Ebola and the failure of the administrative state

History has shown this kind of confidence in centralized bureaucracy to be hopelessly naïve. Government, alas, simply isn’t as capable as Wilson hoped it would be. Does that mean we should disband the CDC and let hospitals dealing with Ebola cases fend for themselves? Of course not. But it should mean, at the very least, that we start talking about how to reform, say, the Food and Drug Administration, which has prevented the development of experimental drugs to treat Ebola through the exercise of a regulatory monopoly.

It also means we should think twice before defaulting to the assumption that government agencies like the CDC or the National Institutes of Health could have prevented the outbreak if only they’d had more funding, as the NIH’s Dr. Francis Collins averred recently to the Huffington Post. In a piece cataloguing the billions we’ve wasted over the last decade to respond to something like an Ebola outbreak, Mollie Hemingway properly labels Collins an adherent to “Progressive faith in the habitually unrealized magic of increased government funding.”

But whether it’s funding or regulation, it’s becoming clear that government “everywhere putting its hands to new undertakings” isn’t working out all that well. Perhaps it’s time for officials at the CDC and the White House to admit that we’re not entirely sure how easy it is to spread Ebola, stop blaming funding shortages, and unleash the power of private innovation to combat the virus.

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