Obama and Beyonce

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, click here and enter your email address.

Obama and Beyoncé

There’s been a big hullabaloo over the revelation that pop diva Beyoncé opted to lip-sync the national anthem at Barack Obama’s inauguration this week. Her critics miss the point. I’m convinced that her performance was brilliantly designed to befit the occasion: an inaugural address during which the president paid mere lip service to the cause of responsible government.

As is so often the case with progressives, the president’s approach to public policy is based on an obsession with inputs — the more technical term for what the Left commonly refers to as “investments.” Thus when the president says, as he did repeatedly during his inaugural speech, that government intervention is needed to address a particular problem, we know exactly what he means: We need to spend more money.

The problem with this is that, even if you accept the premise that government action is the best solution to a given problem, to start by determining how much money you want to spend on solving it is to get things completely backwards. The responsible way to govern is to first identify certain objectives that government needs to accomplish, and then determine the spending levels that will be required to accomplish them. The focus must be on outputs.

But that’s not where President Obama’s focus is. When the president says, “We will respond to the threat of climate change,” we know what’s coming: ever-larger amounts of government money thrown at the alleged problem, without any real mechanism for measuring or even defining success.

The best illustration of the president’s thinking actually came not during his inaugural speech, but during one of his presidential debates with Mitt Romney last year. After Romney had noted that student achievement in Massachusetts, when he was governor there, had led the nation, President Obama protested that Romney didn’t deserve credit for this accomplishment because he had cut spending on education.

In other words, Romney had found a way to produce high-quality results while saving money. To most of us, this is the very definition of efficiency and should be applauded and, wherever possible, replicated. Only in the progressive worldview is the idea of accomplishing more with less something to be ridiculed.

Again, we can debate all day whether government ought to even be involved in a particular area of society. And I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that when it comes to government intervention, I’m a big skeptic.

But in the areas where government is involved, for better or worse, we need to make sure that it’s focused on the right things — outputs, not inputs.

It’s something Nevada policymakers ought to keep in mind during the upcoming legislative session. And indeed, they ought to take their cue from Gov. Brian Sandoval in this regard.

We at NPRI have often been critical of the governor’s policies, but one of the best things he’s done is shift from Nevada’s outdated baseline-budgeting approach to a performance-based alternative. It’s actually an idea that NPRI has promoted, precisely because it reflects the need to prioritize outputs over inputs. 

Policymakers — state or national, Republican or Democrat — would better serve the people they represent by approaching their jobs from this perspective. In doing so, they’ll be promoting responsible government — not merely in word, but also in deed.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, click here and enter your email address.