Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Importance of Fat

You only know what's important when you begin to lose it.  Fat is important, both for humans and for bureaucracy.

Taking a pro-fat position goes against the grain. I've always been slender, got down to 135 when I got out of the Army, got up to 155 towards the end of my days as a lazy, overpaid govmint bureaucrat.  And while I've overcome some of my prejudices, I have to admit I've some reservations about the obese. It's always seemed more important to me to do something, rather than just sit and jiggle.

I'm getting old. I know because in certain positions my skin is slack over my bones and muscles, my subcutaneous fat is fading away and I can see what I will look like if I make it into my 80's mid 70's.. It's distressing, best handled by denial.

While the headlines continue to be about increasing obesity in the nation, some research suggests being skinny isn't good.  Why? Fat is a reserve of energy, a savings account you can draw upon if and when you get sick. Skinny people don't have the reserve so they don't recover from illness as well; sometimes they don't recover at all.

Politicians love to attack fat, not so much obesity, though Mrs. Obama does a good job, but fat in the form of the "bloated bureaucracy". (The peak use of that phrase seems to be around 1994, the revolution led by Rep. Gringrich.)  Currently Mr. Romney is pledging to cut federal employees while President Obama says he wants a "lean government".

I want to be a bit contrarian, defending the idea of a less than lean government.  A bit of "fat" can improve the way government looks/works.  For example, take the DMV.  Suppose  one DMV employee can handle 20 customers a day, and the DMV office expects to serve 100 customers a day.  So "lean government" means you staff the office with 5 employees, right?  Maybe so, but unless you can ensure that customers arrive at regular intervals throughout the day, you won't provide good and timely service.

A less than lean government can also be important in cases of sudden change.  For example, President Obama decided to permit children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the US for up to 2 years.  That was a change of policy, and the USCIS had a big job quickly to work up the forms, processes, and software to handle the applications.  I don't know what they did, but my guess is they didn't have time to hire employees, so they likely drew upon their "fat", relieving their best employees of routine work and assigning it to less capable employees, the "fat".  They undoubtedly used overtime and contracts as well, but the fat was important.  

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