Ezra Klein’s column lamenting the failure of Barack Obama to deliver the “iPod government” he promised misses the mark. During his first campaign for the presidency, Obama promised, in the words of his friend and advisor Cass Sunstein to “rethink public services and national regulations in ways that will make things far simpler and more user-friendly”. It was believed at the time that this effort would be aided by the use of modern technology in government services. As Healthcare.gov is showing us, that’s easier said than done. But Klein incorrectly sees the Obama administration’s inability to retrofit an archaic federal government as a broken promise instead of what it truly is: a promise that was impossible for him to deliver on in the first place. To believe otherwise is to dismiss the realities of technological progress.
To illustrate, let’s take a look at the iPod itself since the president is so fond of comparing his efforts to those of Apple Computers. In 1980 Apple released the Apple III personal computer. In 2001, the company released the first iPod. What happened in the 20 years was two decades of research, development, and, most importantly, failures. The Apple III itself was recalled shortly after its release due and is considered a failure of a product by most measures.
Failure is as necessary to innovation as success. As a matter of fact, failures are far more numerous and frequent than successes.
One of the key differences between private sector solutions and public is in who bears the costs for the failure. In the private sector, the cost is, ironically, borne by the favorite hobgoblins of the left: corporations, investors, and lenders. In the public sector, also ironically, those costs are borne by the very people the left ultimately sees themselves as the benefactors of: the middle and working classes, and those who most depend on government services. Additionally, the corporate contractors who deliver failed products to the government reaps the rewards in spite of their failures (CGI Federal isn’t rushing to return the millions it received for its epic failures in government contracting.)
In government, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan. The political impact of failure makes it difficult for the government to learn from its mistakes because it’s always too busy running away from them. In technological progress, by contrast, the knowledge gained from failure is more easily integrated into the process that ultimately leads to success.
There’s a world of difference between being able to operate an iPod and being able to build one. Modernization doesn’t happen because people are able to click a button and play music; it happens because countless people over a long period of time made it possible for them to click the button. I’d rather have a president who understood that and listened to his music on a Victrola than one who didn’t and assumes that his enthusiasm for technology is the mother of invention.
Nick Rizzuto is the supervising producer of Real News on TheBlaze TV.