Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Uninformed Decision-Making"

A lot of hay was made over this when the New Orleans City Coucil voted to tear down most of New Orleans' public housing, so this must be examined.

We have a problem with affordable housing in this town, as do most cities nationwide. The choice presented (more like distorted) by the media and by professional activists was between keeping/protecting the old way of doing things (that wasn't really assisting economically troubled demographics) or tearing stuff down and rebuilding from scratch (which did not address systemic problems).

The teardown happened because government organizations in management capacities and public housing advocates lacked the credibility to fix the problems with the system before the moment of decision. Teardown and rebuild became public policy because that plan was veiwed by decision makers as the most likely to affect positive change.

This same kind of thing happened to New Orleans' public schools, and the ramifications are felt nationwide. They are primary examples of how politics affect culture. (Warning: Wonky public policy & narrative examination to follow)

How does this change occur?

On a micro scale, if localities cannot manage their government organizations and duties, it erodes credibility of all associated government officials. Progress-resistant behaviors emerge in the population.

Individual citizens either engage (a minority) or disengage (the majority) with local civil matters. This disengagement manifests itself in powerful ways, either driving population away to areas percieved to have more effective governments and services or cynically limiting mechanisms to hold local government officials accountable.

The minority of citizens who choose to engage in changing things have their work cut out for them. If they are unable to affect positive change in local government organizations over the long term, the credibility of the advocacy group is questionable at moments of decision. Some advocacy groups become progress-resistant themselves, opting to expand their prestige and power within the scope of the failing government organization that they have been unable to change. This further erodes the credibility of all advocacy groups associated with the failing government organization.

It does not matter if the advocates were lobbying for change before the moment of decision, they must be seen doing so in highly publicized ways. Such groups can no longer afford to host sign-holding gatherings or sign petitions or write letters to the editors at the moment of decision. This two-pronged assignment makes things difficult on advocacy groups, for they must now attempt to affect change, actually affect change, and publicize every move in order to bolster their credibility with the public and decision-makers - and they have to do all of this on tight budgets and usually with volunteer labor.

On a macro level, these factors are used in the narratives of progress-resistant politics. These interests increase power and capital by keeping things the way they are or proposing "reforms" that only solidify their position. Usually, such reforms inadequately address systemic problems they were created to address.

Advocacy groups that have attempted to change failing government organizations are cast as allies of the failure due mainly to their opposition to these inadequate or unproven "reforms."

Right now, these specific issues are feeding the "big government vs. small government" false choice that the Republican Party and the TEA Party are using as a policy brand. This is an easy narrative to get behind when witnessing government organization failure coupled with lack of credibility on the part of advocacy groups. Unfortunately, "reforms" proposed in GOP & TP policy and practice have not addressed the systemic problems they are meant to address.

Notice that the criticisms of HANO include "understaffed" and "uses too many contractors for day-to-day operations." This is the practice of small-government "conservatism" that is being exposed as inefficient in states and localities run by GOP majorities. Unfortunately, as the most recent "reformers" and by far the best marketers, they are able to successfully place the blame for these inefficiencies on their predecessors and against "big government" as a whole based on government organizational failures from across the nation.

But this is "pox on both your houses" stuff. It happens on both sides in cyclical nature. The GOP was turned out of the White House and Congress between 2006 and 2008 precisely because they had failed to deliver on reforms they had promised since 1994. The only reason the GOP and TP maintain the prestige they do on a national stage is the other side's lack of credibility when it comes to administering government organizations on the local level. That, and the ability to point out such shortcomings with such constancy it overshadows their own political shortcomings.

If "liberals" want to start rebuilding credibility within the progressive movement, they will turn their primary focus away from national politics and begin to engage more meaningfully in local administrations - where they can apply the greatest pressure and affect the greatest change.



oyster said...

Very well done. This post gets an affirmative "Woof Dat".

New Orleans Ladder said...

Most Excellent.
Really, it isn't often someone can swing this sorta bat on a national level yet bring it to ground at home too.

We gonna hang you on Friday getting this late. And I wanna read this a few more times jus'cause it's fun! Ha!

My God, Oh Oyacle, but is everyone "Dat'ing" Dat now? Jeez Louis! hehehe...

Thanks youz,
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

Clifton said...

Liberals are having a hard time explaining their core principles and get out of their own way long enough to turn their attention to the local level.

In my opinion local advocacy groups have the same problem the Tea Party will have eventually. You can only survive for so long when your primary function is highlighting what you don't like about the existing structure in place. Eventually you have to present a plan that represents change.

mominem said...

One of the issues with Advocacy Groups of all stripes is that they very quickly move from attempting to change society to attempting to perpetuate the group.

Occasionally groups accomplish their goals and then change them in order to perpetuate themselves.

The March of Dimes did this. Founded in 1938 by FDR to find a cure fr polio, it was instrumental in supporting the vaccine research which lead to wiping out polio. in 1958 having won the battle against polio the group changed targets to the much more diffuse goal of birth defects, something not likely to be conquered so quickly.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Thanks for the links and comments, y'all. I should do wonky political theoretics more often.

@ Cliff: Yeah, you rite. Most liberals have an especially difficult time boiling down to their core principles and then explaining them to people. "Conservatives" got most of the marketing majors, so they're better at brand identification.

I absolutely agree that advocacy groups have to come up with a plan for change, and get to implementing it. But they also have to do a far better job of communicating the change they want, why they want it and how they plan to get it. Right now, many are prone to look like a bunch of whiners.

@ Mominem - that's a good point. It is also another reason certain groups (not March of Dimes, mostly political advocates) lose credibility. There is only so much momentum that can be carried into fighting an enormous problem.