Monday, December 21, 2015

Obama: The Pharaoh That Knew Not Joseph

The thing about President Obama is that he knows and believes in the top-down administrative ethos of our ruling class without knowing why. He thinks that he and his kind are born to rule, and if the people don't agree, well, that's their problem.

His governing ethos comes from the post-Civil War era that began with the conceit of government by the "best men," followed in due course by the idea of government by credentialed experts. In this culture government is a series of programs that the best men and the experts think up for the betterment of the people. Because science.

But this is a profound misunderstanding of government. Government is not a delivery system of benefits conceived and gestated from on high. Government is the alternative to civil war. In other words, government and politics is a way of resolving conflicts between warring sections of a people without resorting to civil war.

To have a politics that does not collapse into civil war you have to govern "with the consent of the governed." Crudely put, this means that you must govern so that the opposition grudgingly consents to the actions of the government. The whole apparatus of the three branches of government and the bi-cameral Congress is designed to do this; it is bound to ensure that any proposed governmental action has wide and deep support if it is to clear all the hurdles and get implemented as law.

This sort of process is very frustrating to governing classes. They have ideas, wonderful ideas, that they are anxious to implement, right now, before it is too late. So, as time goes by, they learn how to game the system and push their proposals through without generating wide and deep support from the governed. In consequence they end up bulldozing the opposition aside as they push their agenda through. The govern, in other words, without the consent of the governed.

So now you know what is wrong with President Obama saying this at his end-of-year press conference.
"I think it's far preferable if I can get stuff done with Congress," he said. "...I think you've seen me, on a whole bunch of issues, like immigration, I'm not gonna -- I'm not gonna be forward-leaning on what I can do without Congress before I've tested what I can do with Congress."
Strictly speaking, it should be impossible for the president to "do without Congress." Doing without Congress is also doing without the consent of the American people, and that is not a good idea because it builds up a feeling in the governed that they are oppressed by a government that does not listen to them. But over the years, as Charles Murray details in By the People, the federal government has learned how to bypass Congress and legislate through executive actions and administrative regulations. This is how the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing the administration's shutdown of coal-fired electricity generation: by administrative action.

There is a push and a pull aspect to this gradual shift from legislating to administrating. The pull aspect is the appetite in the governing class for action. What is the point of ruling if you don't get to rule? The push aspect is that a 535-person bicameral legislature, even bulked up with 30,000 staffers, does not have the bandwidth to get down to the detail of a $4 trillion a year government. If it is going to spend 20 percent of GDP per year then the legislature has to delegate its legislative function to the bureaucrats and administrators.

Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is Exhibit A if you want to understand the problems with administrative legislation.

First of all, Obamacare was passed on a partisan basis. Only Democrats voted for it; not one Republican voted for it. That is what you call a partisan cramdown. In the science developed by Buchanan and Tullock in The Calculus of Consent, you always have to buy the last few votes. But the votes bought to get Obamacare over the line were Democratic votes. The usual thing is to buy the votes of a few of the opposition so you can say that the proposal was passed with bipartisan support. That gives you the cover to say that the bill was passed with the consent of the governed. Actually, Buchanan and Tullock make clear, the only really just bill is one passed with unanimous consent; that way the proposers have to pay the opponents for the right to bulldoze over them.

Secondly, even though Obamacare was a 2,000 page bill, it didn't begin to get into the details of the complicated Obamacare exchanges, which operate in a hurricane of subsidies, both for the Obamacare signups and for the health insurance companies. Actually, of course, the whole thing is too complicated even for government administrators to control. That's why it's been such a disaster on all fronts. It has failed just as the settled science has predicted. Ten thousand bureaucrats cannot build a better mousetrap than millions of producers and consumers negotiating through the market.

The point is that the current model our ruling class uses to govern is a crock. First of all, they don't get the consent of the governed. Secondly, the administrative model they champion can't work because government and administrators cannot learn. The only way to learn is to let the market teach you.

President Obama is riding roughshod over all this. I understand why. He is the creature of his class, the international liberal governing class, and this governing class doesn't want to learn the settled science about consent of the governed and the futility of administrative systems. They think that they are the best men, and the people should just shut up and concede the higher wisdom and knowledge of their rulers.

In reality, government is force, politics is violence, governments cannot learn, and administrative system is domination. But there is nobody to tell that to the rulers.

So the Pharaoh that knew not Joseph and the wisdom of the Founders will have to learn the hard way.

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