It’s not about government.
Repeat: It’s not about government.
Our government at every level is humming along pretty much as envisioned a quarter millennium ago by its architects. Read the Constitution and our government is easily recognizable as what our forefathers had in mind. It serves as a conduit for everything from hope to rancor and passes good laws and bad, renders court decisions good and bad, and, for better or worse, tackles all the executive chores. It checks. It balances. It functions pretty much as intended.
No, the issue is not government. It is the administrative state, sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government but really a boulder increasingly crushing the liberal republican form of government we were guaranteed.
The administrative state is the backdoor around government with which progressives—in both parties—have hoped to execute their goal of converting us from the most robust engine of freedom and prosperity for all ever on the planet to just another social democratic lumpen state.
Why would they attempt such a take-down? Because the political class and the intelligentsia cannot see straight in a scheme where everyone is their own boss. National greatness in their eyes can only be achieved when their voice drowns out ours and they are calling the shots and we are snapping to to their agenda for us.
It started in the administration of Grover Cleveland with the 1887 creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in response to long-simmering claims of abuse by western agrarians, especially Grangers, against the railroads. It was the first instance of using a state agency to monitor and arbitrate commercial interests rather than let markets settle the issues out. It died during the administration of Bill Clinton.
The scheme blew up with Woodrow Wilson. He launched one agency after another. To give you an idea of his overreach, here are some agencies shut down after his term.
- The War Industries Board provided the very model for fascist corporatism, and Franklin Roosevelt in particular was singled out by Mussolini for his work in directing ship building in his position as assistant secretary of the Navy for having proven his own concept of Dirigisme (a fact Roosevelt was proud to mention to Italian-American audiences when later campaigning for president).
- The Committee on Public Information stands as the first ministry of propaganda in a western nation.
- The American Protective League became the prototype for the Gestapo.
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in response to just such excesses of Wilson to prevent recurrences. His many successors have moved much less rashly, much more stealthily. (The ACLU was long ago taken over by the Democrats and is no longer our watchdog for these kinds of abuses).
But it was Franklin Roosevelt who greatly expanded the administrative state, and he did so by exploiting the Great Depression in true Democratic “never let a good crisis go to waste” style. He played the “we’re from the government and we’re here to help you” card over and over to create one new agency after another.
Lyndon Johnson, biting the bullet to pass John Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 following his assassination knowing the alienation it would cause among the Conservative Democrats of the South, shored up the damage by swiftly passing his Great Society initiative, which created a score of major programs along with agencies to head them, as well as his War on Poverty program that created the Office of Economic Opportunity to administer the individual programs. The major thrust of this greatly expansive legislation was to allow giveaways to minorities of more than a billion dollars a year [= ~$2.5B now] to insure being able to replace lost white Conservative Democrat votes with those of minority recipients of the largesse.
The result of all this is that we now have several hundred extra-constitutional agencies (Nobody Knows How Many Federal Agencies Exist). They are actually anti-constitutional for the following reasons.
- Many agencies have been given their own tax power without referral to Congress (the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, for example, is entirely funded by taxes it levies on publicly-traded companies)
- Many agencies have their own courts with self-selected ALJs (Administrative Law Judges) who are not not subject to performance reviews or any other oversight and who decide cases based on “a preponderance of the evidence” (if he’s 50.1% in agreement with the agency’s case, you lose) and without a jury. It’s a kangaroo court.
- Many agencies have their own police forces, often at SWAT level, to be used at their own discretion and, unlike how police forces are supposed to be constituted in a republican government, not subject to civilian control and review.
- Many agencies engage in no small part in rent-seeking, regulatory capture and other forms of what properly should be labeled corruption and do so precisely to increase the power of our elected politicians. (There’s a reason a life-long public servant like Harry Reid was able recently to leave office worth a reputed $80 million.)
- It overturns the guarantee that our laws apply to government officials the same as all of us. For example, when the EPA dumped more than a million tons of toxic waste into the Animas River in Colorado in 2015, they were not subject to the fines or even criminal assessments a private firm would face; they faced no repercussions. It was quite obvious also our enforcement agencies did not think the law applies to Hillary Clinton.
- The great majority of agency heads are not picked by the president or other elected officials but by other administrators. There is near-zero accountability to us citizens, who, in a republican government, hold sovereignty, or are supposed to.
These egregious violations don’t even get to the grave issues. First, we now have 30 million people out of a work force of 150 million paid out of tax revenues—not only workers for government at all levels but teachers, professors, some health care workers and researchers and so on.* Those numbers yield a ratio of one public worker for every four private taxpaying workers (yes, public workers feel the tax bite, but because they are paid from tax revenue, no new money enters the system).
Thanks to an executive order signed in 1962 by John Kennedy permitting public-sector unions (something even FDR said could never be allowed for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons), compensation for public workers has grown from 80 percent of an average private worker’s to just over 160 percent of taxpaying workers now. Indeed, the public is the only sector to have growth of compensation net of inflation over the last half century. Two private sectors, finance and electronics, have held their own; the rest have lost ground.
