Bureaucrats Completely Incapable of Making Reasonable Trade-Offs


Francis Menton

In economic life, trade-offs are a constant issue for everybody. Maybe you want to buy some better clothes, so you decide to economize on groceries. Or you postpone upgrading the bathroom because the kitchen needs upgrading first. Or you skip a vacation this year in order to buy a new car. Everything you buy means something else you can’t buy, so every buying decision necessarily involves trade-offs. And the same principle applies to use of your time: every hour you spend on one thing you can’t spend on something else. Learn Spanish this year, or train for the marathon — you’ll never find time for both.

Government faces the same necessity for trade-offs, but unfortunately is subject to bad incentives that often render the making of reasonable trade-offs next to impossible. The government is divided into siloed bureaucracies, each of which thinks its own area is the most important. Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in the environmental bureaucracies, which include not only EPA but also big swaths of places like the Departments of Energy and the Interior. These bureaucracies are staffed by environmental zealots bent on saving the planet, and they find the whole concept of trade-offs abhorrent. How about things like the prosperity of the people, or human convenience, or comfort? Somehow those things don’t count for anything to the environmental functionary.

This phenomenon of inability to make remotely reasonable trade-offs has been on full display in some of the environmental news of the past couple of weeks.

Take as one example the new dishwasher rule, announced on May 5. This one comes from the Department of Energy. It imposes on dishwasher manufacturers what they call “new standards for water and energy efficiency.” In the press release, the main sales pitch to the people is that this is going to save you money — lots of money — along with reducing “carbon emissions” and “saving water.”:

DOE expects the new rule to save consumers nearly $3 billion in utility bill savings over the ensuing 30 years of shipments and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12.5 million metric tons—an amount roughly equivalent to the combined annual emissions of 1.6 million homes. DOE also expects the new rule to save 240 billion gallons of water, which is equivalent to the water in 360,000 Olympic-sized pools. 

$3 billion — that’s a lot of money! Actually, not. It’s $3 billion over 30 years, or $100 million per year. There are 123 million households in the U.S., so this is well less than one dollar per year per household. Similarly, the supposed CO2 emissions reductions are less than trivial: 12.5 million metric tons over 30 years is 417,000 metric tons per year. That compares to some 6.34 billion metric tons of emissions for the U.S. in 2021, and 37.12 billion metric tons for the world. So the reduction in CO2 emissions, if actually achieved, would be 0.0066% of U.S. emissions, or 0.0012% of world emissions. But wasn’t U.S. electricity production supposed to be carbon free by 10 years from now? If so most of the supposed emissions reductions from more efficient dishwashers will never happen.

Meanwhile, everyone has noticed that prior Department of Energy energy and water efficiency standards for dishwashers have had the effect of making them run much longer and not get the dishes clean. The new standards, requiring the use of even less water and electricity to wash the dishes, can only make things worse. All to save less than a dollar a year? Almost everybody would gladly pay an extra dollar per year — or maybe even five — for a dishwasher that actually worked. Why can’t we have that option? Because the environmental crazies at the DOE couldn’t care less about making you waste your time pre-washing dishes or waiting for an endless cycle to end before you have the dishes to cook dinner.

On a much grander scale, consider the rule with the title “Multi-Pollutant Emissions Standards for Model Years 2027 and Later Light-Duty and Medium-Duty Vehicles,” also published on May 5. This one comes from EPA. It is the rule that effectively requires the phase-out of gasoline-powered cars by about 2032, in favor of electric vehicles.

The success of gasoline-powered vehicles in the marketplace up to the present has been the result of multitudes of trade-offs made by the consumers for their own benefit. These trade-offs include things like: the initial cost of the new vehicle, the range of the vehicle on a single fueling, how long it takes to re-fuel, how easy and costly it is to repair the vehicle if damaged, how much value the vehicle retains for re-sale, how difficult or dangerous it is to store the vehicle, and many other such factors.

