"The most well-known problem in American public administration stems from the appointment of politically well-connected incompetents to positions of administrative authority. Yet the negative effects of the spoils system are felt all the way down the organizational hierarchy" 1/2
"...the most senior positions are monopolized by individuals who come from outside... As a result, it is much more difficult to recruit talented and ambitious young people to the civil service, because there is no career path from entry-level positions to senior management." 2/2
-- From Joseph Heath, The Machinery of Government.

Westminster systems exhibit greater administrative competence than the US presidential system thanks to its permanent civil service (eg. Permanent secretaries in the UK & Deputy ministers in Canada).

amazon.com/dp/B08DYC51G6/…
An incoming president makes over 4,000 appointments directly, of which at least 1,000 require Senate approval. In total, common estimates put number of personnel who change during a presidential transition at around 50,000.

A few thoughts...
The lack of a permanent, upper-level civil service in US can be compensated for through independent agencies like the Fed. But in ordinary agencies, new administrations must not only find issue area experts, but appointees with the acumen to navigate the federal bureaucracy.
The big think tanks in DC function, in some measure, as holding pens for would-be senior civil servants and political appointees. They basically get to practice the skills of drafting and communicating policy, managing stakeholders, studying process, etc., until it's their turn.
K Street and the private sector also fill that role to some extent. Thus where the Westminster system has permanent civil servants, the U.S. is forced to rely on a quasi-permanent class of would-be civil servants forced to daylight as wonks, lobbyists, politicos, and executives.
This obviously exposes US public administration to far more rent-seeking, incompetence, and discontinuity between administrations than is necessary much less desirable. Appointees and transition staff aren't beholden to the normal professional ethics of career public servants.
In Westminster systems, the permanent civil service is duty bound to politically neutrality: civil servants are not to engage in partisan opposition to the government, nor in partisan activities in support of the ruling party; ie. neither disloyalty nor *excessive* loyalty.
In Canada, federal civil servants used to be prohibited from political party activism until our Supreme Court ruled that this violated freedom of expression outside of work hours. Yet the ethos remains strong. Deviating from impartiality is a sure fire way to never get promoted.
A strict ethos of political neutrality is a side-effect of having a permanent civil service. It's both codified and a strong norm / convention given the need for trust and continuity across governments of different political parties. Imagine the Hatch Act but on steroids.
The Hatch Act is such a joke in the US context because the senior civil servant and the political appointee are often one and the same person. Likewise, the holding tanks for would-be admin officials are inevitably tinged by ideological bias, whether its CAP or Heritage or AEI.
As a result, the US system has the worst of both worlds. Not only does it forgo the acumen of a permanent civil service to enable new administrations to efficiently execute a policy agenda, it also undermines the ethos of impartiality required for enduring public legitimacy.
This leads to all sorts of confusion in the public discourse. Trump's complaints about the Deep State, for example, seem to imply that a career civil service is a bad thing from the POV of executing his policy agenda. But in a sense this is upside down and backwards.
Trump's agenda was stymied because he *lacked* a permanent, high ranking civil service that knew how to effectively navigate the bureaucracy. Instead, he was forced to rely on his appointees, most of whom are incompetent, or randos from industry or some conservative think tank.
Meanwhile, to the extent that career staff under Trump have behaved in a less-than-impartial fashion, it's because the US *lacks* a true permanent civil service through which a strict ethos of neutrality can be cultivated, both as a norm and via promotions to senior positions.

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More from @hamandcheese

6 Sep
"Cancel culture" is less due to a set of bad ideas gaining influence than a collective action failure created by modern social media. That's why you can see it everywhere yet it's hard to identify anyone who earnestly supports it, beyond the occasional post-hoc rationalization.
The Right's view of cancel culture is too ideas-drive, as if it were the fulfilment of the theories of some dead Marxist. That's a fallacy of composition, confusing micro motives & macro behavior. Liberals make the same reification, writing open letters to emergent phenomena.
If we took a step back and saw cancel culture as a kind of prisoners dilemma, we would tell fewer morality tales and focus more on changing the rules of our communication medium, which is what creates the payoff structure in the first place.
Read 4 tweets
25 Jul
This is a great report on the causes of family breakdown, however its focus on trends (wages, transfers, college attainment, social liberalization) misses what may be the most important cross-sectional factor: imbalanced sex ratios.

jec.senate.gov/public/index.c…
There is substantial variation in sex ratios across the US, driven by a variety of forces that correlate with their explanatory variables. Eg. Women now have much higher rates of education, but differential success in college has also skewed sex ratios in cities and college towns
Cross sectional analysis of US states and counties finds: "When sex ratios are male-biased, men and women are more likely to be married, fewer children are born out of wedlock, and fewer households are headed by women." The reverse holds when women>men.

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/P….
Read 8 tweets
6 Jul
New from me:

If fusionism is really on life support, social conservatives should stop letting "small government" libertarians put them in a policy straightjacket, and embrace direct support for families and children.

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In a recent essay for the American Conservative, Oren Cass offered a compelling critique of conservatism’s “free market fundamentalism,” and argued that whatever comes after Trump must “depart substantially from what came before.”

theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-f…
I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, the post-Trump vision Cass presents fails to depart from what’s arguably *the key* pre-Trump conservative dogma:

Hostility to anything that smacks of “redistribution.”
Read 11 tweets
27 Jun
Ancaps became white nationalists because they realized the institutions that would form spontaneously in a stateless society would mirror racially separated prison gangs.

Murray Rothbard, for ex, supported both the Black Panthers and neo-Confederates for accelerationist reasons.
Rothbard saw how the collapse of the Soviet Union gave rise to previously suppressed nationalisms, and reasoned that a similar collapse of the US government would produce decentralized "nations of consent," a feasible 2nd best to total privatization.
mises.org/library/nation…
If your primary enemy is the state, you end up making peace with the (ethno)nations that replace it.

This distinguishes ancaps from the liberal social contract tradition, which associates liberty to the modern state as a tool to transcend rule by clan.
niskanencenter.org/explaining-whi…
Read 15 tweets
25 Jun
Concerned about IRS making improper payments? They would have modernized by now if not for below market salaries and bureaucratic nightmare of the GS system.
Wang's story makes the National Academy of Public Administration's case for shifting "from a culture of compliance to one focused on performance" ... “through flexible teams, not rigid structures, and building competencies around employees, not positions."
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Rather than determine gov't salaries by looking at similar positions in the private sector, GS pay levels rise according to an opaque formula based on BLS survey data.

That means mass layoffs of lower wage workers may lead to a big GS pay bump. Craziness!
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Read 4 tweets
9 Jun
This story is nuts.

A group of eight IRS employees led by Jian Wang developed a method for extracting logic from assembly code to convert it into a modern language.

They managed to convert 90% of the IRS's Individual Master File code to Java.

Until...
federalnewsnetwork.com/tom-temin-comm…
..until Wang's position expired in 2017.

Wang held one of 40 slots under which the IRS could pay temporary, full-time employees higher than GS rates—an authority Congress chose not to renew in 2013.

Before Treasury approved his GS-15, Wang had a new job.
federalnewsnetwork.com/tom-temin-comm…
The Java-converted master file was to have run in parallel with the assembler code for the 2018 tax filing season, and to have replaced the assembler for 2019.

Without Wang, that didn't happen.

For his work, Wang's was awarded this patent in Oct 2018: patentswarm.com/patents/US1044…
Read 5 tweets

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