David R. Henderson  

What Would You do Without a Governor?

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Bizarre Headline in Wall Street Journal

"Governor's Trip Confuses South Carolina." So reads the headline of the on-line version of a news story in today's Wall Street Journal.
The hard-copy version of the headline is even more dramatic: "State of Chaos as Governor Vanishes."

Yet you don't need to read beyond the third paragraph to find out that South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's spokesman knew how to reach him.

What gives? What seems like a trivial story--a governor goes on a short vacation alone--is actually a big story, but not because of the facts of the case. What makes it a big story is many people's reaction to the fact that he left for a few days without announcing to the world where he was going. "Without a governor," these people seemed to say, "how would the people of South Carolina cope?" There would be "chaos" and confusion. Those are their words, not mine.

It does seem to be the case that many people think that without a governor in charge, our lives would be in chaos. But ask yourself. How often through the day or even through the year do you consult the governor before taking action? You could argue that without the governor around, certain big spending or regulatory decisions would not be made. And that's necessarily bad?

The thinking behind the headlines is the same as the thinking behind the claim that a governor runs a state or a president runs the country. Fortunately, they don't. The headlines would be hilarious if not for the seriously distorted understanding of the world that it demonstrates.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Jamaal writes:

Actually this could be significant in some states. Here in California when the Governor leaves the state all powers fall to the Lieutenant Governor. This gets complicated because the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are not elected jointly and can be, as is the current situation, from different parties. So there have been circumstances where Lieutenant Governors have signed executive orders that have been held as valid.

Shakes writes:

I found this post hilarious. Indeed, who needs the Gov? What chaos! I bet that half the people in Ohio don't know who the Gov is. I think we should send everyone in the government for a hike now that I think of it.

Robert Scarth writes:

This attitude is not only held about government bosses, but about bosses in business. This is what drives the need to have a blackberry. People need to learn that if your business/organization/state/country can't survive without you then you're not doing your job, and you should be fired.

Joshua writes:

I've long thought of Obama as an implicit King (the White House brings in the Jonas Brothers to play a private concert for the First Children... Obama essentially coerces the firing of car industry management... the Obamas fly around for special dates... the State Department asks Twitter to delay routine maintenance... And these are just the random bits of news that have been reported in the media and that I've happened to come across), but I didn't realize the dependence-on-absolute-power bug had spread to the state level as well.

Too bad they're picking on Sanford.. wasn't he supposed to sort of be one of the better guys, as far as the-evil-hand-of-government goes?

David R. Henderson writes:

Joshua,
Sanford is one of the better guys. Notice that he's not the one who made the big deal about it. I've met him and talked to him a few times and he seems to have his feet on the ground.
Best,
David

Prakhar Goel writes:

"The headlines would be hilarious if not for the seriously distorted understanding of the world that it demonstrates."

Lets not be too harsh here. This myth that the government and specifically, the head of government is necessary is critical to maintaining a functioning government and we still need this government to provide for national security and police forces even if it does waste its (and therefore our) resources on a million different errands.

Bill Woolsey writes:

As many people have said in South Carolina, "They thought they were electing a Republican, but they really got a libertarian." He has been fighting big government Republicans in South Carolina. And the Republicans are getting even, including the Fox Street Journal.

Sine Nomine writes:

Considering the reaction at this... I kind of go yikes! at the thought of something like that happening with Obama, considering their arguable difference in power & responsibilities, and their respective citizen-public official relationships.

I guess it is another argument for at least decentralization - if parts of the gov and public are going to react so at this happening at that level... perhaps it would be best that the damage, chaos, and the like be contained and limited.

mark writes:

If we could just match the missing Governor with the New York Senate that is too deadlocked to get itself into session, we'd have a very interesting experiment to observe.

Patrick writes:

Big ouch! Turns out he was having an affair.

And another "family values" Republican Presidential contender bites the dust!

Joe writes:

No big deal, except his staff lied about his whereabouts. Oh what a tangled web yadda yadda....

Lance writes:

While the latent histrionics surrounding Gov. Sanford's disappearance are certainly unjustified, there are legitimate concerns that do arise if the governor is absent a considerable amount of time.

We don't live in a virginal political entity where resources have not already been taxed and allocated for the public use. Someone has to direct those resources if they have been put into the public domain--rightly or wrongly. There are some components of state government that rely upon the governor's discretion--the national guard, asking for federal assistance, declaring emergencies which release state funds for disaster relief.

His absence would have caused needless confusion in the chain-of-command, delaying the release of needed resources to address public concerns if something were to happen in his absence.

Lance writes:

I do agree that we have lost one of the "good ones" with the current situation. This is not similar to losing a tired, old cultural warrior due to sexual indiscretion. Sanford was a Republican who believed in limited government, as opposed to using the mantle of limited government to oppose Democrats.

If I recall correctly, I remember listening to an interview with Milton Friedman discussing the 50th anniversary of his voucher idea, and Friedman gave praise to Sanford for pushing a voucher program in South Carolina.

rsj writes:

does it really matter that he was gone for a few days with his mistress or whoever?...who should really care?

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

Here's a link to a video from "The Daily Show" that was aired prior to the Governor's press conference. I'm not making light of the Governor's present situation, but the video contains some funny commentary about how over the top the media went during his absence. The first minute is quite funny, especially the part about Bermuda.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=231545&title=governor-mark-sanford-is-missing

Personally, I think that so long as the Governor did not do anything illegal during the course of the affair; i.e. spending taxpayer dollars to fly to Argentina, then I think it should remain a private matter.

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