Sunday, April 14, 2002

Useful life of institutions

Maybe we can't be immortal, but we can set up institutions to maintain continuity.

However, it seems to me that institutions themselves ought to die at some point. Like humans, they lose their vitality, eventually merely existing out of nothing but inertia. And this life span might well be close to that of human beings.

One example would be the Tennessee Valley Authority. It was "born" during the New Deal, and I understand that it was very effective in those days. The bosses had vision and a sense of mission, and they hired people who fit that mold.

But by the time I showed up there in the early 80's, the place was a morgue. Any entrepreneurial spirit was gone from the organization through retirement or transfers. Civil service limitations compressed salaries to the point that nobody with any talent would stay even at the lower levels, and at higher levels it was ridiculous. The joke at headquarters was that they painted white stripes down the middle of the hallways so the people who left early wouldn't run into the ones who came in late.

The final insult was Jimmy Carter's inspired appointment of S. David Freeman to be one member of the three man board that managed TVA - Freeman was an antinuker, and TVA had 5 plants running and 12 under construction. Of those 12 (4 at Hartsville, TN; 2 at Surgoinsville, TN; 2 at Corinth, MS; 2 at Hollywood, AL; and 2 near Dayton, TN) only the last 2 listed were completed, and not until fairly recently.

Should TVA continue to exist? I lean toward privatization as much as possible. At least sell off the electrical generation and distribution assets to better managed nearby companies like Duke Power, the Southern Company, or American Electric Power.

TVA may have changed their ways by now - maybe Instapundit or Rich Hailey can tell us. But I suspect it's beyond redemption.

I have other nominations. NASA. The NAACP. The International Red Cross. The UN. The Nobel Prize committee. K mart.

Any other nominees?

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