Everyone Has a Plan Until they Get Hit

Megan McArdle, reporting from an annual gabfest in Aspen:

The questions for [Austan] Goolsbee are much more hostile than they were last year.  I don’t know whether to attribute this to the economy, or the fact that the disadvantages of Obama’s policies are now apparent.  All policies sound better when they’re in white paper, and Obama’s rhetorical deftness made it particularly easy to make his proposals sound like all things to all people.  Now deficits have to be paid for, climate change bills turn out to lack teeth for anyone except the Chinese, health care gets scored by the CBO rather than optimistic campaign members.

Quite so.  Last year, Goolsbee was a smart outsider, pointing to deficiencies in the extant Bush administration’s policy outcomes.  This year, he’s an insider presiding over a giant mess.  While one aspires to the latter position, the former is more comfortable.

The post’s title, of course, refers to a quotation from the philosopher Michael Gerard Tyson.  (Reported variants include, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”)   It may or may not have been inspired by of Helmuth von Moltke’s dictum “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Pete Burgess says:

    It doesn’t surprise me one bit. The world is always full of young toughs who brag about their bravado until the s— hits the fan. I can remember thinking I had all the answers too. Nothing like the real world to dissolve hubris.

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Goolsbee has the answers as he is in on the plan, however if he revealed it in public he would be torn limb from limb by angry mobs. Read Alinsky. Obama is following the blueprint.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I don’t believe it’s quite as sinister as ZRIII suggests nor quite as you suggest, either, James.

    I think that technocrats uniformly underestimate systemic inertia. They overestimate their own freedom of action and how much they can actually change things without realizing the amount of time that it will take or the amount of opposition they’ll encounter.

  4. JKB says:

    Or as I learned it as a young officer, everyone can bring the ship alongside the pier perfectly, when standing beneath the bridge wing. But move one deck up and it all gets so much more complicated. I blame the altitude.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    In the beginning, there was the Plan.

    And then came the Assumptions.

    And the Assumptions were without form.

    And the Plan was without substance.

    And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

    And they spoke among themselves, saying, “It is a crock of shit, and it

    And the Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, “It is a pail of
    dung, and we can’t live with the smell”.

    And the Supervisors went unto their Managers, saying, “It is a container of
    excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”

    And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying, “It is a vessel of
    fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”

    And the Directors spoke among themselves, Saying to one another, “It
    contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong.”

    And the Directors went to the Vice Presidents, saying unto them, “It
    promotes growth, and it is very powerful.”

    And the Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him, “This new
    plan will actively promote the growth and vigor of the company with very
    powerful effects.”

    And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.

    And the Plan became Policy.

    And this is how sh** happens…

    I suspect Goolsbee to be just recently figuring out that what he was selling a few years ago has more in the way of holes in it, than he supposed. I also suspect some of the hostility is reaction to people at the conference who have also started to figure this out and are pressing the poor sot on the matter.

    Not unlike Obama and the war on terror, he’s being forced by the reality of the situation to an understanding that his original assessment is a pail of dung, and he’s having problems selling stuff that smells quite so bad.

    IN short, the plan has met reality, and the result is less than encouraging.

    Wow… reality. What a concept!

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    Read Alinsky. Obama is following the blueprint.

    Ya he is….

    In the original edition of the book, the preface states the following:

    “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.” [1]

    Current editions of the book lack this controversial preface.

    Anyone know why they took out this brilliant point?

  7. Rick DeMent says:

    I think that technocrats uniformly underestimate systemic inertia. They overestimate their own freedom of action and how much they can actually change things without realizing the amount of time that it will take or the amount of opposition they’ll encounter.

    IMRTHO this is not eve the worst of it. The bigger problem is that the government is bought and paid for by industry groups and their army of lobbyist. The solutions are not really difficult to envision the problem is that they must pass muster or even implement relative to the push back you get from those who stand to lose. and whether we are talking about the banks, the health care industry, or agribusiness they all have the cash to make sure that nothing happens that will threaten their ability to increase their share of the pie.

    What I fail to understand is why anyone defends a system that has explicitly legalized bribery and influence peddling under the moronic rubric of money = speech.

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

    James Madison, letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822