Friday, April 17, 2009

Letter to Geraldo Rivera Re Gov. Rick Perry's Call for State Sovereignty

Dear Mr. Rivera: I chanced to see your appearance on the O'Reilly Factor while at a friend's house. I was disappointed in your reaction to Gov. Rick Perry's position on state sovereignty and I also disagree with you about Mayor Bloomberg, on whose campaign I worked in 2001 and 2005. In particular, you resorted to name calling, saying that Perry had resorted to a "fringe" position.

The question of centralization and decentralization ought to be placed in the context not only of American political debate but also of the development of managerial knowledge. The trend toward centralization began with William Jennings Bryan's candidacy, or perhaps with Abraham Lincoln, was carried forward during the Wilson admininstration, amplified during the FD Roosevelt administration and amplified further since the 1960s. By the 1920s managers of large businesses realized that decentralization is a more efffective managerial strategy than centralization. The fact that Republicans like T Roosevelt and Democrats like FDR pushed for centralization at the very time that leading managers like Alfred Sloan were recognizing the advantages of decentralization was a function of fallacies of the Progressive and New Deal ideology. We know that centralization is wrong because conglomerates that are well run have almost all resorted to decentralization. The federal government, where mismanagement is the rule, has insisted on centralization because of an awkward political inheritance that equates decentralization with racism. Your reference to this legacy was a sorry non-sequitor.

The tragic results of the centralizing strategic error that occurred in the 20th century have been manifold. They range from a bloated, ineffective federal government, to inflation due to the Federal Reserve Bank, to failed public benefit plans like Social Security and Medicare. I do not think it is "fringe" or "extreme" to judge that the increase in Social Security benefits in the early 1970s was ill considered and harmful to subsequent generations. It resulted from incompetent political decision making processes (i.e., overly centralized democracy resulting in transfer from later to earlier generations) and was harmful to future generations of an entire nation rather than of a single state. In contrast, the depredations on inner cities caused by urban renewal in the postwar era was more localized because it occurred on a state by state basis. Had Robert Moses taken his wrecking ball to the entire nation, the entire nation would have gone bankrupt in the 1970s instead of just New York City.

I don't expect you to be familiar with the range of managerial literature that emphasizes the benefits of decentralization, but such an idea is very much within the tradition of pragmatism. Sadly, the majority "consensus" of Democrats and Republicans that has emphasized a rigid and ill considered policy of centralization and reduction in state power over many decades might be better considered to be an "extremist" or "fringe" viewpoint. Majorities have been wrong many times, and this is one of them. In any case, calling people who disagree with you names like "extremists" is not a sign of clear thinking. It is a tactic in which the centralizers have long engaged, at least since Theodore Roosevelt. This sort of behavior might silence opponents, but it does a bad job of uncovering the facts.

I would add that your love of Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also ill considered. His association with the Independence Party from whom he recruited hapless "volunteers"; his failure to cut or improve New York City's government; his failure to attract new business to New York when times were good on Wall Street; his failure to reform the corrupt construction codes; and his indifference to the plight of small business people in New York, whom he has harrassed in a variety of ways, speak to a second or third rate mayor, not one to extol.


Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.

No comments: