Thomas Donlan‘s latest Barron’s editorial commentary responds to President Obama’s designation of an Ebola virus “czar.”

We often hear that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and the old saying may be relevant to the explosion of news and comment about the Ebola disease. But these times, even if they are desperate, would not call for the appointment of a “czar.”

President Barack Obama should have known that so many American agencies and their would-be autocrats have failed that the mere use of the word czar ought to be considered a sign of approaching futility.

A search by a Wikipedia volunteer found that Americans have received the services of at least 149 czars since 1918, including: AIDS czar, Asian carp czar, bank czar, bioethics czar, bird flu czar, car czar, climate czar, copyright czar, cybersecurity czar, democracy czar, drug czar, economic czar, energy czar, food czar, green jobs czar, health czar, homeland security czar, homelessness czar, inflation czar, information czar, intelligence czar, and on through the alphabet to the weatherization czar. Our greatest need now may be for the appointment of a czar czar.

Ebola czar Ron Klain is the latest in the long dynastic succession—heralded as hands-on managers, able to perform miraculous feats of organizational efficiency. Most of them found that there was nothing they could get their hands on. They learned that the federal government only talks the czar game. American czars have responsibility without power.

Thus we see Czar Klain—or rather we don’t see him—“working behind the scenes” to coordinate a response of the whole government to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the few traces of it that have been detected in the U.S.