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Elaine Kamarck


'Elaine Kamarck: The End of Government As We Know ItĒ

WATTENBERG: In recent years a new philosophy of government has tried to emerge blending the best of liberal and conservative ideas. This approach has been called the Third Way. Elaine Kamarck has been at the center of this activity. The End of Government As We Know It, this week on Think Tank.

WATTENBERG: Elaine Kamarck, mother, Professor, political activist, friend, not necessarily in that order, welcome to Think Tank.
KAMARCK: Thank you very much.
WATTENBERG: Letís begin as we normally do with something about your background and we want to get into your new book which is titled...
KAMARCK: The End of Government As We Know It.
WATTENBERG: -- How did you come to become fascinated and entranced with government? It can be a pretty dry thing.
KAMARCK: Well, there was the -- there was the political genesis of it and the intellectual genesis. So, the political genesis was when I was working with the Democratic Leadership Council in the 19 -- late 1980ís, early 1990ís and the Democratic Party had a problem. The problem was that it was the party of government and everybody hated the government.
WATTENBERG: And the party of pessimism, they had turned into --
WATTENBERG: They used to be so optimistic --
KAMARCK: Thatís right
WATTENBERG: -- and they turned into - -
KAMARCK: And the two were -- and look the two were kind of related, ok, because they were the party of government when the government was pulling the country out of depression and the country was winning the second world war, et cetera.
And then government started to not be able to do what it had done for people. People lost faith in government. Democrats got pessimistic and at the -- the group I was working with at the time -- we wanted to breathe some new life --
WATTENBERG: The Democratic Leadership Council.
WATTENBERG: Which was and is one of the motive forces of keeping the Democratic Party from going too far to the left.
KAMARCK: Yes, thatís exactly --
WATTENBERG: And among your Chairmen was -- were Bill Clinton.
KAMARCK: Bill Clinton.
WATTENBERG: Joe Lieberman.
KAMARCK: Sam Nunn.
KAMARCK: Chuck Robb.
KAMARCK: And, today, Harold Ford.
WATTENBERG: My heroes. [Laughter]
Now, you were recruited to serve in the Clinton Administration. And your title was?
KAMARCK: I was senior policy adviser to the Vice President.
KAMARCK: Al Gore. Right. and I was recruited to run the National Performance Review which was the reinventing government piece of Clintonís agenda.
WATTENBERG: And that was sort of a -- not an operational arm, but sort of a think tank arm, in effect, I mean to try to design --
KAMARCK: It was --
WATTENBERG: You didnít have operational authority to say you do this, you do that.
KAMARCK: Well, I ended up having that. I mean we had 400 people working for us drawn from all over the government. We had another 1200 people out in the agencies.
We think -- the best description is we ran a performance audit, the first one ever run -- of the whole federal government -- and we did this performance audit in a record amount of time and then -- and this was the real surprise, we kept at it and we watched and guided the implementation of the recommendations of the audit.
WATTENBERG: Letís get out of abstractions. Give me the name of one agency or one set of laws that you investigated, you found wanting, you proposed changes to Congress, allow changes, or the bureaucracy allow changes -- and something indeed happened that made it good or better.
KAMARCK: We looked at the procurement system for by -- just the rules under which your average civil servant had to buy things to do his or her job. We said this thing -- this system is a mess. It makes everything cost two or three times more than it needs to cost, like those six hundred dollar Pentagon hammers that were so famous.
We need to -- there have been many high level commissions recommending changing this, letís change it. We went to Congress with two big pieces of legislation, we changed it, we changed the way the federal work force operated --
WATTENBERG: And now the hammer only cost $200. [Laughter]
KAMARCK: Now the hammer is much cheaper.
WATTENBERG: I mean you know you can buy it in the hardware store for ten dollars.
KAMARCK: Weíll, and in fact thatís what we did. We -- from -- through GSA we really got --
WATTENBERG: GSA is the General --
KAMARCK: General Services Administration. We got more normal prices for government, for the simple things: staplers, pencils, things like that.
WATTENBERG: And yet if you went out to the American people and did a survey and said, do you think our government is working well --
WATTENBERG: People never say yes.
