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Chris Hayes podcast: How to break the federal government with Michael Lewis

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This is a great episode.

Basically, people who don't know what all goes on in the core functions of the government, aren't aware of how important much of what they do is, nor how difficult it is to do.

You keep returning in the book to the learning curve in which people from the outside, whether they're from the business world or they're coming into a new administration view the bureaucracy as basically this drab lump of idiots who don't know what they're doing and then come to appreciate it.


MICHAEL LEWIS: So I would say if I was going to list the several traits that the people I met in the government tended to have, one was that that they were very mission-driven. They were not money people. If they were money people they wouldn't be in the federal government. Most everybody I talked to, and I talked to dozens and dozens of people, could have been making more money in the private sector, so they were attracted to the mission.

Second, they are risk-averse generally. They don't like publicity. The way their life is lived, everything's downside. Only bad things could happen.

CHRIS HAYES: That's right. That's right.

MICHAEL LEWIS: Nobody is going to celebrate your achievement. All they're going to do is ridicule you for some mistake you made, and all attention is just like to be avoided. They are the people who are walking around the streets of Washington with umbrellas when there's a 20 percent chance of rain. They're just always protecting against the downside.

So, for example, you have people like Rick Perry saying that the Department of Energy should be disbanded, perhaps thinking that energy companies can do just fine without government shoving them around. After he was made Secretary of Energy, he did a 180 and admitted he was completely wrong. He learned the department's TRUE MISSION: to maintain the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal, and protect the U.S. from nuclear threats.

"Who would have known?"

That phrase comes up a lot when business people, without knowing exactly what these agencies do, decide they want to get in and change things.

In the episode, Lewis says that what many government agencies do is protect the U.S. from "1 in a million tail-risks" -- and there are a lot of them. He said that when a guy like Trump comes in and changes things around without knowing what they are doing, it reduces some of these to "1 in 100,000", and nobody notices, until it's too late. He cited as an example, the airplane crash that may have been the result of the FAA not properly monitoring Boeing software.
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