Well, now EPA has decided, on its own authority, that none of those things is as important as the one thing they focus on, which is CO2 emissions from the vehicle while in operation. Note that emissions from the vehicle while in operation is not at all the same thing as lifetime emissions from the vehicle, which include both emissions from the mining and manufacturing to make the vehicle, and also, in the case of EVs, emissions from the sources used to generate the electricity to run the vehicle, which are majority fossil fuels in most cases and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Where in a sane world there are many important trade-offs to be made in deciding what type of vehicle to use, EPA never even gets to that issue. Their sole focus is reducing carbon emissions. If that means that you must spend double for a vehicle, or spend hours per day at a charging station, or risk having your vehicle spontaneously catch fire in the garage and burn down the house, that is not important to them.

What are the chances that an EPA or a Department of Energy could ever by regulation make trade-offs on important issues like these that actually make sense for consumers to advance their welfare? About zero. They’ve got a sole focus, and if that means destroying your lifestyle, they are only too glad to do it.

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Tom Halla
June 1, 2023 6:06 am

I do believe the only effective way to rein in these apparatchiks is to eliminate their department.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 1, 2023 6:41 am

Minimize tax funded bureaucracy, maximize market place constraints.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 1, 2023 6:44 am

Whack a Mole.

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 1, 2023 8:54 am

Creating a new agency or department is easy, eliminating one takes a miracle.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Mantis
June 1, 2023 9:10 am

Actually no, it doesn’t. You simply create a new one,. hire a chief, give him his brief, let him hire any of the previous department, and make the rest redundant with nice golden parachutes.On condition they cease and desist all legal action.

Faced with the prospect of actually Doing Work, most will take ‘early retirement’

Reply to  Leo Smith
June 1, 2023 10:01 pm

I had an industrious boss who phrased early retirement as:
They are going to pay me $90 a day to drink beer and do whatever I want.

That was his excuse for saddling me with his responsibilities, but not the pay.

True to his word, he remained active for many years afterwards

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 1, 2023 1:13 pm

If the U.S. FedGov was reduced to only involving themselves in the things actually enumerated in the Constitution, about 2/3rds of the Executive branch would be eliminated.

Reply to  JamesB_684
June 2, 2023 8:22 am

That would be a good start.

Douglas Proctor
June 1, 2023 7:00 am

The ultimate point is nit CO2 emission reduction. The ultimate point is reduced global consumption. Western per capita consumption is just the obvious first part due to its dominant portion of global consumption.

Using less water and less power and less material is the goal. The economics of the goal is irrelevant. They don’t want you to choose to spend more to consume more. That extra 5 bucks? They’d like you not to have it so you CAN’T do more or consume more.

Reduced CO2 production and increased energy efficiency are red herrings. But the WEF forces are quiet about what those elites plan for the unwashed masses.

To stop this we have to have the truth revealed. But it would eviscerated the environmental and social movements, so I can’t see it happening. It will stop only when some strong external catastrophe steps into tge way.

June 1, 2023 7:05 am

Where in a sane world…”

This world where men in frocks are women, where a mere allegation is proof positive of guilt, where up is down etc etc etc?

This world hasn’t been sane for a very long time.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  strativarius
June 2, 2023 3:51 am

The Leftist World hasn’t been sane for a very long time.

The Common Sense World is sane but may be outnumbered by those who are not.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 2, 2023 8:34 am

I don’t believe that is correct. The Leftists are very vocal, organized, and in possession of many levers of control in media, education, and politics. I believe they are vastly outnumbered but they make it appear like they have the majority.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

June 1, 2023 7:22 am

Surely a poorer dishwashing experience is only a problem for the help?

Tom Abbott
Reply to  MCourtney
June 2, 2023 3:53 am

I’ve never used a dishwaher in my life. A sink full of soapy water does just fine. In fact, better, as far as cleaning the dishes goes.

Rud Istvan
June 1, 2023 7:27 am

My favorite example was EU electric teakettles. They mandated a lower wattage. Which simply means it takes longer to boil the filled kettle. No energy savings whatsoever based on simple physics. Sheer idiocy.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 1, 2023 8:55 am

Likely negative savings…more heat loss since the process time is longer.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 1, 2023 9:11 am

Same with vacuum cleaners. Greatly reduced their power so more time spent vacuuming.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 1, 2023 1:34 pm

Two cycles to get the dishes clean, or hand wash after, either way stupid.
My dishwasher has smartwash – it senses when there is no dirt or turbidity in the recycled wash water and stops automatically, what could be better?

