Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The IRS scandal may have been unavoidable

As the IRS scandal plays itself out, there are three competing narratives. The first two look for whatever it was that motivated IRS workers in Cincinnati to target groups that seemed to be pushing conservative or libertarian causes. One theory is that a command came from the top - whether by express command or by the persistent demonization of the political opposition by our rather demagogic President and others in his administration. The other is that the genesis was the union that represents revenue agents. These theories, of course, are not mutually exclusive.

The countervailing theory, pushed heavily in Sunday's New York Times, is that there was no motivation - that this was just a misbegotten effort to "rationalize" the office's workload that just happened to target groups that the administration and union does not like. Sort of a screwed up form of serendipity. Wrong, but fortuitous.

There is, however, a fourth theory, It is that this particular form of abuse was baked in the books. There are certain parts of our society - think university faculties, legacy media operations and certain government offices - that are extraordinarily intellectually homogeneous and conformist. The assumption the groups like the ACLU or Voces de la Frontera who advance highly controverted  conceptions of the public good about which persons of different partisan persuasions differ - are somehow political and advance goals that "everyone" shares is in the air.

Organizations that advance different ideas about the public good - preferences for limited government and individual liberty in areas other than personal behavior - are seen as - here's one for you - the "other" - people who advance goals that "everyone" does not share and who are, therefore, "political" in a way that the ACLU and Voces are not.

If that's so, then no one needed to call for behavior that almost everyone know recognizes are reprehensible. It arose organically.

There is a lesson there for people who believe that ideological diversity is not important - that professors, reporters and bureaucrats are super men and women who can somehow arise above the biases that weigh down the rest of us.

There is a lesson there for those, like our President, who tell us not to fear concentrations of power because we can trust centralized decision-makers to behave in neutral and enlightened manners. One of the reasons that conservatives and libertarians prefer markets is not that (as the left mistakenly charges) that we think markets and business are always right, but that markets and businesses are far more likely to be allowed to fail when they are wrong.

The tragedy is that these lessons are likely to be lost on those that most need to learn them.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin


Tom said...

This was my first reaction, too. Groupthink combined with unconscious cognitive biases. One of the best reasons government should not be as big and as powerful as it is.

Anonymous said...

Remembering hearing our former Village President say, "it is too important a decision to be left to the voters" regarding a petition of place a referendum question on the ballot, you have done a perfect job describing 'their' mindset. Genius.

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