KAMARCK: No, it -- and those --
WATTENBERG: I mean I guess youíre in a great depression or something like World War II, you can palpably see something happening. But in a time of peace and prosperity itís very different.
KAMARCK: Well, but thereís an historical trend that goes here too that goes back to the Great Depression and Second World War.
In the -- when they started asking the survey question -- and theyíve asked the same question for more than half a century now -- do you trust the federal government to do the right thing -- most of the time or all of the time -- most of the time.
In the 50ís and the 60ís, you got very high percentages of Americans saying yes.
WATTENBERG: Because they still remembered World War 2.
KAMARCK: They remembered the Depression, they remembered the victory in World War II. As we moved into the 70ís and 80ís those numbers plummeted and by the time Clinton took over, only 17 percent of the population was saying that the fed -- they could trust the federal government.
Now, those numbers have moved back up to about 30 or 40 percent and I think part of that was the President who cared about reform. I think part of that was 9/11 and people realizing that they actually needed the government to do some very important functions.
So, itís moved back up, but you still have a great deal of cynicism about the government. And, look, as we said a little while ago, thatís not a bad thing.
WATTENBERG: You were on the Vice Presidentís staff, but the work you did applied -- I mean it had the blessing of President Clinton unusual in that sense, it was a unitary staff.
KAMARCK: Yes, absolutely. There was nobody on the Presidentís staff --
WATTENBERG: I think that was the Bush Cheney model in the beginning as well.
KAMARCK: Hm-hm thatís right, it was a unitary staff.
WATTENBERG: So, did you work with President Clinton?
KAMARCK: Oh, yeah, a lot.
WATTENBERG: You got along with him?
KAMARCK: Yes, very well.
WATTENBERG: What do you think of -- youíre allowed to say -- youíre no longer working for the Vice President -- how did you like Al Gore?
KAMARCK: Oh, I adored Al Gore. I mean I still do. I mean he -- you know contrary to some of the public you know impressions he was a very funny guy. In cabinet meetings he was -- he always cracked the President. He was always the one with the funniest joke in the room.
WATTENBERG: Do you buy his general approach to global warming?
KAMARCK: Yeah, I do. I do buy his general approach to global warming, yes, absolutely.
WATTENBERG: I knew we would disagree on something, Elaine. [Laughter]
WATTENBERG: Let me go forward into the substance of your book. You talk about reinvented government and government by network. And the one that particularly intrigues me is government by market. Perhaps you could take us through them briefly, gives us an example of each, because they sort of tend to be abstractions.
KAMARCK: Iíll do a great example and its garbage. Garbage is a quintessential government function. Right. Most people liberals and conservatives agree that you have to do something about garbage, itís not a good thing to have around.
In the beginning we created bureaucracies to pick up garbage. Right. We had departments of sanitation, the government bought the trucks, the government hired the people, the government set the routes. Thatís how we picked up garbage.
The next generation was people thought oh, these government bureaucracies theyíre not very efficient and governments began to contract out, create a network of contractors for picking up garbage.
So, there were different companies and they competed and they designed better trucks and they hired different people and they got different routes, et cetera. So, you had kind of a network of garbage providers and in many cities now in the country, government itself doesnít ever collect the garbage, they contract out in a network.
Now, weíre getting to another problem with garbage which is we simply have too much of it. Nobody wants it, thereís no place to put it, the landfills are filled, you canít dump it in the ocean, blah blah blah.
And, so, now some cities are saying, a ha, letís create a market for garbage. The more garbage you produce the more money weíre going to charge you. And theyíre actually -- put out pails. You know if you need a big pail, you paid much more money than if you only used a small pail and you canít dispose of your garbage in other than these pails.
Now, thatís a nice simple way of saying, you got three different approaches to the garbage problem. One is the government does the whole business. The second is the government sort of gets a bunch of different people into the business; and, the third is that the government actually creates a market that tries to affect peopleís behavior.
And -- those -- what I talk about in the book is how these -- what we have to think about as we go into the 21st Century -- when we would be way past bureaucracy -- is when do we use these different approaches in government. Whatís -- what are the problems we should apply these different approaches to? And thatís the big question.
WATTENBERG: You mentioned past bureaucracies -- beyond bureaucracies -- do you believe that we can live in a modern society without a bureaucracy?
