James Q. Wilson’s terrific book Bureaucracy has an interesting story about Donald Trump and New York mayor Ed Koch. The year was 1986. The city of New York had spent six years and $13 million failing to build an ice skating rink in Central Park. In early summer that year, Donald Trump proposed to Mayor Ed Koch that he take over the project for $3 million and promised to cover any excess amounts himself rather than go back to the city. By late October the project was finished and was three quarters of a million dollars under budget.

How do you explain this story? Why was the city of New York so inept that it could not do in six years and with five times the money what Donald Trump was able to achieve in a few months?

There are several reasons why the city failed so miserably, but ultimately, the answer is that when government tries to do something, everything is infected by politics. For example, when the city planned to build the rink, the type of fuel used for refrigeration was a political matter. When Trump built the rink, he only worried about getting a reliable refrigeration unit. The city also had to abide by standards for equitable bidding of the project. Trump only had to give the contract to someone he knew could get the job done. Most important, when the city had the project there wasn’t much incentive to contain cost. No member of the government would personally have to cover cost overruns. Trump, on the other hand, accepted responsibility for coming in at or under the budget as the only way he could come out ahead.

As we continue to expand our government, we need to be thinking about what we really want. Bureaucracy gives us all kinds of things that we emphasize in our politics such as politically correct energy, equity and diversity in bidding, protection of union members, and providing jobs for government workers. On the other hand, sometimes you just want your skating rink by December.


  • Angelo Darden

    ” the answer is that when government tries to do something, everything is
    infected by politics. For example, when the city planned to build the
    rink, the type of fuel used for refrigeration was a political matter.
    When Trump built the rink, he only worried about getting a reliable
    refrigeration unit. The city also had to abide by standards for
    equitable bidding of the project. Trump only had to give the contract
    to someone he knew could get the job done. Most important, when the
    city had the project there wasn’t much incentive to contain cost. No
    member of the government would personally have to cover cost overruns.
    Trump, on the other hand, accepted responsibility for coming in at or
    under the budget as the only way he could come out ahead.”

    It seems to me that the author has a problem with democracy; in a public government, it’s not the mayor’s money. The money belongs to the taxpayers and thus it has to be accounted for and somebody has to take responsibility. All Trump did was act as the city’s subcontractor with a good bid.
    But by the same token, when the private sector fails at something, no one wants to take responsibility. Case in point: the 2008 financial meltdown beginning with Lehman Brothers.
    Sometimes one can be blinded by their own political ideology.

    • RIR fan

      If that is truly your thought process, you’ll never get it so don’t even try.

  • gapaul
  • Angelo Darden

    The emergency manager was hired by the Republican Governor. We see the same patterns with Louisiana and Kansas. Has it ever occurred to you that their policies adversely affect YOU? I have yet to see macroeconomic policies that are specifically selective in effect. So tell me, how has the economic policies of the Republican party helped you?

    • Marc Vander Maas

      “But then again, we see the results of Republican thought processes in places like Flint, MI and New Orleans, LA after Katrina.”

      That is absurd.

      • Angelo Darden

        I agree, Republicans usually are. Now can you explain why Bobby Jindal, Sam Brownback and Rick Snyder have sucked so badly at their jobs?
        Louisiana’s budget is a mess;
        ( http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/02/louisiana_is_in_a_budget_mess.html)
        So is Kansas:
        ( http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/barbara-shelly/article63908242.html)
        And Michigan; the “surplus” that wasn’t?
        (http://www.thenation.com/article/ugly-truth-behind-michigans-budget-surplus/)
        Not to mention the debacle in Flint:
        ( http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/03/17/470792212/watch-michigan-gov-rick-snyder-testifies-on-the-flint-water-crisis)
        And in Florida, Rick Scott is fudging the figures:
        ( http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2011/aug/18/rick-scott/gov-scott-says-deficit-turned-surplus/)
        I thought Republicans were supposed to be the party of “fiscal responsiblity”?

        • Marc Vander Maas

          Neither party is the party of fiscal responsibility. But the idea that the mismanagement of cities like Flint or Detroit over the last half century or more has anything to do with “Republican ideas”, by which I assume you mean more conservative ideas, is flatly absurd and barely deserves a response.

          • Will

            Why is it conservative to launch two outrageously expensive wars and lower taxes at the same time? That is exactly what (Republican) President Bush did. What did Republicans think that would do to our national debt? Cutting taxes is not conservative — it is reckless and irresponsible.

            Why is it conservative to support the ability of all citizens to have unfettered access to any kind of gun — including automatic assault rifles and other instruments of war — with virtually no restrictions or limitations? The Second Amendment by its own terms refers to a WELL REGULATED militia. So, when Republicans oppose gun regulation, they aren’t being strict about the constitution, they are opposing it’s very terms! How is that conservative?

            The most “conservative” values are said to be love of family and country. So why do Republicans oppose marriage and adoption when gays or lesbians are involved? Why did Republicans oppose gays and lesbians openly serving in the military. Even when gays and lesbians exhibit typically conservative family values and want to serve our country in the military, they are rejected by Republicans. Why is that considered conservative?

  • DogWithoutSlippers

    TRUMP 2016……..he is America’s Man On Horseback!~

  • CrapCon

    Whatever, all anybody had to do was go talk to the Canadians. “In 1986, Donald Trump hired Cimco to fix the beautiful but notoriously poor Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park. After Cimco engineers studied the rink, they told Mr. Trump that its refrigeration system was a joke and would have to be replaced. Three months later, the rink was up and running, with “beautiful, beautiful ice,” as one city official said.”

  • TEXASCITIZZEN

    With government Donald Trump will run into the same problem that Dwight D. Eisenhower ran into. Ike issued an order to soldiers and it was done immediately & completely–no question. With government civil service Ike issued an order & maybe it got done partially or wholly and in their own time frame–they only had to wait 4 years, 8 years & he would be gone. The same happens with government and Congress. Hopefully he will overcome these issues & leave the system, the nation, the government and the economy in a better place during his presidency and when he leaves.

    He must leave the nation in a better place with regards to the national debt and then trending downwards. We cannot continue to borrow and borrow to spend beyond our means. We must increase our revenue, not by passing more taxes but by growing the economy so that the revenue pot increases due to the number of workers/citizens paying taxes. We do not give up the American Dream, we just manage it better, more effectively and more efficiently so that it becomes the American Dream for everyone.

  • John

    Whatever you say, at least he gets a product. The alternative is a $12 million bog.