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Can Milei Defeat the Bureaucratic Hordes?

Can Milei Defeat the Bureaucratic Hordes?


Javier Milei was just elected President of Argentina in an unlikely electoral win. He is a firebrand Libertarian who many in the corporate news have compared to Donald Trump. Both campaigned on limiting their respective national governments and deeply cutting the administrative state, or colloquially, “Draining the Swamp.”

What and who is Milei up against? Ideological issues aside, he must contend with the self-motivation and incentive to resist his changes at every level of government. To demonstrate how perverse these incentives often are, I offer the following story of a local bureaucrat. I report this story not as an indictment on any individual bureaucrat personally, but rather as an example of what a completely typical bureaucrat in a completely typical bureaucracy is.

The schools closed in March 2020. With no sign of the hysterical panic waning, on August 24, 2020, I began communicating with our local school board. My first communication included quotes from my son:

“They took all the fun away at recess” by not allowing soccer, taking the balls away, and constantly yelling at the children to stay away from each other.

“I’m sad because I can’t use imagination” by not being allowed to play on the playground equipment.

Our school board’s chairman was an “epidemiologist.” I placed that word in quotes because, while he did complete a Master’s Degree in public health, epidemiology, and biostatistics, his professional career revolved around hospital administration. He practiced neither epidemiology nor statistics.

He found success and was appointed to the State Health Department where he became responsible for the development and implementation of healthcare policy for the state. These roles transitioned into education, and he was appointed to our school board, eventually becoming the board’s chairman.

His initial response to me was both haughty and condescending. His son was a student at Stanford, whose researchers had deemed everything should be virtual. I should “perhaps” discuss with my son how viruses may be transmitted — only temporarily — by contact with outdoor jungle gyms. Soon it would be safe and the playgrounds could open again.

I exchanged several emails with him over the next several months. The first of which I quoted Stanford’s own Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Dr. John Ioannidis, and Dr. Michael Levitt on the futility of the measures taken to stop the spread. I included a separate research paper published several years prior to the Pandemic by Dr. Donald Henderson who also concluded that normal social functioning was the best response to an epidemic. I was ignored.

Interestingly enough, the Florida Education Association – a teacher’s union – wished for the schools to remain closed. He and Dr. Bhattacharya both testified together in our Governor’s case to reopen the schools. He lobbied in support of the Governor reopening the schools. In his mind, the schools should be open, but playgrounds should be closed, students should be masked, and teachers — utilizing plastic dividers and masks as tools — should discourage any and all student interaction.

Every public vote he made as the school board chairman was in favor of continued classroom restrictions. It continued in September 2020 after our Governor — using Dr. Bhattacharya’s thankless work as evidence — ended any statewide mandates. It continued in May 2021 when our Governor removed the ability of the local counties to enforce mandates, and our state university system dropped them as well.

It was finally over at the end of the school year in 2021 when our board unanimously voted to start the next school year without mandates. It was the only vote he made in favor of ending the futile restrictions.

When the next school year commenced, the board called an emergency meeting. They voted 3-2 to return mask mandates and to allocate money to fight a lawsuit the Governor was sure to bring. I removed my children from public school at this point and will never return.

In June 2021, before the elections that November, he resigned from the school board. There was a lucrative opportunity as the county administrator that included a high six-figure salary and a $450 a month automobile allowance. Not a joke, he was appointed to the position earlier in the year on April Fools’ Day.

Controversy ensued. By February 2022, multiple complaints had been received. The complaints alleged violations of public records and notary laws and even theft. He fired his deputy administrator who immediately complained that the firing was in retaliation for reporting a direction to suppress information to the county commissioners.

Shortly after that, to the surprise of everyone, he resigned. He is now being recommended for prosecution to the state District Attorney’s office for his alleged violations.

Are we able to learn anything from the actions detailed above?

The completely typical bureaucrat holds advanced degrees and believes their success is entirely due to their own efforts and hard work. They rely on status markers as irrefutable evidence. In fact, they always hold all of the correct opinions. This only serves to reinforce the self-perception of their own importance.

When their positions are challenged, especially by some nuisance of an elected superior, their current status and position in the hierarchy is evidence enough of their correctness. They stand firm in the face of the resistance. Their primary plan is to outlast the interest of the nuisance or to ignore it completely. Only in rare occasions is their job at actual risk.

Taking a realistic look behind at the following wake, and all that can be seen is destruction. In this bureaucrat’s school district, despite the schools being open, reading and math scores fell after the disruptions of the COVID years. Fewer than half could read at grade level. His district was ranked in the bottom third statewide. His superintendent settled a case with the Department of Education over inflating the grades of underprivileged students. She then retired early.

This stunning performance supported a celebrated promotion to the county administrator’s office. That appointment then fell apart with criminal allegations in less than two years.

At the national level, everything is inflated. High six-figure salaries are now supplemented with private jet travel, inflated speaking fees, book deals, and lucrative, no-show appointments to college or business boards.

Is it any wonder that all of our institutions appear to be broken?

When an “outsider” is actively threatening their jobs, control, power, and chosen livelihood, they will choose to circle the wagons and fight.

Indeed, in Florida, we witnessed the school districts in several Democratic-leaning counties choosing to engage in a costly legal battle with the Republican Governor in order to extend COVID closures and restrictions. Here, the important thing to note is that any reform will result in lengthy legal battles not always fought in favorable courts.

Milei may be the real deal. He is uniquely qualified to end the out-of-control inflation affecting Argentina. However, if he is able to enact real cuts to the bureaucracies, will he be able to withstand the political, media, and legal attacks sure to come? Will the reforms last beyond his presidential term? Or is he truly just an “outsider” that must simply be tolerated for a few years?

We should celebrate the electoral wins of reformers and “outsiders” but we also must retain accountability by critically evaluating their actions. Many celebrated Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s rise to power as political reformers and “outsiders.” Both immensely grew their respective administrative states and came to order the locking down of all free society.

If lockdowns were reform, what is the status quo?

At the end of the day, our institutions are only capable of reflecting the character and beliefs of the people who staff them.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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