2009/01/08

The NRA and the Beltway Mentality

Much has been written criticizing the NRA for becoming captured by the "Beltway mentality" surrounding the U.S. Capitol, and I tend to agree with the criticism, but it is useful to try to understand how this mentality arises. Essentially, it arises when busy decisionmakers decide how to allocate their time and attention, and decide it is not worth spending time talking to anyone unless one or the other side is likely to be persuaded to change his position. In particular, elected officials are generally only interested in talking to constituents who might change how they vote. It is not worth the time to talk to people who are determined to either vote for one or against. The same is true of fellow members for votes on measures before Congress. His fellow members don't call Rep. Ron Paul or return his calls because they know how he is going to vote on everything and nothing they can say is likely to change that. They also don't expect anything he might say, however wise it might be, is going to change their positions or the way they are going to vote.

This presents a problem for a lobbying organization who represents single-issue voters. They are in DC to persuade members of Congress and other decisionmakers, and they can't do that if no one will talk to them. But they won't talk to them unless they are willing and able to persuade their supporters to vote differently than they would otherwise. Most members of Congress either know they have the support of pro-RKBA voters or that they don't. There is therefore no reason for them to talk to a pro-RKBA organization like the NRA. The only reason would be for a member to throw the NRA a bone if they will agree to ask their members not to vote against that congressman for doing so, and that will only happen if the congressman is persuaded that the NRA-ILA can persuade enough of its members not to vote against the congressman if he does that. That is how we get those favorable ratings for anti-gun congressmen that so irritate gun rights advocates. It is the price we pay for getting an occasional vote switch from a congressman that can make a difference in a close contest. Of course we can ignore the NRA-ILA on that and vote against the congressman anyway. That is what I have always done, although I vote for the Libertarian candidate if there is one.

What is more problematic is when the NRA takes a public position supporting something adverse to the RKBA, or perhaps to some other provisions of the Constitution. They do it to get some concession on another point they think is more important, on balance. That is the way the game of politics is played in Washington, DC. Go along to get along. The Art of Compromise. The problem is that for most members of Congress the Constitution is just another policy position to be compromised like any other. To demand the Constitution be excepted from that is to stand outside the herd and that means the herd won't talk to you. The desire to have powerful people talk to you is a powerful corrupting influence. That is how the Elites control the media, not just by owning them or buying advertising from them, but by denying access to those who don't cooperate. Without access it is difficult for a reporter to get a story, so he or she plays the game to stay in the game.

This problem is not just at the higher levels of decisionmaking. It dominates at all levels, and not just in the public sector. Large private organizations have the same problem, and when organizations are too interconnected or play the same strategies, they begin to function like a single large monopoly. A market can operate among organizations but not within them. When organizations become too large, too well-connected, or too many adopt the same strategy, they overwhelm the corrective influence of the marketplace and we get crashes. But it all begins with refusing to communicate with others when one doesn't expect to persuade or be persuaded, and thus do the Cassandras get ignored until it is too late.

The problem is characteristic of any system whose principal operating components have a restricted information throughput. The bottlenecks of verbal and written communication and cognitive capacity among human beings limits the decision rates attainable by any system composed of them. Many of the critical systems in our lives are possible only because computers have enabled us to remove humans from impeding information and decision flows. Much fast breaking decisionmaking would be impossible for systems consisting only of humans, no matter how skilled they might be. The U.S. Congress today provides a case study of a system that is being tasked with having to process more information than it can, and that is a potentially catastrophic situation.

References:
Richard Janow, A Fundamental Limit on Productivity in Organizations: Collaborative Entropy Costs, NJ Institute of Technology, May 31, 2008. Link.

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