Failing Accountability Leads to Chaos
I used to work for a major defense contractor. We referred to our company as the best machine shop in the world. We could manufacture virtually any part, to even the most exacting tolerances. The company had even received numerous “Excellence” awards from the Navy for ingenuity, customer service, and workmanship.
And then in the 1990s, the company decided to try something different. Our president had a brainstorm -- which is always scary coming from someone with a Harvard MBA and little manufacturing experience. He decided that we didn’t need quality control inspectors -- those folks that check final parts to ensure compliance with the engineering specifications. He posited that our machinists were so good that they could check their own work. We could lay off the quality control inspectors and save a ton of money. They were redundant anyway -- just checking the same things the machinists had already checked. Management proceeded with the plan -- not bothering to implement any alternative system of accountability.
As the machinists faced schedule and cost pressures, they got lax with their quality checks, but they continued to sign off on the required paperwork. Over the coming months, our quality slipped dramatically. We experienced a tsunami of complaints from the fleet. Spare parts didn’t fit. Products had obvious workmanship defects. The Navy was not happy, and began looking for other contractors to do business with.
Our machinists weren’t intentionally making bad parts. But they also weren’t being held accountable for making good parts. Without that accountability, superb machinists became sloppy hacks, merely rubber stamping the inspection reports.
It’s an engineering principle that systems need feedback to remain in control. A refrigerator needs a thermometer to maintain the right temperature. An engine needs a governor to avoid overrevving. When the system is a human being, that feedback is often provided by mechanisms of accountability.
Accountability is the balancing of the ledger. It’s the checking of actual behavior against what’s required. When “actual” deviates from “required,” a correction is needed -- a price must be paid. That price may be paid in the form of a penalty, personal embarrassment, or loss of a future opportunity. Good employees relish accountability. The feedback helps them excel. Bad employees avoid accountability -- for obvious reasons.
President Ronald Reagan understood the concept of accountability. In 1987 he used the term “trust but verify” after signing the INF Treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It was actually a translation of a Russian proverb. The term seemed counterintuitive -- trust while showing distrust. But it was really quite insightful. Reagan understood that without accountability, human behavior is unpredictable. But verification would provide the accountability necessary to provide confidence. Trust is not achieved with good intentions. It is achieved with predictability, which is dependent on accountability. For President Reagan, verification was not an expression of distrust; it was the foundation on which trust would be built.
Unfortunately, our systems of accountability are failing us.
Our news media is intended to provide information to the public for sound decision making. Instead, it traffics in obvious falsehoods. But there is no penalty for false reporting. Instead, they receive Pulitzer Prizes for misleading the public. Reporters have lost their professionalism because editors and media owners are now in the propaganda rather than the information business.
Our politicians have racked up over $31 trillion of national debt. Yet they have no plan to pay off the debt or even throttle back on their reckless spending. They simply use some of the money to buy votes -- such as by paying off student loans.
Federal agents violate our constitutional rights with impunity. They then dodge accountability by refusing to comply with congressional oversight. For many, their oath of office is forgotten as soon as they leave their swearing in ceremony. Their leadership seems uninterested.
Judges reinterpret laws to suit their personal ideology. Decisions seem more dependent on who appointed the judges than what the law dictates. Yet the Chief Justice of the Supreme court denies ideology influences judges claiming, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.” Their decisions would argue otherwise, and it’s because of a lack of accountability. With his statement, John Roberts chose to look away rather than impose even a small bit of accountability.
Schools indoctrinate our children with leftist ideology. They use secrecy, lawsuits, and criminal arrest to prevent parents from knowing or protesting their actions. The notion of accountability apparently terrifies school boards enough to request DoJ protection -- which Merrick Garland happily granted.
Major corporations use their profits to push their ideology -- which is often at odds with the desires of their customers. But they are secure from boycott because of the near-monopoly status government regulations afford them.
Banks make questionable ESG investments (such as those by Silicon Valley Bank) with no accountability. They simply violate their fiduciary duty with the aid of federal regulators who sympathize with their woke ideology.
Government bureaucrats fail to perform their jobs in an effective fashion. But unsatisfactory performers are protected by their labor unions.
Police departments have many good officers. But they also have a “bad apple” problem. Those “bad apples” are protected from accountability by the “blue wall of silence.”
Criminals assault and steal from the law-abiding with impunity. They avoid accountability because liberal prosecutors consider them -- not their prey -- the actual victims.
Trust in our institutions is collapsing, according to a recent Gallup survey. Less than a quarter of the public is confident in:
- The Supreme Court -- 25 percent confidence
- The Presidency -- 23 percent confidence
- Newspapers -- 16 percent confidence
- The criminal justice system -- 14 percent confidence
- Big business -- 14 percent confidence
- Television news -- 11 percent confidence
- Congress -- a whopping 7 percent confidence
The only institutions that exceed 50 percent public confidence are the military and small businesses. For the seven institutions at the bottom of the scale, public confidence has dropped between 5 and 15 percent in just one year from 2021 to 2022.
The reason for that precipitous drop in public confidence could not be clearer. Those institutions are beginning to resemble my old employer after its ill-fated attempt to cut quality control costs. Without accountability, even those that intend to do good work (and many have no such intention) will not remain under control. Our institutions have become sloppy at best, and malicious at worst. Neither is acceptable.
I’m a proponent of self-reliance and placing as little dependance as possible on our institutions. But those institutions remain necessary for a civilized society to function. They provide order. But when they fail:
- Media doesn’t inform
- Bureaucrats don’t serve
- Commerce doesn’t provide prosperity
- Schools don’t prepare future citizens
- Law enforcement doesn’t protect
- Judges don’t ensure fairness
- Politicians don’t lead
Without accountability, institutions fail, and chaos reigns.
John Green is a political refugee from Minnesota, now residing in Idaho. He has written for American Thinker, and American Free News Network. He can be followed on Facebook or reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.