Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All or Nothing

This week, President Obama announced a plan to freeze the wages of ALL Federal employees for two years,  saving billions of dollars.  My first reaction was "Good for him!  Saving billions is a step in the right direction."  After thinking about it, I realized the fallacy of this move.

While I believe that there are many Federal workers that deserve a wage freeze, not "All" do.

Similar "All or Nothing" thinking:

  • ALL people traveling on airplanes are suspected terrorists and are subjected to extreme measures (taking off clothing items, not allowing the carry of any liquids, subject to invasive electronic and physical searching) 
  • ALL deep-water drilling must stop for 6-months (Obama's offshore drilling moratorium after the BP Oil Spill), hurting many viable and safe drill sites and impacting the jobs and related economy. 
  • The $787 Billion Stimulus included ALL spending ideas (Why not pick the most valuable spending ideas and then authorize spending as needed?).
  • The Healthcare Reform Act included ALL 2000+ pages of reform (why not just pick the best couple of ideas and see how they work?)
This problem isn't Democrat nor is it Republican.  It's a "leave it to me, I know best" mentality.  When the All or Nothing decisions are made they typically result in unintended bad consequences.  The resulting criticism draws the excuse that "it would be too hard to sort out the good from the bad" or "we'll fix it later"[1].  

Extreme examples of "All or Nothing" thinking
  • During the French Revolution, the idea that ALL Aristocrats were bad and should be executed.
  • In early U.S. history, the idea that ALL blacks were inferior and NONE should be allowed basic civil rights.
  • Nazi Germany's idea that ALL Jews are bad for Germany 
  • During World War II, the idea in the U.S that ALL Japanese immigrants were bad and should be put in concentration camps. 

What would be a better approach to cutting the cost of Federal wages?  Here's my idea:
  1. Evaluate the relative "value" of all Federal Departments and Agencies (listed here)
  2. Determine a percentage that each Department/Agency needs to cut.
  3. Give the head of each Dept./Agency the task of making the cuts.
  4. The head of each Dept./Agency then performs steps 1-3 for his subordinates.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 until you reach the bottom of the decision makers.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 evary 1 to 12 months until you've balanced the budget.

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