Needed Changes Today   4 comments

Americans have always hated bureaucracy. One of the charges against King George III in the Declaration of Independence was that he “has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” Who wants to be ruled by a national DMV? It is costly, inefficient, and, well, bureaucratic.

“It is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but their distribution, that good government is effected,” Jefferson warned. “Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.”

The Founders certainly understood the need for the good government administration, but the administration was subordinate to the president, and thus indirectly responsible to the people through election. In Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton (who liked government more than almost any other founder) called it a “heresy” to suggest that of all forms of government “that which is best administered is best.”

The United States has been moving down the path to socialized government in fits and starts for over a century, but the real shift and expansion occurred under the Great Society and its progeny. The expansion of regulatory activities on a society-wide scale in the 1960s and 1970s led to vast new centralizing authority in the federal government, such that today the primary function of government is to regulate. The modern Congress is a supervisory body exercising oversight of the true lawmakers — administrative policymakers. It is in this model Americans are trapped today. Everything — from financial restructuring to environmental regulation to immigration reform — must be dealt with comprehensively, meaning centrally and uniformly, based on the best science rather than politics and ideology.

The “health-care reform” legislation just enacted is the perfect example. Massive regulatory authority over one-sixth of the American economy, not to mention over most health-care decision-making, are being transferred to a collection of more than 100 federal agencies, bureaus, and commissions, along with new federal programs and an unprecedented delegation of power to the now-über-czar Secretary of Health and Human Services. Little or nothing will be allowed outside the new regulatory scheme — no alternative state programs, no individuals or businesses that choose not to participate, no truly private market alternatives.

If Obamacare becomes settled law, and its programs are fixed in place, it will go far in cementing the United States as a post-constitutional administrative state.

In assuming more and more tasks in more and more areas beyond its constitutionally prescribed responsibilities, modern government has done great damage to American self-rule. The extended reach of the state, fueled by its imperative to impose neutrality on the public square, continues to push traditional social institutions into the shadows of public life, undermining the moral fabric of America’s culture and civil society.

As a people, we have become habituated to expect government to solve not just social problems but personal ones, removing all risk from life and providing for all our needs and many of our pleasures. Individuals now look to government to relieve their most ordinary concerns, support their basic endeavors, and compensate them for the simplest injuries they suffer in daily affairs. There are Darwin Award winners who actually call 911 when McDonald’s gets their order wrong. All these demands are considered to be rights, and the list is ever-expanding.

By feeding the entitlement mentality rather than promoting self-reliance and independence, administrative government encourages a slavish character incompatible with republicanism. Previously self-governing citizens are degrading themselves slowly into passive subjects of an impersonal, bureaucratic nation-state, and once citizens have given up liberty for comfortable security and the responsibility of self-government for the ease of government-as-parent, democratic government can become a type of soft despotism — which is less coercive in its methods and more benign in its concerns than a totalitarian regime, but perhaps more despotic for this very reason – we don’t buck against it because the loss of liberty is subtle – until it’s too late to resist because we’ve lost our liberty.

The Left long has tried to persuade Americans that the rise of the Progressive state was inevitable and permanent. Yet a growing body of evidence, from tea parties to the still-majority opposition to the health-care law, suggests the question has not been settled — at least not by the American people. A recent Rasmussen survey found:

  • 75% of Americans are angry about the policies of the expanding federal government
  • 71% view the government as an interest group,
  • 61% believe the government does not represent the consent of the governed, and
  • 53% view the federal government as a risk to their personal liberty.

The debate between the Founders’ constitutionalism and the Progressive paradigm meant to replace it is now engaged in the American mind as never before. Over the next months and years, and the next few elections, the matter will be decided, perhaps definitively, one way or the other.

Either the party of the modern state will unify its control and solidify its centralized model of government, or a new coalition of its opponents — unified by a healthy contempt for bureaucratic rule and a determination to reassert popular consent — will gain control of the political institutions of government and begin the difficult task of restoring real limits on government.

Will we become subjects of the administrative state or citizens of a free republic?

4 responses to “Needed Changes Today

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  1. Reblogged this on sally1137.

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  2. Thank you. Excellent post and right on the mark.

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  3. I can agree with much of what you say here but what should a government do when the free people decide that health care should only be available to those who are wealthy enough to pay for it? Should the government let people die because it is the will of the people and simply wait until those without means are all dead thereby bringing balance back to the society? We have seen that deregulation does not create a better society…but we don’t want more regulation so what to do?

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    • Well, I could argue that it is not government’s job to tell us how to live our lives. We could also discuss the gross inflation of the number of uninsured — half are illegal immigrants, the vast majority of the other half are young, healthy folks who choose to buy houses and pay off student loans rather than have insurance that they usually never use. That leaves a tiny percentage of folks who want insurance and can’t afford it. In many cases, those qualify under Medicaid and many states were already providing options for the hard-to-insure (Google Alaska’s ACHIA program, for an example).

      The federal government should have gotten out of the way and allowed the states to handle it, with one small — and I believe constitutional — exception. One of the simplest ways to drive down premiums without enacting tyrannical laws would have been to allow INTERstate insurance sales. The effect of opening up the auto insurance market across state lines was dramatic. There’s no reason to believe that health insurance premiums wouldn’t follow a similar trend.

      Of course, if we just did away with health insurance entirely, medical costs would be forced to return to a consumer-oriented level and the discussion would largely become moot.

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