Who Really Governs You?

A few weeks ago we had a terrific discussion on the site about our wish list of fundamental reforms to the federal government. Several of you rightly noted the need to recalibrate Washington by shifting the ever-growing power of the administrative state back to our elected officials. A lecture by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Moffit, transcribed in

  1. Mark Wilson
    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Generally, more than 99 percent of the regulations would pass, unremarked upon, by voice vote. … The vast majority of state legislators gave no thought to the process beyond what an annoyance it was. In effect, the sheer scope of regulatory power made the idea of legislative oversight risible.

    At a certain point, that scope — and the dim prospects for reform — make this problem seem too daunting to be tackled.

    Troy,I agree with your assessment of the basic problem.  But how could an elected body of mostly lawyers possibly handle the vast scope of the job?  It sounds like they just rubberstamped everything anyway.

    If government had a severe reduction in its reach, maybe it could work.

  2. The King Prawn

    Anarchy and barbarism are not the alternative to the administrative state. However, with cultural degradation on its current trend, if we eliminate government we may end up with just that. (I just watched the UK with Murray, I guess it shows.)

  3. Troy Senik, Ed.

    I agree completely, Mark, and hope that my post can’t be read to indicate otherwise. There is no mechanism that would make this process viable. The answer in this case is not “good government” but less government.

    [Note: I've actually added a few sentences to the post to make my point clearer. Sharp eye, Mark.]

    Mark Wilson

    Troy,I agree with your assessment of the basic problem.  But how could an elected body of mostly lawyers possibly handle the vast scope of the job?  It sounds like they just rubberstamped everything anyway.

    If government had a severe reduction in its reach, maybe it could work. · 6 minutes ago

  4. Leporello

    As a complement to this excellent post, Troy, I recommend reading Michael Malbin’s fine book, Unelected Representatives (still freshly relevant, only moreso, after thirty years) concerning the giant role of the many thousand staff members in lawmaking.   (Since few have heard of the book – it was published in 1981 – I will mention that it was praised in a book review by Elliott Abrams in Commentary (subscription required).)

    Although Prof. Malbin does not say so in the book, it is clear that once the federal government expanded its regulatory powers far beyond what was permitted by the Constitution, true representative government became impossible.  There is simply no way that our 535 official legislative representatives could deal directly and personally with even 1/50th of it.  But if the federal government could be returned – even halfway – to the role it played prior to FDR (and, ideally, Wilson), we may have again a representative government that is worthy of the words “representative” and “government.”

  5. Mendel
    Troy Senik, Ed.: I agree completely, Mark, and hope that my post can’t be read to indicate otherwise. There is no mechanism that would make this process viable. The answer in this case is not “good government” but less government.

    Yes and no.  Obviously reducing the number of cookie jars the state reaches its hands into is the highest priority.

    But, as Prawn noted above, unless you think the government should get out of building highways and bridges, or should stop regulating airspace and radio spectrum apportionment, there will always be a need for experts who are much more knowledgeable than elected officials on technical issues.

    A small government can still be a bad government.

  6. Troy Senik, Ed.

    You won’t find any objection to that point from me, Mendel, nor I suspect from most of our members. I think the point is that there are areas where the necessity of government requires dealing with the frustrations and inefficiencies of the bureaucratic process, but, failing such necessity, it’s better to get the government to either (a) mind its own business or (b) at least put the onus for decision-making on elected officials instead of unaccountable administrators.

    Mendel

    Troy Senik, Ed.: I agree completely, Mark, and hope that my post can’t be read to indicate otherwise. There is no mechanism that would make this process viable. The answer in this case is not “good government” but less government.

    Yes and no.  Obviously reducing the number of cookie jars the state reaches its hands into is the highest priority.

    But, as Prawn noted above, unless you think the government should get out of building highways and bridges, or should stop regulating airspace and radio spectrum apportionment, there will always be a need for experts who are much more knowledgeable than elected officials on technical issues.

    A small government can still be a bad government. · 2 minutes ago

  7. Leporello
    Troy Senik, Ed.: I agree completely, Mark, and hope that my post can’t be read to indicate otherwise. There is no mechanism that would make this process viable. The answer in this case is not “good government” but less government.

    Mark Wilson

    Troy,I agree with your assessment of the basic problem.  But how could an elected body of mostly lawyers possibly handle the vast scope of the job?  It sounds like they just rubberstamped everything anyway.

    If government had a severe reduction in its reach, maybe it could work.

