Government Reports Can Be Fun Too

Working my way through Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York“. Highly recommended and I’ll be sharing a few excerpts as I wade through the tome.

Sometime in the 1920, Moses was commissioned to write a report on civil service reform in New York state. The executive (the Governor) was relatively weak and reformers like Moses wanted to strengthen the role. Opponents warned the reforms would make the Governor a king. Caro quotes liberally from the introduction to that report, where Moses defends his reforms. The writing is fresh, clear and compelling. Instead of “empower”, “enable”, “integrate” we have “medicine,” “waste,” democracy”. If the test of good writing is whether a reader continues to the next sentence, it passes with flying colours. Emphasis mine.

The Governor does not hold office by hereditary right. He is elected for a fixed term by universal suffrage. He is controlled in all minor appointments by the civil service law. He cannot spend a dollar of the public money which is not authorized by the Legislature of the State. He is subject to removal by impeachment. If he were given the powers here proposed he would stand out in the limelight of public opinion and scrutiny. Economy in administration, if accomplished, would redound to his credit. Waste and extravagance could be laid at his door. Those who cannot endure the medicine because it is too strong must be content with waste, inefficiency and bungling – and steadily rising cost of government. The system here proposed is more democratic, not more “royal,” than that now in existence. Democracy does not merely mean periodic elections. It means a government held accountable to the people between elections. In order that the people may hold their government to account they must have a government that they can understand. No citizens can hope to understand the present collection of departments, offices, boards and commissions, or the present methods of appropriating money. A governor with with a cabinet of reasonable size, responsible for proposing a program in the annual budget and for administering the program as modified by the Legislature, may be brought daily under public scrutiny, be held accountable to the Legislature, and public opinion, and be turned out of office if he fails to measure up to public requirements. If this is not democracy then it is difficult to imagine what is.

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