Pretending to Fix what you don’t want to Fix? The US Immigration System

The Washington Post has one of the most scandalous stories of government inefficiency and ineptitude that I’ve read in a while (and that’s saying something).  Apparently, ten years ago government officials made the wise decision to digitize the immigration system.  The project as supposed to cost a half a billion dollars and take 8 years.  Instead, it is two years overdue and is scheduled to take another 4 years and cost $3.1 billion.  And what do we have to show for all this time and money?  Almost nothing.  Seriously.

The Post reports that of the 95 forms that are supposed to be digitized, the crack technology group on this project has managed to make only one electronic.  One!  That is one expensive form, given that they’ve already spent $1 billion of the $.5 billion in their budget (that is one soft budget constraint!).

And what is this one important document that they’ve digitized?

“The sole form now available for electronic filing is an application for renewing or replacing a lost “green card” — the document given to legal permanent residents.”

And does this system work well for at least this one form?  We want to make sure we get our $1 billion worth.

“Government documents show that scores of immigrants who applied online waited up to a year or never received their new cards, disrupting their plans to work, attend school and travel.”

At first this made me think of the old Soviet joke that “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”  But then I remembered the billion dollars!

I think Adriana Maestas summed up the situation best in one of the best tweets I’ve seen on our immigration system.

Screenshot 2015-11-10 08.46.33

It does make you wonder.

The (Mis) Allocation of Talent?


Hat tip to@PankajPachauri for this interesting table.  I had a couple of thoughts on it:

1. Very disconcerting that the DOD is the #1 employer in the world.  Great stagnation anyone?

2.  The UK only has a population of 63 million people.  How can 1.7 million of those work for the National Health?  That’s over 2.5% of the total population!  And that doesn’t account for children and old people.

3. For a still poor country, China’s Defense Department employs a lot of people, making me wonder what the implications of this are for the country’s future productivity.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade (in your pants edition)

The Pope is coming to Manila and the government has advice for everyone: Diaper up!

People, as always, I am not making this up.  Check here for 2000 diapered traffic cops, And here’s a local bureaucrat claiming the diapers he has in mind will go four rounds!

In possibly related news, Tyler Cowen will be visiting OU in February and the same protocol may well be in place then.

Talk to the hand, Spanish edition

The Guardian recently published an interesting and amusing article entitled “Spanish government questioned over claims of divine help in economic crisis.”

The brouhaha began when Interior minister, Jorge Fernández Diaz said publicly that “Saint Teresa was ‘making important intercessions’ for Spain ‘during these tough times.'”  According to the article, Saint Teresa is one of the country’s “most popular holy figures.” [Strangest line of the article: “Saint Teresa was a favourite of General Franco, who kept her hand by his bed until his death.” Seriously?  If so, eww]

A left-wing Basque party wrote a letter to the government demanding answers.  I imagine the questions are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek (or at least rhetorical) and I enjoyed them a lot.  Here are some of my favorites:

“In what ways does the minister of the interior think Saint Teresa of Avila is interceding on behalf of Spain? Does the government believe there are other divine and supernatural interventions affecting the current state of Spain? If so, who are they?”

In reference to a comment made last year by employment minister, Fátima Báñez, who “praised the Virgin of El Rocío for helping Spain recover”:  “What role has the Virgin of El Rocío played in helping Spain exit the crisis?”

El País columnist Román Orozco agreed, writing that the government wants to ignore the “stark reality” of what was going on in Spain and instead, “pass on responsibility to virgins and saints, leaving in the lurch the millions of Spaniards who are the real martyrs of their never-ending austerity measures.”

Can’t they just Skype?

The G-8 summit is currently taking place in Northern Ireland, a region facing tough economic times because of the financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures (it’s estimated that youth unemployment is 24%).

As this article points out though, the British government has apparently thrown austerity measures out the window when it comes to preparing for the meetings.  For instance, they spent £300,000 creating a Potemkin village, including window sized decals that make it look like business is good.  Here is a photo of the “fake butcher shop window full of imaginary meat in a derelict storefront.”


Here is a good slideshow on some of the other “special” effects.  Apparently this is par for the course with these kind of summits.  Canada, for instance, spent $857 million on hosting the G8 and G20 meetings.  Part of the money actually got spent on building a fake indoor lake (seriously, here are the details).

The article also has some funny bits about the hotel preparations, including:

1. making sure they have the kind of exercise equipment Putin likes (wow, I wonder what that is).

2. making posters of the 8 world leaders so hotel staff can recognize them.  The funny part though is the manager explaining that “We’ve had to do three separate posters because every time we turn around there is a new prime minister in Italy.”

good stuff.