Instead, Hammerstein-Equord divided the officer corps into four categories:
Most would consider the second group (bright and energetic) to be the best candidates for promotion.
Hammerstein-Equord, however, viewed them with suspicion. He knew that they tended to be micromanagers, making them lousy leaders. He never promoted them to a commanding officer level.
Hammerstein-Equord gave the first group (lazy dullards) simple, unchallenging tasks, while those in the third group were considered dangerous and simply fired.
That last group – the bright and lazy – was the one Hammerstein-Equord promoted to the highest levels of the military. This group was smart enough to see what needed to be done but lazy enough to find the easiest, most direct way to succeed. Such a person wouldn’t get mired in the details, but delegated those chores to his staff.
Maybe then we'd think before doingIf you follow the news, most of our political class falls in groups two and three. The brainy micromanagers on the right and left concoct ornate bureaucracies that ultimately fail. The dim busy-bodies slap together ill-considered laws that damage our economy and our lives.
If we had more bright and lazy leaders, Washington might take a moment to think before they did something foolish. They might also understand that some problems are best solved by citizens, non-profit organizations, or the free market.
Chesterton and Hammerstein-Equord remind me of President Calvin Coolidge’s advice: “When you see 10 problems rolling down the road, if you don’t do anything, nine of them will roll into a ditch before they get to you.”
Instead of frantically chasing every perceived issue, our politicians should identify those rare issues that they actually can improve.
And before rushing to do something, they should think long and hard about the solution and its repercussions first. Preferably after a long nap in their hammock.