June 1, 2023 7:55 am

Who cares when the only consequence is another $1 trillion stimulus program or two for your base and donors.

Ann Banisher
June 1, 2023 8:31 am

I have been dealing with bureaucrats for 40 years and I can tell you that they are slowly being turned into an algorithm. I am an Architect and it used to be that their purpose was to make sure that life safety and zoning codes were being followed. Corrections could be discussed and you could have a discussion about intent or interpretation of the code.
Now everything is a 0 or a 1. They don’t understand the intent of the life safety codes so they only know how to check a box on a list of ‘does it have this’?
No discussion is allowed. You can check the box or you can’t. You can get 10 pages of corrections, yet none of them apply to the construction of the building.
They can miss whether a building has the proper number of exits, but if you reference the incorrect ICBO #, that will be caught every time.
They point is, bureaucrats are being taught, purposely, not to think, to just be part of the program. It will make it easier for them to be replaced by a real computer program.

Reply to  Ann Banisher
June 1, 2023 9:06 am

HI Ann,

I have also watched the transition.

I think middle management was neutered, willingly in most cases. So the entire staff has the primary consensus input & sits around and says ‘how did this mistake happen & how can we make sure it doesn’t happen again?’ The answer is never, “We screwed up”;

The answer is always, “The architect did not provide us with enough information,”
(Solution: Add a ‘completeness review’ that gives the bureaucrats unlimited time frames).

I remember management calling me, during employee review, and asking me how staff are doing. It surprised me at first (I thought, ‘why the hell are they asking me, I’ve only been doing this for 4 years’). Imagine today, a govt supervisor, calling you and asking you for your input during the employee review process….

Reply to  DonM
June 1, 2023 11:39 am

During the first round, most people think, yeah that one was going. By the fourth round, most remaining people think, ooooh that one’s going to leave a mark. Welch at GE made the private pre-planning of which names go in which rounds a public exercise. Now “round 1” is continuously “ready to go”.

Reply to  Ann Banisher
June 1, 2023 11:32 am

slowly being turned into an algorithm

The future. What do people do when the robots take over?

Share an impossibly large, new, clean apartment near Central Park with two Friends and have a career in name only?
Explore strange new star systems in an impossibly large, new, clean space ship drinking hot Earl Gray?

The robots will make stuff better, faster and less expensively if allowed.
Thoughts are just a different brand of “stuff”. I feel bad for borderline-case grade school kids being pressured and groomed into STEM. Their career will be done by a computer.

Reply to  KevinM
June 2, 2023 8:58 am

Uh, who will design, repair, and maintain the robots? If you are depending on robots to do that, there will be stagnation and decay.

Reply to  Ann Banisher
June 1, 2023 4:18 pm

Then there’s the Australian solution: Allow private contractors, instead of bureaucrats, to tick the boxes. The private contractors are then paid by developers to tick the boxes. And I don’t mean that they are paid to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’ before ticking the boxes, they are simply paid to tick the ‘yes’ boxes.

Reply to  Ann Banisher
June 2, 2023 8:54 am

“It will make it easier for them to be replaced by a real computer program.”

I made a similar comment to some middle managers that just let an automated program assign work to the skilled employees. It doesn’t matter that the program was only set up to assign total task hours, not to accomplish tasks in the correct sequence. The skilled employees can do exactly what is assigned or bring it to the attention of the middle managers. Eventually, upper management will see some redundancies.

June 1, 2023 8:44 am

“But wasn’t U.S. electricity production supposed to be carbon free by 10 years from now? If so most of the supposed emissions reductions from more efficient dishwashers will never happen.”


Reply to  DonM
June 1, 2023 11:40 am

Ha! (Meaning “wish I’d thought of that.”)

