Saturday, March 24, 2018

“Deep State” Part 2: Further Thoughts

     Bearing always in mind that headline writers instinctively go for the most lurid imaginable phrasings, nevertheless this article, in which media figures react to the Monmouth University poll I cited here is extremely revealing:

     “The attacks against the so-called deep state … by the president and some Republicans actually might be taking hold,” said co-host Mika Brzezinski. “More Americans now believe that national policy is being manipulated or directed by a deep state. That according to the newest Monmouth university poll. Six in ten Americans believe that un-elected or appointed government officials have too much influence in determining federal policy. Twenty-six percent say the right balance of power exists between elected and un-elected officials.”

     Playing the embedded video gives a better sense of Brzezinski’s disdain for the concept of a “deep state” and for Americans’ affirmation that it exists and has unprecedented power. But it appears that media denigrations and dismissals are having ever less of an effect upon Americans’ convictions and opinions.

     About BLEEP!ing time, ain’t it?

     An observation made in the middle of a hyper-fanciful novel of conspiracies, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! trilogy, proves to have much real-world impact:

     Communication is only possible between equals. – Hagbard Celine’s “SNAFU Principle”

     The examples usually given in support of this pithy observation use differences in authority for the demonstration. But the Deep State works on a different, although similar, basis: differences in vulnerability.

     As I mentioned in the previous article, government employees enjoy important privileges under current laws and circumstances:

  1. Federal employees are protected from termination by Civil Service law.
  2. Voluntary resignations by federal employees are vanishingly few in number.
  3. Many layers of supervisors stand between the bureaucrat and the elected government.
  4. A supervisor-bureaucrat who fails to argue consistently for the expansion of his pyramid of subordinates (and, of course, the funding for it) will not survive. This is well known to career bureaucrats.
  5. As the funding for the bureaucracy is extracted by force from millions of persons who have no say in the matter, the top-level bureaucrat – e.g., a Cabinet Secretary – will have no qualms about championing the expansive desires of his subordinates. (Remember that by Item 4 above, Cabinet Secretaries also have an interest in expanding their departments and funding.)

     The combination of those factors renders the Civil Service bureaucrat far less vulnerable than his appointed and elected superiors. He can get away with virtually anything, all the way from goldbricking up to outright defiance of those superiors. There have been numerous examples of this in the recent past. And bear always in mind that no one enters government at any level without an agenda.

     This startling difference in vulnerability is the foundation of bureaucratic intransigence. Short of an open felony, the employee-bureaucrat can do whatever he pleases. As many of them are in government service out of a desire to wield power, that’s what they do. Congressional and Constitutional constraints are, in practice, no constraints at all.

     The situation is made worse by what is sometimes called the vertical stroke: the practice of assigning responsibility to (and inflicting penalties on) appointees for the nonfeasances, misfeasances, and malfeasances of Civil Service employees. Due to the near-perfect invulnerability of the bureaucrat under Civil Service law, a Cabinet secretary or deputy secretary has no effective authority over him. As Robert A. Heinlein has told us, a responsibility without the authority to enforce it is impossible to discharge.

     The SNAFU Principle guarantees disaster from such a configuration.

     An additional factor, wound deeply into our contemporary politics, must be mentioned at this time: the Deep State functions indirectly as an ally to the elected legislator. The relevant phenomenon is legislators’ practice of “constituent service.”

     With the intransigent, immobile, and faceless bureaucracy to rail against, any ersatz “reformer” can score campaign points by promising to “cut the red tape.” Voters want exactly that, though given how many times the taming of the bureaucracy has been promised us, we’ve gradually been catching on that it’s no sincere part of the “reformer’s” intentions. However, once the miscreant has been elected to Congress, those in his district will naturally see him as a weapon against whatever bureaucratic action has harmed them – and they will go to him seeking relief. To the extent that the legislator provides such relief on request, he will benefit come election time from his provision of “constituent service.”

     Note that “constituent service” is made not merely necessary but possible by the bureaucracy. Few men canny enough to attain high office would fail to conclude that the bureaucracy is an asset to their ambitions, rather than something they should seek to dismantle or reduce.

     In discussing the ObamaCare disaster and the prospects for undoing it, Glenn Reynolds has suggested that “Irish democracy” might be the most effective approach to neutralizing that pernicious enactment:

     Now, as February draws near, things don't look much better. Far fewer than half the number needed by March 31 have signed up. And, as it turns out, most of the people signing up for Obamacare aren't the uninsured for whom it was supposedly enacted, but people who were previously insured (many of whom lost their previous insurancebecause of Obamacare's new requirements). "At most," writes Bloomberg's Megan McArdle, "they've signed up 15% of the uninsured that they were expecting to enroll. ... Where are the uninsured? Did hardly any of them want coverage beginning Jan. 1?" It looks that way.

     In fact, there seem to be more uninsured than there were before Obama took office, leaving Jonah Goldberg to ask, "So what was the point of Obamacare again?"

     If the program fails, it won't be because Republicans stopped it, despite all the House votes and defunding efforts. It will be because millions of Americans' passive resistance brought it to its knees. Irish Democracy, indeed.

     Meanwhile, on the marijuana front, the people of states like Colorado are engaging in an odd, 21st century variety of nullification. Unlike the 19th century John Calhoun version, state laws legalizing marijuana don't purport to neutralize the still-extant federal laws banning cannabis. But the state, and millions of Coloradans, are simply ignoring the federal law and, in essence, daring the feds to do something about it.

     “You gonna make me?” if pronounced by a sufficient number of Americans, might be the only effective way of negating the Deep State’s power, regardless of the issue. That wouldn’t clean out the bureaucracies in a single stroke, of course. However it would materially affect the incentives that draw the would-be power-wielder into government employment in the first place. That would be a net gain from the limited-government perspective.

     I might return to this subject yet again. Stay tuned.


Linda Fox said...

In some ways, the worst possible solution. Open resistance without consequences. Very little ability to diminish the fed bureaucracy. Law-abiding people and property-owners suffer the most.

"Free" money, no consequences - all for the unlawful and lazy.

The place to start is to get the "entitlements" severely reduced, if not mostly eliminated.

Andy Texan said...

Speaking of defiance, it is time for the President to defy the progressive congress, bureaucracy and judiciary but ordering his programs to be carried out (such as having the DOD build the border wall) and simply use passive-aggressive techniques to stymie the judicial roadblocks that would inevitably be thrown up (promise to obey the injunction while its being appealed but continue to work).