Almost everything seems to be getting more specialized these days.
Television programs were once “broadcast,” sent out over the air and intended for a vast audience. In today’s 1,000 channel universe, producers “narrowcast,” trying to draw just a few million people to tailored programs about motorcycle maintenance or home design. Librarians are told they need to take an MLS degree to shelve books part-time. Doctors and attorneys focus on particular body parts and areas of law.
The trend is especially pronounced, though, when it comes to government administration.
The Founders aimed to limit government by diffusing it. Power would be shared among three federal branches. Further, “The powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few and defined,” Madison wrote in Federalist 45. “Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.” It should be difficult for this weak government to have much expertise.
Yet that model is being bypassed by events. As economist Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times in 2000, we are “living in the age of the central banker -- an era in which elected officials around the world have been persuaded to leave a key economic policy in the hands of unelected technocrats.” Krugman was writing about Japan, where such “expert” administration by technocrats has led to two decades of stagnation, with no growth in sight.
It’s easy to scoff that ingenious Americans would never allow technocrats to govern us. So try to explain how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac work. And why after their “collapse” in 2008 they got much bigger, to the point that they currently account for 90 percent of the mortgages issued. At least Enron had the good sense to disappear after its collapse. Congress doesn’t seem inclined to disband Fannie or Freddie.
There’s a lot of that going around.
“Today, more than at any other time in our history, we are less and less governed by the rule of law, hammered out in legislative deliberations as the Founders intended, and more and more governed by the rule of regulation,” writes Bob Moffit of The Heritage Foundation. “We are subject to edicts promulgated by administrators -- persons we do not know and will never know, persons protected by civil service law and tenure who are not accountable to us and will never be accountable to us. Nonetheless, the administrators’ detailed decisions have the force of law.”
Some cheer this development. “In a crisis, which do you want: unaccountable decisiveness or inefficient accountability? Consciously or not, we’ve made our choice: The financial crisis and its long, ugly aftermath have marked the triumph of the technocrats,” Neil Irwin wrote recently in The Washington Post. He seems to think that a positive development. After all, he writes, “technocrats can make complex decisions quickly, quietly and efficiently.”
He’s certainly correct about the speed with which bureaucrats can work. “In 2010 alone, Congress enacted 217 bills that became law, but that same year, federal agencies issued 3,573 final rules covering a wide variety of economic activities,” Moffit notes.
Big government, though, ends up causing big problems. Partly because it doesn’t work. “We are now seeing weekly examples of this Administration’s inability to govern,” liberal columnist Joe Klein notes in Time magazine. Among other examples, he notes “the oblique and belated efforts to reform Head Start, a $7 billion program that a study conducted by its own bureaucracy -- the Department of Health and Human Services -- has found nearly worthless. The list is endless.” If the administrative state has lost Joe Klein.
And even if the administrative state worked effectively, “whether imposed by psychological nudges or outright commands, the regulatory state is deeply opposed to America’s heritage of liberty,” writes economics professor Donald Boudreaux in The Wall Street Journal. So how can citizens push back? Promote freedom, as protected by the Constitution.
“Freedom doesn’t divide us. Big government does,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a recent speech. And the best way to control big government is to put lawmakers back in charge. Congress has handed too much of its power to “experts” who aren’t forced to answer to voters. We should insist that all laws be passed by legitimate legislatures, whose members must eventually face voters and answer for their actions.
Throughout history, soldiers have quipped that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As recent experience, in Japan and here at home, teaches us, so is “government expertise.” Let’s reclaim the power to govern ourselves.