KAMARCK: No, I think that we will have some things that will always be done by bureaucracies. But I think there will be a lot of things -- government takes on -- that bureaucracy isnít suited to accomplish.
And this goes back to the earlier conversation --
WATTENBERG: The garbage idea, outsourcing --
KAMARCK: Thatís right.
WATTENBERG: People bid.
KAMARCK: And one of the arguments that I make in the book is thereís a lot of problems that the political world decides. We want government to do something about. And bureaucracy is the worst way to attack them.
And in fact thatís when we need to look at networks and look at markets. So -- Iíll give you and example from the cold war, Ben, which I think youíll agree with. When -- back to Harry Truman -- when we realized that we were going to have to fight an arms with the Soviet Union way back when in the late 40ís, the Soviet Union said weíre going -- weíre going to keep this within our bureaucracy.
This is going to be all government research, all government scientists, et cetera. What did the United States do? We said we are going to create a network, weíre going to have some army laboratories, some navy laboratories, some of this research will be done in the government.
But weíre also going to contract with MIT, with Caltech. Weíre going to contract with Lockheed, McDonald Douglas --
WATTENBERG: With think tanks --
KAMARCK: With think tanks like Rand. Weíre going to create a network of a lot of different kinds of institutions --
WATTENBERG: And of course the NIH is a hug bureaucracy but theyíre in the business of funding people around the world to improve your health.
KAMARCK: And when the Soviet Union fell, what was one of the things we discovered as the KGB opened up their files -- which is they believed that the United States was far ahead in weapons research and that the Soviet Union because of their system -- not because of the quality of their scientists -- but because of their system, the Soviets could never catch up.
WATTENBERG: One of the phrases that I found most distressing I guess in the 50ís and 60ís -- they talked about social democracy and European socialist models and they -- it was the growth of social democracy, democratic socialism was -- is a word that drove me crazy -- inexorable.
Not because necessarily I was against certain forms of social democracy, but inexorable is a -- the antithesis of democracy. It says things are going in a certain way and of course then you have the Reagan revolution.
And again, you can take your own, you can pay your money and take your choices, whether you like it or not. But the idea of breaking up the thought of inexorability was very healthy.
KAMARCK: Right, yeah, absolutely. And thatís been broken up not just in the United States, but in England, now in France, in Germany. I mean you look at the -- look, in the last --
WATTENBERG: But theyíre behind us in breaking this up.
KAMARCK: Theyíre behind us, but nevertheless within their own systems, thereís been a real revolution in the left of center parties in modern democracies and that obviously had to happen, because with the sort of collapse of the socialist paradigm, all the left of center parties around the world, beginning with the Democrats and Tony Blairís new labour, et cetera --
WATTENBERG: And this third way idea.
KAMARCK: The third way idea. Most of this -- most of those left of center parties have in the last ten years been going through what I really call a modernization process.
WATTENBERG: Well, let me ask you this -- my producer just whispered something in my ear and said, you know, why isnít she a Republican?
KAMARCK: Oh, Iím not a Republican because I really believe in a robust social safety net. I believe in robust capitalism and robust social services.
WATTENBERG: Yeah, but there are a lot of Republicans who believe -- I mean your moderate Republicans certainly -- off the edge of the cliff.
KAMARCK: Yeah, but, Ben, moderate Republicans are almost unheard of these days. Thereís not very many left.
WATTENBERG: Weíll, you know, if you have a Congress -- a Senate split 50 - 50 and there are five moderates, they hold the balance of power.
KAMARCK: But letís face it, moderates in the Republican Party havenít had much of a future. Itís hard to see them having much of a future. And Iím also --
WATTENBERG: Except the argument is made that moderates in the Democratic Party have been frozen out as well. And I know thatís with the Democratic Leadership Council tries to do.
KAMARCK: Yeah, but -- thatís right although I think you find a lot more democratic moderates these days than you did ten or fifteen years ago. And I think thereís a series of social issues too that keep people being Democrats as well.
WATTENBERG: Do you have a horse for 2008?
KAMARCK: No, not yet. Not yet.
WATTENBERG: What do you think of the idea of a third party candidacy?
KAMARCK: You know I think third parties are always actually -- in the long run, theyíre healthy for American politics because they moved the other two parties.