June 1, 2023 8:53 am

The next time the GOP has the POTUS, watch and see if the federal budget goes up. It most assuredly will. Then watch whether they actually spend the budgeted money. There’s no reason an administration couldn’t underspend…but they never do. They only pay lip service to fiscal responsibility, or are just ever so slightly more fiscally responsible than the dems. Until we drastically reduce the size of the federal government, and show the people that their day to day lives are not impacted at all by a bloated bureaucracy, then politicians will keep spending more, and thus giving power to agencies that can’t and won’t make reasonable economic tradeoffs.

Reply to  Mantis
June 1, 2023 10:31 am

Congress passed a law over Nixon’s veto, requiring the President to spend everything that congress allocates.

Reply to  Mantis
June 1, 2023 3:43 pm

The eGOP pretend to fight spending in front of the cameras, while later the same day, laughing with the lobbyists over expensive booze at dinner while planning how to hide the bribes.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Mantis
June 2, 2023 4:17 am

Well, Trump had to increase Defense spending because the Obama-Biden admiistration let the military run out of ammunition. On his first day in office, Trump spoke with the Secretary of Defense and was told the military was “critically short” of ammunition. How would you like to hear that on your first day?

And the covid pandemic required extra spending.

So yes, there are circumstances where the Republicans will spend money, but if given the opportunity, they will reduce spending, like they just did with the bill extending the U.S. debt ceiling.

And don’t you love all these grandstanding Republicans complaining about passing this bill. It didn’t have their particular economic plan incorporated into it, so they are stampiing their feet and whining that they will vote no. The bill passed anyway.

I’m amazed Speaker Kevin McCarthy was able to even make a deal like this. Remember, Biden started out saying he wasn’t going to do *any* deal, and the Republicans should send him a clean bill that only raised the Debt Ceiling, and nothing more. Well, McCarthy turned that completely around, and although he didn’t get every thing every Republican wants, he got quite a bit of spending reduction and he even got a new pipeline authorized.

The Republicans have a very slim majority in the House of Representatives, and the Democrats own the Senate and the White House, and yet these whiny Republicans opposing this bill think they can demand, and should have everything they want put into this bill.

How stupid are these people? Republican can sometimes be their own worst enemies. That is the case now with this bill. Here’s an idea for unsatisfied Republicans: How about writing your desires up into a new bill and put it on the floor for a vote? How hard is that? If it has support, you will get what you want.

Stop Whining!

This Debt Ceiling bill isn’t the last bit of legislation to come down the pike. Wake up to reality, rigid Republcians or you are going to cause us to lose this country because you can’t get it together enough to fight our real enemy which is not overspending but is the Radical Democrats who are, at this very moment, trying to undermine the U.S. Constitution in order to put themselves in power in perpetuity. Meanwhile, Republicans are fussing over a budget issue. Open your eyes fools, to the real danger all of us face: the Radical Democrats and their marxist agenda! Get it together and fight back!!! Or we are all sunk, down the tube of totalitarianism.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 2, 2023 9:12 am

There was a House bill passed that should have gone to the Senate for a vote. It included a debt limit raise. Instead, McCarthy renegotiated to come up with that cluster**** bill that then passed both the House and Senate.
The radical Demoncrats are getting help from “bipartisan” Republicans. We have a lot of wolves in republican clothing.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Brad-DXT
June 3, 2023 3:27 am

We have a lot of people in the Republican party who do not see the Big Picture.

They worry about the small stuff, like their petty spending priorities, and let the big, important stuff go, like saving the country from the Democrats/Marxists.

What they better do is concentrate on is getting together and winning majorities in the House and Senate and in winning the White House. Otherwise, they may never have another chance to do so. The Democrats will rig it so they don’t get political power, like they are trying to rig Trump’s run for president.

Leo Smith
June 1, 2023 9:07 am

Bureacrats, totally incapable, is all you need to read.

Ill Tempered Klavier
Reply to  Leo Smith
June 1, 2023 1:16 pm

As far as I know, no one has successfully refuted Parkinson’s laws:

  1. Work expands to fill the time allotted.
  2. Expenditures rise to meet income.
  3. Staffing in any public administrative department increases at a fixed rate unrelated to the state of whatever (if anything) is being administered.

