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The People Who Want To Run The U.S. Economy Can’t Run A Simple Caucus

The meltdown in Iowa serves as a useful reminder: systems are complicated. It’s a lot easier to promise you’ll fix major problems than to actually do it.


Today, I broke my morning routine. Normally I shower, dress, wake kids, brush teeth, and make coffee before I pick up my phone. This morning I couldn’t wait. I had to see the results of the Iowa caucus. Unfortunately, we still don’t have them. There were, um, issues.

“A systemwide disaster,” said Derek Eadon, a former Iowa Democratic Party chairman, speaking more bluntly to The New York Times.

It’s fair to say everyone is still trying to figure out what happened. There were problems involving the new app the Iowa Democratic Party rolled out to help report results, although it’s unclear if the issue was with the app, as The New York Post reports, or user error, as the Times reports. (Precinct captains apparently were not trained on the app.)

News reports make it clear there were suspicions there would be app problems, so there was a backup plan: phone in results to state party headquarters. That failed, too.

A precinct captain, on live TV with CNN, was hung up on while trying to report voting results. A party chair who also had problems phoning in results took pictures of the vote and directed his executive director to drive them to Iowa Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines. She was turned away. It’s clear that some data got reported, while other data did not, which led to at least three different sets of voting results.

“We found inconsistencies,” admitted Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Mandy McClure. “In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report.”

Now there are whispers of conspiracy, as Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared poised for a stunning victory. There is talk that Iowa will now lose its precious spot as the first caucus. While problems always get magnified in the modern news cycle, everyone pretty much agrees last night was a disaster.

The meltdown in Iowa serves as a useful reminder: systems are complicated. We often forget that. We show up at the grocery store and shelves are packed and there’s fresh meat and produce. We need a lift and we pull out our phone and press a button; an Uber shows up. Our car makes a weird sound, and we drop it off and the mechanic takes care of it.

All of this happens on its own. No one is directing the mechanic to be open and service my car. The Uber driver isn’t giving me a lift out of altruism. The grocery store owner doesn’t have fresh produce brought in every morning because she knows how much I love organic peaches right off the tree.

The mechanic, grocery owner, and Uber driver are part of a vast, complicated system that operates with an efficiency the human mind cannot fathom. It’s a system that is directed by no one, and it involves billions of people working in invisible concert. Acting in their own interests, they serve the whole.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest,” the economist Adam Smith famously observed in “The Wealth of Nations.” “We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”

Last night, Iowa caucus goers were voting on a field of candidates that contains many who are seeking to vastly expand government control of health care, wages, emissions, agriculture, education, finance, and many other parts of the U.S. economy.

It’s amusing to see candidates who have the hubris to claim they possess the knowledge to effectively regulate an entire economy are running for president in a party that appears unable to effectively manage a simple caucus. A rich irony indeed.