    I agree fully with both of you.  One of the problems is that “administrative” or “regulatory” state sounds innocent.  What’s wrong with administering or regulating?  But hiding behind that phrase is a great deal of German philosophy and social science that explicitly rejects limited government and the protection of individual rights, in favor of concentration of power in the hands of the few, removed from responsibility to the people and therefore supposedly disinterested.  In a way, it’s nothing more than a revival of aristocratic rule, something which most human beings seem to prefer today and historically.

    Conservatives need more accurate words to describe the “administrative/regulatory” state.

  8. Mendel
    Troy Senik, Ed.: I think the point is that there are areas where the necessity of government requires dealing with the frustrations and inefficiencies of the bureaucratic process, but, failing such necessity, it’s better to get the government to either (a) mind its own business or (b) at least put the onus for decision-making on elected officials instead of unaccountable administrators.

    I certainly agree, and I think your anecdote is the best way to deal with the issue.  Most Americans still have no idea how utterly absurd the sausage-making process is, and some real-life examples (like yours from Tennessee) might open some eyes to the reality behind our grade-school illusion of lawmaking.

  9. Troy Senik, Ed.

    In private conversation I’m apt to refer to it as the “Non-consensual State.” Given the other contexts in which the first part of that phrase is usually employed, it seems to drive the point home.

    Leporello

    Conservatives need more accurate words to describe the “administrative/regulatory” state. · 3 minutes ago

  10. Leporello
    Troy Senik, Ed.: In private conversation I’m apt to refer to it as the “Non-consensual State.” Given the other contexts in which the first part of that phrase is usually employed, it seems to drive the point home.

    Leporello

    Conservatives need more accurate words to describe the “administrative/regulatory” state. · 3 minutes ago

    Edited 0 minutes ago1 minute ago

    Yes, that might work.  Or perhaps the “unrepresentative state” or “permanently unelected state.”  Government of the unelected, by the unelected, for the unelected.  

    I think of it as “the tyrannical state,” but the use of the word tyranny is generally too strong for persuading people who aren’t aware of the facts on this topic.  ”Apparatchik state” is probably too strong, too, although not misplaced.

  11. LowcountryJoe
    Troy Senik, Ed.: A few weeks ago we had a terrific discussion on the site about our wish list of fundamental reforms to the federal government. Several of you rightly noted the need to recalibrate Washington by shifting the ever-growing power of the administrative state back to our elected officials.

    So, bring back the Articles of Confederation, then?

  12. Leporello

    “The  accumulation  of all  powers,  legislative,  executive,  and judiciary, in the same hands …  whether hereditary, self-appointed,  or elective,  may justly be pronounced  the very definition  of tyranny.” – James Madison, Federalist Papers

    “It is also the very definition of the administrative agency.”

    - Prof. Gary Lawson, Federal Administrative Law 

    Most people are not aware, as Troy said, of just how much of the country is run by unelected- and mostly untouchable (thanks to the Supreme Court) – bureaucrats in administrative agencies.  But another point is crucial as well:  a single administrative agency proposes and approves rules; enforces those rules; and judges those rules.  Whereas the Constitution carefully divides and balances the three powers of government, administrative agencies concentrate all three together.  

    Nor is due process observed in the enforcement and judging (unless one has the money, time, energy, and imprudence to appeal to the normal courts – although even then those courts will usually show deference to the agency’s interpretation).  I have heard left-wing attorneys complain about the lack of due process.  They never imagined that a government agency could subpoena information, take testimony, and impose a penalty without the typical protections granted in our civil and criminal courts.  

    Imagine it.

  13. Southern Pessimist

    I tried to confirm this on the net but failed, but I had heard a presedential historian once say that while Reagan was President he set a limit on the number of pages in the federal register and although the federal agencies tried to print smaller words they eventually decreased the number of new regulations. I was told that Bush senior thought that was stupid and rescended the rule but later reinstated it when the size of the register ballooned. I believe it has been growing with no effort to stop it since Clinton was elected.

  14. Southern Pessimist

    GP, I was going to say that most people like filing their taxes because they get money back, but realized that those people file early unless they are really stupid, which most people who get money back are(I guess I repeat myself) so anyway I think your idea is a good one.

  15. Robert E. Lee

    Tennessee, the state which made offending others illegal.  It seems to me that prosecution for violating some ridiculous and obscure rule, that is,  making a citizen a criminal, may be the only way to wake someone up to how really out of hand things have gotten.  A rude form of education to say the least.

    We need experts, we need administrators, we need politicians, but how do we control them?  How do we keep them in line?

  16. GuiridePueblo

    I’m sure this has been discussed before, but I think if they made tax filing deadline day and election day the same day or within the same week you would raise the awareness of the public of the waste that is the administrative state.

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