In addition, Pournell’s Iron Law and The Peter Principle apply everywhere.

Reply to  Ill Tempered Klavier
June 2, 2023 9:16 am

In regards to #2, that doesn’t seem to apply to government. They are spending more than what is coming in.
The law is broken and we all will be punished instead of those that broke it.

June 1, 2023 9:13 am

Every day now I am alerted to another example of egregious censorship, false narratives promoted by our governments, or NGO s , corporate and MSM B.S. I have to spend so much time peeling back the layers of the onions that – well -you wanna cry. CAGW, COVID/vac (entire pharma industry, my God) the kinetic conflict over by Russia, border/ sovereignty. It really really is like Pravda except a lot of our citizens actually believe it.

Historically a series of catastrophic societal break downs eventually result when this level of censorship and control is exercised by government . But it can take awhile – and the world and a lot of bad actors are arming up – with -short, mid and eventually ICBMs nucs. ( that is the one thing that worries me about nuclear power plants. They need a “ auto secure mode in event of war)

Sorry I got off topic again.

Reply to  John Oliver
June 1, 2023 11:42 am

 I have to spend so much time peeling back the layers of the onions that – well -you wanna cry.

A few generations ago we would have been dirt farmers.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  John Oliver
June 2, 2023 5:06 am

“I have to spend so much time peeling back the layers of the onions that – well -you wanna cry.”

Think about how much harder it is for the young people who don’t have enough experience to put all they hear in perspective.

I worry about the kids and the bad influences they encounter every day, most of which are politically motivated in one way or another. It can’t be easy for the kids. Having good parents will help a lot, but many children don’t have good parents, so where do they turn to keep things in perspective?

Joseph Zorzin
June 1, 2023 9:25 am

“everyone has noticed that prior Department of Energy energy and water efficiency standards for dishwashers have had the effect of making them run much longer and not get the dishes clean”

Just got a new one a few months ago. It does take about twice as long for the “normal” cycle. The dishes do come clean but my wife cleans them before putting them in the machine- hand rinsing them almost good enough to eat off of. I gave up trying to convince her there is no need to do this. What I really don’t like is that it’s obvious to me- and I claim to know little about any machines- that it’s a piece of plastic junk. The old one lasted 35 years. This one might last 5 if lucky. So, even if it’s more efficient- how about including the fact it’ll have to be replaced much sooner than the old one? It takes energy to produce it and ship it from China! And, then there’s the plumber cost- at $100/hour! So the idea that we’ll save money is just plain, extremely ignorant- only a bureaucrat could come to that conclusion. (by the way, here in Woke-achusetts, I don’t use the word bureaucrat- I call them burros!)

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
June 1, 2023 12:05 pm

About 15 years ago, our trusty Kitchen Aid dishwasher died after 15 years of great service.
At that time you could still buy a real new one but we decided not to and got used to washing dishes ourselves. Turns out it’s quite satisfying and relaxing, plus a good excuse for conversation with anyone else in the kitchen including yourself.

Totally not ready for replacing the clothes washer and dryer…

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Yirgach
June 1, 2023 3:24 pm

well, when we can no longer afford electricity, we can always go down to the river with a “wash board” to do our clothes- just like “in the good old days” 🙂

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
June 1, 2023 5:41 pm

Not looking forward to the 8 mile hike to the nearest running surface water, nor the 600 foot climb back to the house. (There’s a couple of ‘lakes’ closer, but impounded sewage treatment effluent isn’t my idea of clean water.) Oh well, I could still be out in the desert with only runoff pools from the last rain (8 months or more between last winter storm and first fall storm). At least drying the clothes is easy.

June 1, 2023 9:40 am

Who about replacing piped natural gas with LNG? LNG has a higher carbon footprint, by far, than coal.

Reply to  joel
June 1, 2023 11:45 am

 LNG has a higher carbon footprint, by far, than coal.
Is this true? I’m not arguing, I really don’t know.

Reply to  KevinM
June 1, 2023 1:24 pm

If that’s true, who on this site cares? Carbon is eveyone’s friend – I’m even made of it!