With total taxes over the last half century having stayed right at 40 percent of income, do the math and it turns out we need the total taxes of all four-out-of-five private workers just to pay the labor component of the public sector. That is precisely our debt spiral as all other costs of government have to be paid for by borrowing.
At least two million workers (and perhaps double) work in the federal administrative state. They include among the highest paid government workers —30,000 of them make more than the highest-paid governor. Here are the numbers: Oversight Report—Mapping the swamp: a study of the administrative state.
The anti-constitutional administrative state then is something that we don’t want but we are being required to pay for, one, out of our taxes, two, since that doesn’t cover it, by suffering a reduced standard of living not shared at all by public workers, and, three, by requiring our children and their children and so on to continue paying for it. The progressive elite do not care if they crater the economy; the automatic door will have slam shut, and they’ll be in total charge.
How could that possibly be? It is because our political class demands a large nomenklatura that is both loyal and compliant. Compliant to whom? Well, 97, 98 and 99 percent of political donations by public-sector unions go to Democrats.
“It therefore is necessary to consider the possibility that administrative law was an instrument of a class that took a dim view of popularly elected legislatures and a high view of its own rationality and specialized knowledge. This class drew upon popular political power, but primarily to establish another sort of power, which would be exercised by members of its own class, in a manner that reflected the alleged authority that came with their specialized knowledge. Although it did not thereby become the only ruling class, it at least made itself the rulemaking class.”
—Philip Hamburger, Is Administrative Law Unlawful?
The second grave issue is even worse.
How do you capture a herd of wild boar? You start setting out feed in a place where they congregate. Once they are happily eating, you build one side of a fence. This scares them, but they soon return for the feed. You build a second side and later a third. They are nervous again but, with no consequences the first time, they are soon back. Then you build an automatically triggered gate. WHAM! Back the truck up and bacon!
We are being treated to the same thing. The goal is for the US to become a State. We in the US have no more sense of what a State is than wild pigs understand automatic gates. The State is the very condition our Founding Fathers strove to make certain we would never descend into.
The first fence went up in the progressive era with progressive public education and the Flexner Report, which brought health care partially under government control and made the American Medical Association not only the first major lobbying group but a quasi-administrative agency (bringing education under political control allows for indoctrination and health care allows for populace control. It spread the meme that government cares and is the proper provider of all things good [this and following asides are based on The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and to The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought]).
The second fence was control of free enterprise and the ability of citizens to operate in their own economic self-interest. This was accomplished mostly by the 16th Amendment permitting the income tax but also by implementation of raft of majoritarian-rule democratic methods that allowed the progressive majority to violate the rights of minorities. Minimum wage laws, Keynesian economics and similar controls on economic activity allowed the public sector substantial control over the private and civil sectors (the powers to tax and substantially control economic outcomes allows the public sector the ability to rule).
The third fence was building out the administrative state, media monopolies and the use of political correctness (a state monopolizes rule-making and messaging in order to create a common political culture supportive of the ruling regime and with subversive elements easily identified and dealt with).
It is the gate, with its moving parts, that has been proving tricky for our would-be rulers. The top priority of a state is a monopoly on violence. Where citizens own firearms, it is tricky to take away their rights and impose a state. A giveaway that we were close to an attempt to close the gate on us came during the Obama administration with his weaponization of several agencies against the public interest and build-out of the deep state, his distribution of military-grade vehicles and weapons to local police, his repeal of the long-standing posse comitatus rule limiting government ability to impose military policing domestically, his purge of a considerable number of generals and admirals, his building of detention centers, his killing of Americans and, of course, the incessant drumbeat of the Democrats on behalf of gun control.
That’s a lot of dots pointing to being eager to flip the switch and lock us in. One suspects they have been using every opportunity that appeared to justify such measures if not creating Reichstag fires of their own making.
And here sit we talking about amicable agreement over government. Government is going to the Post Office. It is seeing the occasional military man in uniform. It is getting a ticket and paying a fine. We read about a few of its actions in our usual sources. It is unintrusive, unremarkable. Even at its most rambunctious, it affects us little. Government is a feather. The State… manacles.
Unfortunately, many of our political class seem to want to affect us in a major way, seriously to our detriment. Oddly, their fellow officeholders are not screaming bloody murder on our behalf as they should be at such threats to our liberty. They get to DC and get told they play the game or sit on the sideline. Time to get serious ourselves about stopping the threat. Time to start investigating the investigators and pruning a lot of people out of government. Time to quit being cordial with progressive foot soldiers and all their pleas for the social democratic state they feel so virtuous about.
Time to be on guard and not leave it all to Trump. No telling what comes after him. And if we leave most of the statist apparatus in place over the next couple of years, shame on us. We’ll deserve to end up on the griddle.
* Public sector numbers typically do not include military personal, whose figures are provided by the Department of Defense rather than the Bureau of Labor Statistics.