The mistake was what he did say, not what he didn’t…

Last night in the 3,756th Republican debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry made what many are calling a “gaffe” by drawing a blank when talking about the three government agencies he would do away with when elected President. He was able to name the Department of Education, and the Department of Commerce, and when offered help by his fellow candidates, said that the EPA needs to be rebuilt, but that it wasn’t one of the agencies he’d get rid of. The talking heads are saying his campaign isn’t likely to recover, all because he stumbled during a “debate”.

First, this wasn’t a debate. This was a highly commercialized hour of campaigning brought to you by CNBC and their many sponsors. There was no honest discussion because candidates are not held accountable for the nonsense that they are uttering.

Next, why was the “pause” the greatest mistake that Perry made? He’s talking about shutting down the Department of Commerce for cryin’ out loud! Let’s take a quick peek at what the DoC does:

• They oversee international trade, and gather labor and other important economic statistics and data that is vital in shaping domestic and foreign trade and monetary policy.

• They oversee NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Shutting this agency down would be bad.Very bad. This isn’t just a bunch of nerds sending weather balloons in the air. NOAA forcasts hurricanes and other major storms, and provides time-critical information to local authoritites to advise them on evacuation procedures. This is a risk to life, property, and the economy. There is a lot of other things that NOAA oversees as well (like weather forecasts that farmers and companies that transport goods rely on, or assessing the damage from the BP oil spill), all of which directly impacts the environment, lives, and the economy.

• The Department of Commerce issues patents and trademarks.

• The Department of Commerce has under it agencies like the National Insitute of Standards and Technology, which puts scientists and engineers to work developing technology and setting standards in the scientific community. This is something that goes way back to our founding fathers, and how they saw a need to have a set standard for weights/measures and other matters of science.

Why isn’t this a much, much larger issue than his forgetting another agency to shut down? Or how about the Department of Education? What possible good could they provide to the public?

• It helps to fund Gallaudet University – the only deaf college in the United States

• It issues student loans and pell grants so that people can afford to go to college

• Sets standards for schools at a federal level

• It makes sure that students have equal access to educational opportunities (though improvement is still clearly needed here)

In my opinion, the Dept. of Education doesn’t go far enough, and is probably a bit too decentralized. While local communities should have the most influence over their children’s education, a strong agency like the DoDE needs to set higher standards in Math and Science if we ever want our children to be able to compete on a global level once they enter the job market. I’d also like to see a national apprenticeship program, but that might be another post altogether. Reform these agencies and get rid of waste? Of course! Close them down entirely? Insanity!

Yet none of these things apparently matter in these debates. According to Governor Perry, we can just shut down the DoC and offer no viable solutions for issuing patents. How does a market economy drive innovation without a guarantee of patent protection?

I guess those types of questions don’t fit on a bumper sticker though. And that’s all we’ll hear going into this 2012 race; bumper sticker politics. Change. Hope. Less Government. Job Creators. Taxes bad. Support the Troops.

Aren’t the issues we face much more complex?



3 thoughts on “The mistake was what he did say, not what he didn’t…”

  1. Adam, thanx for stopping by my blog — even if only to “like”. (I never really understood what that button does.
    The standard line against your post here is that many, if not all the things done by the departments that would be scrapped would develop (if needed) in a spontaneous way through private mechanisms. I think Democrats far underestimate the power of spontaneous order and Republicans far underestimate the power of power.

    The government is very easy on itself ( health care, retirement, security), in ways us private folks can not be — we have to watch our revenues — they can always steal more from us. I have worked both for the government directly, as a shadow consultant and am back in the private sector. The government is by nature corrupt. I think it is necessary but is dangerous (financially and otherwise).


    1. I always read your blog, but works puts it behind a firewall, so I generally just read and don’t have a chance to comment, but I read that post while at home. I like the “like” button because sometimes it feels awkward leaving a “nice post” comment.

      My problem is that believing that private mechanisms will take the place of pell grants, NOAA, or the patent office takes a larger leap of faith than I’m willing to commit to, and the larger issue is that specifics are never offered up when a candidate talks like this. Okay, you want to get rid of the patent office, so replace it with what? Who specifically would replace it, and why would it neccessarily operate better than the current system, and what would the net benefits/losses be, other than pure ideology?


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