I periodically write posts about “Great Moments” in government. These usually feature some absurd example of stupidity and incompetence that only is possible when the world’s least competent people have power to coerce.
EU rules banning the selling of items by quantity (can’t have people buying a dozen eggs, for instance);
EEOC rules hindering trucking companies from weeding out drunk drivers (after all, alcoholism is a disability);
European courts ruling that the ability to watch free soccer broadcasts is a human right (if it’s already the job of government to provide you with housing, healthcare, and employment, why not?);
A local politician in Maryland wanting a licensing process to be a bum (I’m at a loss for words), and;
Virginia bureaucrats making it a crime to rescue injured wildlife (better to let Bambi suffer at the side of the road).
But here’s an example from Italy that may be even more astounding.
First, some background. The political elite in Europe is celebrating because the former Italian Prime Minister has been forced from office and replaced with Mario Monti, a former member of the European Commission who supposedly is one of the “best and brightest” and thus can bring technocratic efficiency to Italy.
So what do we see from this new government of allegedly competent technocrats? Well, you won’t believe me, so read this excerpt from the UK-based Guardian.
Italy’s new, “technocratic” government of highly qualified bankers, admirals and professors was missing a minister today after he vanished into a fog of misunderstanding. Earlier this week, agriculture expert Francesco Braga, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, was surprised, if flattered, to be told from Rome that he had been named junior agriculture minister in the new Italian administration. He had, after all, spent the last 28 years living outside his native land. Whatever doubts the professor may have had were swept away in what he called an “avalanche of congratulations”. Among the first to express delight was the Parmesan cheese manufacturers’ association. Back in Rome, the agriculture minister, Mario Catania, declared in irreproachably technocratic fashion that his new deputy would “bring value added”. He admitted that he had not actually spoken to the distinguished Italo-Canadian professor, but added: “I know him by reputation.” All of which must have been pretty confusing for Altero Matteoli, the infrastructure minister in Italy’s last government, who had warmly recommended for a post in the new government one Franco Braga, also a professor, but of construction engineering at Rome’s Sapienza University. “To tell the truth,” Matteoli was quoted as saying in the daily Corriere della Sera: “I recommended him for infrastructure, but they put him in agriculture.” Only they – whoever they were – found a professor with a similar name who would have known something about farming. Which perhaps explains why Franco Braga, an expert on anti-seismic building techniques, was refusing either to answer his telephone, or be sworn in to a job for which he is wholly unqualified.
There are several levels of jaw-dropping incompetence in this story, including the fact that the job at the Agriculture Ministry was offered to the wrong person and the supposed right person was recommended for a different job at the Infrastructure Ministry .
But the real moral to the story isn’t that the technocratic geniuses screwed up an appointment. It’s that Italy is suffering from too much government and a genuinely competent group of technocrats would abolish useless government bureaucracies.
But that’s not happening, so don’t expect a turnaround. Heck, Italy should sack the new government and give the job of Prime Minister to the former porn star who used to be in the Parliament. At least that would provide entertainment value.