The Harper government tells us that its recent budget is all about making government more efficient. It's an argument the world has heard before. In the 1930's, Dan Gardiner writes:
Liberal democracies withered while authoritarianism blossomed. And many leading thinkers became convinced that open societies simply couldn't compete.
Open societies have free markets, which means duplication of efforts, failed experiments, and wasted resources. That's inefficient. And democratic governments encourage debate, which means squabbling, delay, and private interests blocking necessary changes. That's ineffective.
Authoritarianism replaced all that with centralization of decision-making, rigid hierarchies, and planning. That meant efficiency. And, when change was necessary, it would be done, swiftly and without complaint. The trains would run on time.
Except their were drawbacks. The Germans, the Italians and the Russians stand as witnesses to those drawbacks. Fortunately, democracy -- sloppy and inefficient as it was -- prevailed:
In 1948, Luther Gulick, a highranking official in the Roosevelt administration, wrote a book to explain why. The answer, he decided, was that the supposed strengths of authoritarianism were actually weaknesses and the weaknesses of open societies were strengths.
In authoritarianism, plans "are hatched in secret by partially informed men," Gulick noted. Such plans may contain weaknesses, but those in charge won't know because they're not subjected to broad criticism. "Even the leaders tend to believe their own propaganda; they live in cocoons. All of the stream of authority and information is from the top down."
But in an open society, "the public and the press have no hesitation in observing and criticizing the first evidence of failure once a program has been put into operation." As a result, information is far more widely shared and this ultimately makes actions better informed and more effective.
Which brings us to the F35 debacle. The Harper government refused to supply detailed cost estimates for the project. The numbers it floated, we now know, were patently false. Parliament has been prorogued twice. Parliamentary committees meet in camera. And environmental hearings will be curtailed, we are told, because they are inefficient.
The Auditor General has just provided us with evidence of how spectacularly inefficient the Harper government is. To make matters worse, Gardiner writes, there are more boondoggles to come.