And I donít know if this is the right year for a third party candidacy --
WATTENBERG: You know Mayor Bloomberg is talking about putting up one billion dollars.
KAMARCK: Oh, I know.
WATTENBERG: That buys a lot --
KAMARCK: It buys a lot and I will say that he has been a pretty good mayor of New York, ok. But the question is all right, weíve got one billion dollars, itís still going to be a question of what does he have to say, right.
WATTENBERG: Well, I mean you know the -- the classic line of the third party is what he has to say is Iím not the other two parties.
KAMARCK: Not the other two parties, right.
WATTENBERG: I donít have to be pro-choice or pro-life. I donít have to be pro-gun or anti-gun. I donít have to be pro-military or anti-military. I can call them as I see them. And then, look, you know our system -- if the Congress doesnít like it, if the courts donít like it, if the people donít like it, itís not going anywhere.
So, I mean I find myself very attracted to the idea in 2008 of a third party candidacy. And, you know, Abraham Lincoln was a third - fourth party candidate. Ross Perot for all his many flaws, which were indeed many [Laughter] -- in 92 he was five or six points ahead of both President Bush and Governor Clinton.
KAMARCK: Although I tend to think that if Bloomberg were to run, what he would mostly do is hand the election to the Democrats at this point in time.
WATTENBERG: You think he would pull from the Republicans?
KAMARCK: Yeah, I think he would. I think he would mostly pull from -- and look the Republican Party is very disenchanted with its leadership. Theyíre dis -- theyíre even disenchanted with their current crop of candidates. Right. Theyíve got a very odd -- the front runner is basically a social liberal in a party thatís been defined by social conservative --
WATTENBERG: Who is that?
KAMARCK: Giuliani. You know -- so -- I mean so I think --
WATTENBERG: Heís -- well, heís a social liberal by Republican standards. I mean heís not terribly liberal. Heís sort of saying, well abortion I donít like it, but it has to be. And heís very tough on law and order and very tough on foreign policy. I mean heís not -- let me ask about a couple of issues just generally. Social Security, where would somebody like your self come out on that?
KAMARCK: Strongly in favor of keeping the system basically as it is, making small adjustments in the system and then thinking about a way to help lower income people have better retirement plans, other retirement plans.
I see Social Security as the basic safety net, the basic social guarantee. And while I think that low income people do have trouble saving and do have trouble getting retirement accounts, we should do this for them in some other way, keep Social Security as the floor.
WATTENBERG: Elaine, youíve given us a long idea of government by network and government by market. This idea of the partial privatization of Social Security would do everything you say, would keep the floor and then allow certain proportion of your monies to be invested by the individual and the record shows that -- even if you just buy a basket of stocks, the Dow Jones and everything else, you can do better than Social Security. But you would keep the net?
KAMARCK: I would not do this and I would no do it for the following reason, the transition costs we canít afford. And the political is such that it would be constantly constantly vulnerable to Congress making good on any age cohort where the market went down for a little bit.
And so I -- look believe me when -- Joe Lieberman and I had this conversation at the beginning of the Gore campaign. The reason was that in -- before Al Gore ran, we spent a long time with all the Social Security experts going through this, trying to see if this was new idea that, you know, Democrats could embrace.
Basically that dog donít hunt.
I mean if youíre a pure libertarian and you are willing to let people lose money, fine, do it. Nobodyís willing to do that.
WATTENBERG: But there are ways around that. You can put a floor and say the government will guarantee you whatever you put -- hold on a minute.
KAMARCK: It doesnít work.
WATTENBERG: You didnít hear me. Suppose the government said you can take a portion of your Social Security and invest it privately and we will guarantee a floor of 90 percent so that if the market heads south, youíre not in a deep ditch.
KAMARCK: Why would you do that? Ok. Itís a huge --
WATTENBERG: You would do that because on the upside they could be getting nine and ten percent and 11 percent in this market instead of 3 and 4 percent.
KAMARCK: You could do it -- you could do that through the tax code. You donít have to do that with the Social Security System.
WATTENBERG: How would you do it through the tax code?
