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By Steve Kelman

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How the $16 muffin story harms the discourse

You probably already saw this, but the Justice Department Inspector General has rescinded its claim about muffins at a conference costing $16 each. After further investigation, the IG has written that "we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the . . . conference were incorrect."

Along with some others, I had written skeptically when this report came out about whether this contention was true as reported -- there are just too many examples of these claims turning out, when you peel the onion, not to be true.

The Justice IG deserves credit for rescinding its claim and doing so publicly -- this is, unfortunately, not always the case when these kinds of bizarre allegations are made.  A larger point remains, however: this kind of approach to improving government
management -- an approach centered around the weird anecdote -- is dangerous because it makes folks out there believe that it is far easier to deal with the country's budget problems than it really is.

After all, why worry about cutting social benefits or raising taxes when we can solve our budget problems by purging the system of $16 muffins consumed by stupid bureaucrats, as such stories imply. These kinds of reports do a disservice to reasoned public debate and good government.

Posted on Oct 31, 2011 at 12:09 PM


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Reader comments

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 Blago

How "stupid" are the reports, Professor, if u chose to comment on them when they came out. They are obviously news worthy and thought worthy. They are only small indicators, but there are thousands about bureaucrats feathering their nests,out of self-pity, sorrow, entitlement, who knows. You should sponsor at the JFK school some psychosocial analyses of the career federal workforce and get to the bottom of what ails them. It isn't wasteful spending lust, but what drives that behavior. You would know better than most about what that might be, but since you are not a shrink, perhaps you could avoid, personally, teasing it out. Find a good set of durable Cambridge head experts to figure this out. Good idea, eh?

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