Sunday, September 8, 2013

Where The Power Is Part 2: The Scam

After you become conscious of the overpowering role of the bureaucracy in the extinction of Americans' freedom, it becomes imperative to seek the reasons why the formal political class -- i.e., the elected officials and appointees made visible to us thought Senatorial hearings and confirmations -- tolerates the bureaucracy's existence.

The reason isn't far to seek. It's buried in a phrase most Americans would regard as a harmless, even benign outcropping of contemporary politics...something even the dourest of us would have a hard time arguing against.

The phrase? "Constituent Service."

The typical elected legislator maintains two offices, or sets of offices: one in the capital city where he "serves;" and one in the district that elected him. He might spend 90% or 95% of his waking hours in the capital, but his "presence" among his constituents is frequently far more important to his prospects for making a career out of his position.

His constituents will visit the office local to them for a variety of reasons, most important among them to lobby for some policy position, or to request an intervention with some bureaucracy on their behalf. We can ignore the first of those for the purposes of this essay, especially since the "whales" -- i.e., the wealthy supporters, the heavily funded special interest groups, and the political action committees -- will go to see him in the capital, where they'll be more likely to get his personal attention. The locals will overwhelmingly be there to request an intervention, usually to get the weight of a regulation lifted or to expedite some payment they've awaited for a while.

Legislators love to "serve" their constituents in this fashion. It creates loyalists, and generates word-of-mouth that favors their re-election prospects. The constituents, in the main, think nothing of it. The nature of the oppressions from which they seek relief is of less moment to them than the benevolence of their legislator.

It serves other, wider purposes as well:

  • It allows the legislator to feel powerful, and in a good cause, at that;
  • It creates a temporary fiction that "things are under control" -- i.e., that as long as Legislator Smith is on the job, the excesses of the regulatory state can be coped with;
  • It deflects the odium of oppressive government from the shoulders of the political class onto faceless persons who, as I noted in the previous essay, cannot be compelled to answer for their misfeasances, malfeasances, and nonfeasances.

Inasmuch as the oppressions of the regulatory bureaucracies are entirely the fault of the political class, and would not be possible without legislators' and executives' tacit connivance and cooperation, this constitutes a scam of tremendous dimensions: an seductively sinuous fan-dance that conceals the real reasons for Americans' steady, ongoing loss of freedom this century past.

And we sit still for it.

The bureaucracies, sometimes called the "permanent government," got their start well before the present day. Indeed, when President Chester Arthur spearheaded the "reforms" that gave us the "Civil Service," there were already more federal hirelings than the total of all elected officials at the federal and state levels. But the exponential expansion of the bureaucracies began with FDR and the New Deal. Indeed, such unaccountable instruments of federal power were essential to his design:

Two years later the President was saying to Congress: "In thirty-four months we have built up new instruments of public power." Who had opposed this extension of government power? He asked the question and answered it. The unscrupulous, the incompetent, those who represented entrenched greed — only these had opposed it. Then he said: "In the hands of a people's government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets, of an economic autocracy, such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people." [Garet Garrett, "The Revolution Was"]

Isabel Paterson, in The God of the Machine, attributes the explosion of the alphabet agencies to the Seventeenth Amendment:

The final and formal stroke in disestablishing the states was the Seventeenth Amendment, which took the election of Senators out of the State Legislature and gave it to the popular vote. Since then the states have had no connection with the Federal government; representation in both Houses of Congress rests only on dislocated mass. The simultaneous abdication of both Houses in 1933 was the result. They were not thrust apart. They did not evenfall apart, because they were no longer in any structural relation whatever, neither to mass nor to each other, nor to the superstructure. They had simply ceased to function. The immediate appearance of an enormous bureaucracy was the natural phenomenon of the structureless nation.

Beyond all question, those who have sought arbitrary and unlimited power over Americans have made full use of the bureaucracies in pursuing their aim.

Bureaucracies are what they are -- faceless instruments of coercion beyond redress by any lawful mechanism -- by design. They function as they do because their scam serves both the interests of the political class, the interests of the bureaucrats themselves, and the interests of the many nominally private institutions that profit from the existence and function of the bureaucracy. Consider as a trivial example the symbiosis between the Internal Revenue Service and the legions of tax lawyers, tax accountants, and tax return preparation specialists; were the IRS to fall, it would drive some 200,000 of those parasites into penury.

The most useful analogy available is that of an organism that has optimized itself for a particular habitat. A habitat is ideal for some organism because it copiously provides what the organism needs while disadvantaging any species inclined to prey upon it.

A bureaucracy is in essence a collection of bureaucrats exercising quasi-legal authority. To topple a bureaucracy, we must destroy bureaucrats' habitat: We must bring about changes that will make their operations bring disadvantage or damage to them as individuals while simultaneously undercutting their pretensions to authority.

More anon.

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