Monday, October 10, 2022

Mind the store

On the same page in today's WSJ:

One third of DC bus riders don't bother to pay the fare. Also in New York

The State Department is so dysfunctional that processing visa requests takes years

In New Delhi, an appointment for a nonimmigrant visitor visa takes more than 800 calendar days, or nearly three years; for a student visa, nearly 450 days. The Cato Institute found that more than half of U.S. embassies and consulates world-wide have a waiting time greater than six months for a visitor or business visa appointment, compared with 1% before the pandemic. More than 1 in 4 have a waiting time of a year or more.

In March Congress enacted the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 to streamline the immigrant-visa process for foreign investors who commit significant capital to the U.S. But that reform is swamped by slow administration. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services advises applicants that 80% of cases (excluding Chinese nationals, who take even longer to process) are resolved within 52 months, or nearly 4½ years.

A central part of the immigration problem is that asylum claims languish in courts for years. And regular criminal courts also take years. Either spend the money to administer the laws, or change the laws (immigration and visas in particular) to not require administration that we can't provide.  

These are just two tips of the iceberg of general incompetence in many parts of our government.  Not all: I've had some pleasant interactions with very well run low-level government offices lately. It can be done. 

Wanted for the elections: politicians who will campaign simply to administer competently and remedy dysfunction. Efficient government offices, court systems, transit systems and so forth are also crucial infrastructure. Don't lead new grand causes, just mind the store. 



  1. Agreed John. On Visas: The question is why prices do not play more of a role. The disruption caused by waiting for hundreds of days is worth many thousands of dollars to most people. (A simple cost: I had to pospone multiple times my flight to Chicago this summer). Right now the J1 applicants make two payments for a total of over $300, to have it processed. In most countries you can get a large number of hours of outsourced work for that kind of money. But ok, say it is not enough. Charge more. The worst outcome is a wait of 800 days.

  2. Last time my girlfriend had to reach someone in a government office, she spent a few days picking up the phone and calling them, waiting upwards of an hour at a time -- sometimes, in fact, it was so long that the automatic system would hang up on her. It's probably of little comfort to you in California, but the federal government in Canada also offers horrible service.

    So, when do you move to Montreal? You're still going to waste your time with incompetent bureaucrats, but at least you'll get to practice your French.

    You'll also experience the joy of immigration in Canada. The foreign students in the economics department tell me it's every bit as heavy, complicated, long and annoying as you would imagine, but it might be marginally better than in America. We have the advantage that our courts aren't full of illegal Americans who crossed into the woods with their hearts filled with dreams of maple syrup and government health care.

    1. Surprising, eh? Complaints are easy to come by. Solutions not so much. Circumstances were different in 1980. Paper was the medium. No Internet, no 'social media'. Traveller's cheques were a convenient form of money, providing anonymity and ease of convertibility. Today, in the age of terrorism, governments are much more wary. Should they not be? Experience argues for thoroughness, not haste. If it takes on average 800 days to process an application for a student visa, today, then you start the process 830 days before you intend to take up studies in America. Très simple. Given the press of humanity that is applying to come to Canada and the U.S., the queue is naturally long and the wait frustrating. Patience is a virtue. More speed, less haste--Onslow's motto.

  3. The DoD, VA, black budget and prorated interest on the national debt consume 1.4 trillion dollars a year. That is about $4,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

    Every government organization becomes fat or ossified. When a government organization is also sacrosanct...

  4. I would love to see more discussion of this on Good Fellows (although HR would probably say that he's never seen a problem that a tank can't solve). Unfortunately, government bloat is everywhere. To make it worse, unelected bureaucrats are taking us in directions that a large number (most?) of us do not want to go.

  5. :I've had some pleasant interactions with very well run low-level government offices lately. It can be done."

    Reminds me of two, one general and one personal:

    --About 30 years ago the Virginia DMV organized the wait lines for various services at its offices with software -- originally made for Swedish restaurants!

    --About the same time I took my wife to get a green card. Application had been submitted months earlier, of course. We went and the whole interview took under one hour. My wife was livid: This was so easy, she said. What about the horror stories I have heard? The lovely government worker responded: Well, the papers were in order!

  6. Government consumption (net of transfers) has declined about 20% in 50 years, from 22% to 19%. The premise of the post is correct: government is a productive sector of the economy. The record of mixed market economies maps well to the flourishing of material wealth. Maybe the hollowed out, denigrated public sector is running on fumes and needs reinvestment? Along with good management to mind the store, of course. (And although you can spell “management” with MGT… you shouldn’t.)

  7. Any organization that tries to do everything will invariably end up doing nothing well. This statement applies to the government, too. This is an underutilized argument by those of us who want a dramatically smaller, more decentralized and more competent government.

  8. My wife is a tax CPA. She tells me that the IRS answers only 9% of calls it receives. Even when they are answered, there is a 30-minute wait or more to talk to a human. Dysfunctional is the right term.

    Pete Bias

  9. It’s my contention that Effective Altruism is the left’s admission that there isn’t any state capacity and that whatever gov’t institutionalizes, it makes barely functional.

  10. Let the market do it. Why not outsorce visas to private firms?

  11. Alexi Giannoulias' primary point in his candidacy for IL SOS is improved efficiency for users of the SOS facilities. The message really stands out. Praying it's a trend for IL/Chicago pols.


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