You might be inclined to think we were stretching a bit when we decided that Habit had anything to do with governing. However, the book spends a fair amount of time with former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill. Prior to that post he was the CEO of Alcoa where, according to the book, he refocused the company towards safety, which had a net effect of changing the whole company and increasing its profits. With respect to governing, he said:
“That’s when O’Neill’s education in organizational habits really started. One of his first assignments was to create an analytical framework for studying how the government was spending money on health care. He quickly figured out that the government’s efforts, which should have been guided by logical rules and deliberate priorities, were instead driven by bizarre institutional processes that, in many ways, operated like habits. Bureaucrats and politicians, rather than making decisions, were responding to cues with automatic routines in order to get rewards such as promotions or reelection. It was a habit loop—spread across thousands of people and billions of dollars.” pg. 102, 1st Edition
He goes on to comment, “The best agencies understood the importance of routines [habits]. The worst agencies were headed by people who never thought about it, and then wondered by no one followed their orders.” pg. 104.
So, like all aspects of life, habits can rule the day.
We have a word for people outside of government trying to influence how government allocates and spends money: lobbyists. The study of public choice theory goes to how government workers seek to spend money from Congress so as to protect the budgets of the government worker’s offices, and thus their jobs. But we don’t really have a word for those specific government workers. If the word lobbyist comes from people congregating in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, then maybe we need a name for these government workers congregating in conference rooms all over DC. (Thoughts dear readers?)
What Habits would argue is that both sides are acting out of habit. There is a cue: government money at stake. Then a routine: lobbying and the spending through budgets. And finally a reward: more government spending.
Is the naiveté in believing that government workers are completely unbiased and unaffected by the knowledge that their behaviors affect their budgetary outcomes or in believing that curtailing how lobbyist work will reduce the amount of lobbying? To change any habit, you have to change the routine. I am not sure how or even if we need to do it. If someone above my pay grade decides we do need to change, then they will need to look to the habits of government to do so.