KAMARCK: Well, you do it through the tax code with incentives to invest for retirement just as we have now. We already have plenty of incentives to invest in for retirement. Doing that, ok, becomes a bureaucratic nightmare and it is a political nightmare.
And I just promise you that everybody -- everybody whoís ever looked at this across the spectrum says it doesnít work unless youíre willing to let people lose money.
WATTENBERG: Letís pick two more issues: immigration, the new bill in Ė in front of Congress now -- itís been -- for 50 years itís been on the table. Good, bad, indifferent, whatís going on?
KAMARCK: Iím fairly indifferent to it, okay. I mean I think theyíve made what is probably the reasonable compromise. Something probably had to be done. What I think is being lost in this is that we are doing such an awful job at our borders, just in terms of basic security.
And, so, now youíve got the Republicans in a, you know, match as to who can cut the government more and in fact, itís not cutting, itís cutting some places and beefing up other places.
So, I see the immigration thing as a kind of distraction from the real problem which is that we have not after 9/11 paid adequate attention to the massive security problems at our borders.
WATTENBERG: Well, but hold on, look to -- donít look at the legislation, look at what happened in -- something of a miracle in my judgment -- since 9/11 -- there may have been a couple of Americans killed, but there has not been a major terrorist strike on America.
Now, the government and the state governments and the Congress and of course the executive branch have done a lot of things in conjunction with many other governments around the world. It does not take a genius to roll a hand grenade into an outdoor pizzeria.
And we -- and I -- everyday I pick up the paper and I say how come it hasnít happened. I mean even the Israelis have not been able to stop it. So, maybe weíre not doing everything wrong.
KAMARCK: Well, look, weíre not doing everything wrong and I think that a lot of credit goes to the people who stand guard on the borders. I think that they have been alert after 9/11. I think they understand what their job is.
But the question is the adequacy of those patrols on the border and the fact that we know very well from what Alqaeda says -- in their own documents, they have a 100 year horizon. Thatís what theyíre looking at.
Theyíre not going to go attack us again at our moment of maximum protection, theyíre going to wait until we let the -- our attention wanders off to something else. And thatís why I think -- and institutionally we have to do a much better job of protecting the borders from security threats, not from --
WATTENBERG: Yeah, but --
KAMARCK: People coming over to --
WATTENBERG: -- we have --
KAMARCK: -- find a job.
WATTENBERG: We have what three thousand miles of border. I mean you could put a Marine every ten feet and not -- I mean look we cannot control drugs coming in. We cannot control pirated videos from coming in.
We can tamp down immigration, but youíre not going to eliminate illegal immigration.
KAMARCK: Absolutely
WATTENBERG: Well, let me ask you a greater question. With all its flaws, which are many, has the immigrant experience in the last 20 - 30 - 40 years been healthy for America?
KAMARCK: I think so.
WATTENBERG: Yeah, I do too.
KAMARCK: I think so too.
WATTENBERG: I mean people -- I think they have it backwards. They say the illegal immigrants are bad because theyíre unskilled, we want the brainy people. In point of fact, if somebody discovers a cure for cancer in Switzerland, weíre going to buy the royalties for it.
But nobody has yet come up with a machine that can mow your lawn or clean your house, so that somebody else can go out and work.
WATTENBERG: Let me ask you this -- a wrap up question -- I -- we agree on a whole lot. I am called a neo-conservative, you are called a moderate democrat, something like that. Whatís the difference between us?
KAMARCK: Oh, my guess is Iím probably a little more socially liberal than you are and my guess is that I as -- going back to our Social Security conversation -- I am more conservative when it comes to the elements of the social safety net, less willing to experiment with Social Security, et cetera.
WATTENBERG: And we both probably are pro strong national defense.
KAMARCK: And weíre both very pro strong national defense, even though Iím very much against this war.
WATTENBERG: I understand.
KAMARCK: Iím still absolutely in favor -- in fact, Bill Galston and I just published a paper yesterday that calls for, you know, a hundred thousand increase in the size of the army and for a strong national defense.
WATTENBERG: Okay, Elaine Kamarck, thank you so much for joining us on THINK TANK. Please come back and join us again. Thank you.
And thank you. Please remember to send us your comments via PBS.Org. We think it improves our program. For THINK TANK, Iím Ben Wattenberg.

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