The Life of Ants
A centrally managed, but inherently unnatural, system requires a lot of inputs and control mechanisms to keep up the appearance of stability. Because everything is imposed from the top, not from the operation of rational choice from below, the level of costs rises in proportion to the level of desired control. By contrast, a society that relies on individual rational choice need only watch out for the outliers, such as criminal behavior. They can leave everything else alone, and manage things by exception, not by detailed specification.
Recently, Fox News reported the story of a little girl whose lunch box was disallowed (and her parents fined) because it did not meet some obscure standard. Who knew there were food police in school? "Trace Gallagher reported that a lunch inspector at the school told the girl she couldn’t eat her turkey sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice. Instead, providing the girl with a USDA-approved lunch with the following guidelines: one serving of meat, one serving of grains, and two servings of fruit or vegetables."
Well, you learn something new every day. But the most interesting aspect of the incident came from a follow-up story. The inspection system is paid for by the administration's "stimulus program." Stimulus program? But of course. The effort required to protect little girls from turkey sandwiches is not to be underestimated. Without billions, how could you afford it? Here's what it takes to screen a sandwich:
it still isn’t clear who the inspector was who deemed this little girl’s lunch was unhealthy, but that it was an agent from the Department of Health and Human Services at the state level. Apparently a division within the department comes to the school every year to conduct an evaluation related to the More at Four program, which is a North Carolina state program.
Burrows said, “As part of the evaluation, they look at students lunches that are brought from home to make sure that they meet USDA guidelines. And this school, we’re told, lost points this year because too many children were bringing their lunches from home and they did not meet, according to this inspector, the USDA guidelines.”
The costs of running a society by detailed regulation do not scale in a linear fashion. Adding a single little thing requires committees to coordinate between committees; oversight and review functions; evaluation units and managers to manage everything. And that doesn't even count the cost of politically selling and defending each and every new mandate.
Defending and selling all these expansions of government power is also expensive because you have to beat down the objectors. The most interesting thing about reports that Media Matters, a George Soros-funded tax-exempt organization, has an "enemies list" is that it exists at all. Because once you start, where does it end? A leaked internal memorandum shows that its confidential intention is to investigate "the backgrounds, connections, operations and political and financial activities of the individuals" of the following:
News CorpFox News Channel
Fox Business Network
Fox News’ websites
Conservative news sitesWorldNetDaily
Conservative think thanksThe Heritage Foundation
American Enterprise Institute
News Corp executivesRupert Murdoch
Conservative donorsPeter Thiel
Richard Mellon Scaife
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
John M. Olin Foundation
Koch Family Foundations
Fox News executivesCEO Roger Ailes
Senior vice president Michael Clemente
Vice president of news Sean Smith
Vice president of new editorial product Jay Wallace
Fox Business Network executive vice president Kevin Magee
Fox personalitiesGlenn Beck
Fox senior production and corporation staffHannity executive producer John Finley
On the Record executive producer Meade Cooper
O’Reilly Factor senior executive producer David Tabacoff
Fox & Friends executive producer Lauren Petterson
Political figuresCarly Fiorina
Whether or not one believes Media Matters is acting properly or improperly with respect to their tax exempt status, anyone can see this effort will cost a lot of money. What is less obvious is that it is also prone to geometric increase. Because the list isn't long enough. It is never long enough.