Reply to  mikelowe2013
June 1, 2023 2:39 pm

I think the original comment dealt with LNG-by-tanker used rather than NG-by-pipelines or local production due to regulations, for example Massachusetts.

Reply to  KevinM
June 1, 2023 5:56 pm

Since you have to make the natural gas a liquid, and then keep it liquid, there is a lot of energy added. All that has it’s own carbon dioxide output, which should be added in. I don’t have the numbers, but it is plausible. Methane creates 1 CO2 to 2 H2O when burned. Hard coal is close to 1 CO2 to 1 H2O. If you burned natural gas to get the energy to liquefy more natural gas (as would only be natural) then if the liquefaction used natural gas one to one (burn 22.4 liters to liquefy 22.4 liters) the combined CO2 output would be similar to coal.

old cocky
Reply to  John_C
June 1, 2023 9:03 pm

Coal is essentially a carbon matrix with a few impurities. Shouldn’t it just produce CO2 as a combustion product?

June 1, 2023 12:30 pm

Our in-laws in San Jose recently ordered a new showerhead and received one designed for another state and hence illegal to use in the Kali gulag. They were surpised and actually overjoyed at the performance. They may actually start to think about leaving…

Reply to  Yirgach
June 2, 2023 9:23 am

I always pull out the restrictor from the showerhead.
I’m waiting on the shower police to arrest me any moment.

Ill Tempered Klavier
June 1, 2023 1:27 pm

“These bureaucracies are staffed by environmental zealots bent on saving the planet, and they find the whole concept of trade-offs abhorrent. How about things like the prosperity of the people, or human convenience, or comfort? Somehow those things don’t count for anything to the environmental functionary.”

I submit that zealots of whatever stripe tend to be worthy of being gifted with the classic concrete overcoat complete with (included at no additional charge) a midnight ride in the black limousine to the middle of the nearest bridge over deep water.

Reply to  Ill Tempered Klavier
June 1, 2023 6:00 pm

Out here it is more practical to gift concrete swim fins and a tour of the nearest kelp forest.

June 1, 2023 5:59 pm

Comparing the dishwasher rule, I similarly commented recently about clothes washer efficiency.

Our current clothes washer says annual energy use costs $10US/yr if you use a gas water heater, $17/yr if you use an electric water heater (btw, that alone provides a good comparison of gas vs electric efficiency using EPA’s own data). However, we always wash in cold water.
It is estimated that 85-90% of the energy used by a clothes washer is water heating. So that means our washer costs us about $1/yr to operate, or 8 cents/month!!!! If it were any more efficient, it would be feeding energy into the grid to operate!

This also says that rather than demand higher efficiency washers, EPA should require all home water heaters to be gas-fired for a 70% improvement in efficiency.

The same is true of dishwashers using gas versus electric water heating.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  pflashgordon
June 2, 2023 5:20 am

If you live in Oklahoma, the energy company will pay you hundreds of dollars if you install a natural gas-powered appliance in your home.

On a slightly related topic, I read an article that said we should not use the feature of an oven that allows for the automatic cleaning of the oven. I’ve never used such a feature, but apparently, you hit the switch and the oven heats up to about 1,000F for several hours, which results in the heat burning off residue inside the oven, but the article says this high heat for that long a time period, damages the electronics of the oven. Just passing that along. It might be better to just use a little “elbow grease” to clean it.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 2, 2023 8:29 am

Tom, I have heard similar from appliance repair experts.

June 1, 2023 9:57 pm

DOE expects the new rule to save consumers nearly $3 billion in utility bill savings over the ensuing 30 years of shipments”

A) The committee members either eat out or have servants to do the washing.

B) This another epic government interference similar to dishwasher specifications government mandated before. e.g., banned water heating elements.
a) Dishwashers didn’t fully clean dishes, so people simply ran them again.

People will simply run the machine again.

Savings or reduced water demands will never occur this way.

“DOE expects the new rule to save consumers nearly $3 billion in utility bill savings over the ensuing 30 years of shipments”

I’ve never had a dishwasher last 30 years. Those committee members appear to be ignorant and delusional.

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