There is a perverse new meme brewing on the right, a riff on the apparent impotence of the Obama administration to stop the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. It goes like this: some things are just too big and complex for the government to deal with. In fact, 21st century life itself has grown too complex and interconnected for government to deal with. So let’s scale back our expectations and our reliance on government to fix stuff. Just go with the flow, as it were.
At NRO, Yuval Levin dismissed the anger over the response to Hurricane Katrina as unjustified because “accidents happen.” David Brooks argued that technological systems had grown too complex to manage in a column last week. In a later NPR discussion with E.J. Dionne, he rejected the idea that more effective regulation might have made a difference in heading off the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
As for the regulation, if you go down the list of decisions that were made that led to this disaster, the interpreting of the tests, whether to recycle the cement, how to recycle the mud, how to set the cement, none of these things is clear to me would be solved by different regulations. There are certain decisions that have to be made on the spot on a case by case basis and they were made, in this case, by people under extreme duress and in extreme ignorance. I’m not sure a regulator 3,000 miles away could really have done a better job.
It’s interesting how Brooks can take a good point (the problems of growing techno-complexity) and, in a sentence, turn it into a dumb, knee-jerk point. (more…)