Annals of Government Incompetence

In a neglected speech by Calvin Coolidge entitled “The Limitations of the Law,” given to the American Bar Association in 1922 (but not available online that I’ve been able to find), Coolidge offers the following observation on one of the inherent defects of the Progressive theory of the Administrative State:

Under this weight [of ever larger government] the former accuracy of administration breaks down.  The government has not at its disposal a supply of ability, honesty, and character necessary for the solution of all these problems, or an executive capacity great enough for their perfect administration.  Nor is it in possession of a wisdom which enables it to take in great enterprises and manage them with no ground of criticism.  We cannot rid ourselves of the human element in our affairs by an act of legislation which places them under a jurisdiction of a public commission. . .  Its attempt must be accompanied with the full expectation of very many failures. . .

With this wise counsel in mind, take in these news stories from the last week:

U.S. Sends 14,000 Draft Notices to Men Born in the 1800s

No, the United States isn’t trying to build a military force of centenarians.

It just seems that way after the Selective Service System mistakenly sent notices to more than 14,000 Pennsylvania men born between 1893 and 1897, ordering them to register for the nation’s military draft and warning that failure to do so is “punishable by a fine and imprisonment.”

The agency realized the error when it began receiving calls from bewildered relatives last week.

Chuck Huey, 73, of Kingston, said he got a notice addressed to his late grandfather Bert Huey, a World War I veteran who was born in 1894 and died in 1995 at age 100.

“I said, `Geez, what the hell is this about?’ It said he was subject to heavy fines and imprisonment if he didn’t sign up for the draft board,” he said. “We were just totally dumbfounded.”

Huey said he tried calling the Selective Service but couldn’t get a live person on the line. That frustrated him even more because he wanted to make sure the agency knew there had been a mistake.

“You just never know. You don’t want to mess around with the federal government,” he said.

Or this one (I’m guessing this was found next to that crate with the Ark of the Covenant):

CDC: Smallpox Found in NIH Storage Room Is Alive

(CNN) — At least two of the vials employees at the National Institutes of Health found in an unused storage room earlier this month contain viable samples of the deadly smallpox virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Employees found six forgotten vials when they were preparing to move a lab from the Food and Drug Administration’s Bethesda, Maryland, campus to a different location. The laboratory had been used by the NIH but was transferred to the FDA in 1972.

This comes on the heels of the CDC having to shut two labs because of careless handling of some anthrax.  Remember, these are the same folks who want to work on the health hazards of gun ownership, and join Michelle’s crusade against obesity.

As Coolidge went on to say in his 1922 speech:

Behind very many of these enlarging activities lies the untenable theory that there is some short cut to perfection.  It is conceived that there can be a horizontal elevation of the standards of the nation, immediate and perceptible, by the simple device of new laws.  This has never been the case in human experience.

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