Friday, September 30, 2016

The Problem with the Obama-Clinton Administrative State

The problem with a Hillary Clinton presidency, according to Victor Davis Hanson, is that Clinton will continue the huge expansion of presidential power that President Obama has practiced over the last eight years.

OK, so what? If Congress won't go along with the president then surely it is up to the president to get things done. If Congress won't act to end the rape culture on campus, then the president must act through the federal administration. If Congress won't act to fight climate change then the EPA must act to shut down carbon polluting coal power plants.

This, of course, is the model of government championed by the educated elite since the Civil War. First, the idea was government by the "best men." Then, in the Progressive Era before World War I, the idea was government by educated experts who would apply natural and social science to the problems of the day. Now the idea is championed by the so-called "globalists" that want to marginalize nation states and replace them with an interlocking network of global institutions that will administer a kind of world government by piercing the shell of national sovereignty.

There are three things wrong with this model.

The first thing is the old, old question: quid custodiet custodes? Who will guard the guardians? Or, as I say, what happens when things go wrong, when the ruling class decides to implement a program that simply does not work, or does not work very well, or could work better? The problem with having government do complex tasks that need constant revision and adaptation is the government doesn't do revision and adaptation. The only thing it does is do or die. The top-down administrative nature of government means that government just keeps on doing what it is doing until it completely crashes and burns.

The second thing is that a top-down administrative government loses the consent of the governed. This is illustrated magnificently in Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution. France under Louis XIV and Louis XVI was a pure administrative system, run by the king's chief administrator in Paris. Nothing could be done, not the repair to a village church or the repair of a road, without the say-so from Paris. The result, according to Tocqueville, was that the French lost the art of working together to solve problems. And when the monarchy got into trouble and ran out of money, it found that it had no support among the people.

The third thing is that a top-down government just does not have the bandwidth to do all the things it wants to do. The reason that the administrative government gets started in the first place is, of course, that the ruling class gets frustrated by the very low amount of governance that is possible in a legislature of 535 prima donnas. So, just like President Obama, it decides to bypass the slow and corrupt Congress and rule by administrative fiat and by executive decree. But administrative government suffers from exactly the same problem as the legislature. In a nation of 300 million people there just is not enough bandwidth in a system of 1,000,000 bureaucrats to get things done. That's because the bureaucrats cannot act without the approval of the Big Boss, because the point of being the Big Boss is that you get to call all the Big Shots. That's why they call it Monarchy.

The solution is obvious. You don't do big administrative government, because of the three things above. You start by saying that anything that requires a complicated administrative apparatus is a bad idea, because a big complicated administrative government apparatus just won't work. You decide that, whatever the problem, it has to be solved through the market system which just happens to be a social system that constantly adjusts to deal with problems and changing situations. Then you say that anyway a centralized system is a bad idea because it reduces the people to the status of serfs waiting for the lord to give orders rather than treating them as competent responsible people that can and ought to work out their problems with each other without constant centralized supervision.

And finally, you say that the great complexity of national affairs cannot be concentrated in a central government because government cannot respond when things go wrong. We already have a system that responds instantly when things go wrong. It is called the market system and it constantly and daily forces people to fix their mistakes and improve their products and services. Or else they go out of business.

The way to understand government is that the only thing it knows to do is to fight a war. That is because government is force. Government is not the name for things we do together, as President Obama has said. Government is the name for things we do by force. You can tell that this is true because government has a habit of calling everything it does a war. On the military side this is obvious as we fight wars against fascism and Communism and now are pretending not to be fighting a war against violent Islamism. But the same is true in domestic politics. We fight wars against want, or ignorance, or injustice, or racism, or sexism or drugs, And now we are fighting a war against global warming.

The tiny little problem at the heart of modern administrative governance is that fighting a war is probably not the way to deal with poverty, ignorance, racism, sexism and climate change. Probably, the way to deal with these things is not to mobilize the people for war and enroll them in an army and pay them out of taxes for their support. Probably the way to deal with these things is for the best people to get together with the educated people to get together with the ordinary people to get together with the poor people to cooperate and work their differences out and keep politics and its division and government and its force out of it.

The tiny little problem with the modern administrative state is that the whole idea is to teach people to fight with each other for the spoils of the government's wars. Once the ruling class has taught people to fight with each other it becomes impossible for the government to rally all the squabbling factions together. That is what Louis XVI found out in the run-up to the French Revolution.

On my view we should see the government on the Obama type getting into more and more difficulties with its administrative model. Not only will it not have enough money to fix things but it won't be able to fix things because government doesn't do fixing. In fact, as we all know, what government does when things go wrong is not try to fix things but to look for a scapegoat instead.

If the government wants to fight a war it needs to foster unity. That's why World War II was such a success. If you don't succeed in fostering unity you get the Vietnam and the Iraq wars, where set-backs were immediately followed by division and name-calling. Indeed the opponents of the wars were waiting for setbacks so they could call the whole thing off. You can see that recent government initiatives that have been implemented without getting unity, from Obamacare to climate change, are bound to end in tears.

Working to foster unity is a big job. It has to start with the whole ruling class reading from the same page. There needs to be almost no opportunity for dissenting voices to sow dissent. And in World War II, after Pearl Harbor, there was no dissent. Men were drafted and sent to war and wounded and killed and nobody objected. Goods were rationed, wages were fixed, and nobody complained, not publicly. And after it was all over, everyone agreed that World War II was a Good Thing. Except for a few lefties who said that the A-bomb was a Bad Thing.

Today our present ruling class attempts to foster unity by name-calling. Anyone that disagrees with its race policy is a racist; everyone that disagrees with its women policy is a sexist; everyone that disagrees with its climate policy is a climate denier. You can see the difference between World War II and today. Back then unity was established by a process that seems to be a consensus; today unity is established by shaming the dissenters.

My argument is that people are going to start objecting to the name-calling policy, and then the ruling class will have to decide whether to ramp up the name-calling to actual repression.

I have one word of advice for the ruling class on that. Don't.

The problem is that our ruling class is already in too deep. It cannot retreat without losing face and power. And if it turns name-calling into repression is will multiply the number of its enemies.

So it is all bound to end in tears. And that is a tragedy. Because we know better.

1 comment:

  1. Your posts just keep get better, Christopher. Then again, it must be getting easier for you. The mask has not only slipped off of the collective face of the left-liberals, but they have thrown it away altogether. Suddenly, their policies and the way they intend to carry them out are only secrets to those paying no attention whatsoever. Nevertheless, it is happening so fast, with such disastrous consequences that we need to shout out (many of) your conclusions from the digital hills: "Once the ruling class has taught people to fight with each other it becomes impossible for the government to rally all the squabbling factions together." And make no mistake, we are already objecting to the name-calling policies...tear and tragedy to follow.