Now that we’ve been treated to 90 days of witnessing how (un)quickly and (in)effectively government can move once it has declared a “Class 5”-magnitude medical emergency in America, can we agree that the people we’ve elected over the past few decades, and the people those people had hired, to 1) assesse this crisis, then 2) meet it head-on and repel it, Then 3) restore the Nation and States to a reasonable facsimile of how it once was…the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave…have really bollixed up this job?
Certain natural laws preceding our novel constitutional arrangement apply.
First, Politics, since almost every elected member of any government has different ideas of how confronting any crisis should be accomplished, and those priorities are ranked in each member’s minds differently; puerile interests such as money and power almost always near the top, while common morality and loyalty to their people often are barely able to work their way into the Top Ten.
Our American system works differently from other systems in that every citizen had (past tense) a say.
It’s been this way for a very long time. What has most changed since 1787 has been how much citizens have increasingly been willing to pay Congress to do their job, and how much more money we have been willing to allow them to hire still other people to do the work they deem needs to be done…without any serious checks by the citizens.
About those hirelings, Second, since we have seen fit to give our elected members the power to define the missions, then hire small armies of “experts” (and staff) in every conceivable human endeavor, from defending the shores to managing barking dogs in our neighborhood, and certainly including national health, the very existence of the thousands of bureaucracies and millions of bureaucrats in our lives today, at least on paper
…is our own doing.
And we can’t say we didn’t entirely see this coming. Even the richest Manhattanites still count the silverware from time to time.
But it seems like it’s not until they come from out of the woodwork and put a pistol to the head of the world’s greatest economic machine that we even know they’re there. Or have such power. Millions of jobs and entire businesses, livelihoods lost, some permanently, which still other “experts” from other agencies say it could take months, even years, maybe even decades, for us to turn it around. Turns out we paid for them too.
Note that certain more ancient natural laws of government and bureaucracies also apply.
Both politicians and bureaucrats are “types” that have existed in nature since the beginning of the written word over 5000 years ago. And by many different names. Only, because we’ve only been a free nation for 225 years (plus an added 170 years apprenticeship) we really haven’t paused to think about that 4700 year head start.
Since lawmakers and their factotums have been around so much longer, it stands to reason that from the first day the first Congressman took his seat in New York in 1787 his instincts for power-grabbing were baked in simply because of “the opportunity” to exercise the power to tax.
Remarkably, for well over 150 years the People simply would not give them the money….such was the tight-fisted arrangement, all the way down to the town level, between the People and their elected representatives.
But this does not mean the 5000 year itch was not there, and they did not want to scratch it. Much of American history in our first century was in our Congress trying to find money to pay for projects they’d dreamed up. They just assumed that if they ever imposed an income tax they would be quickly thrown from office and the next tax simply repealed. That changed in 1913 when finally the Democrats were able to cobble together a super-majority, including Republicans, to impose that tax as a constitutional amendment. It was like Balboa peeping through a wall of tropical forests to first view the Pacific Ocean. The itch became manifest and its first born was the “permanent bureaucracy” which had actually existed on paper from the first week of government, in 1787.
Consider: In 1787 Congress came to New York and stayed only through Spring and early summer, being paid a per diem rather than a salary. It had no permanent office or staff. Then they moved to offices in Philadelphia where they hired a Frenchman to build the District of Columbia to be ready for occupancy ten years later, 1800. There they got their own building, the Capitol, where they kept their offices until the Senate and House got their own office buildings in 1908.
Congress did not actually work a year-round shift until the 1950s although the number of days and hours Congress actually works “on the job” today is probably little more than the five months they were in town a century ago. (Wouldn’t it be great if they had to punch a time card?)
But about that Frenchman Congress hired to build the District, he was one of the fathers of the American bureaucracy, for even though, after he finished, Congress let him go, (which almost never happens anymore) they did hang out his shingle: Architect of the Capitol was founded in 1793 and is still listed as a federal agency today.
This is how 5000 years of instinct teaches you to think.
This isn’t intended to be a history lesson, it’s too late for that, but after a century and a half of tight fisted protection of our hard-earned money, including fighting a civil war, Americans relented, and our governments took at first just a little, and then it became a lot more. And a lot more. And Washington became more and more remote, in part because citizens couldn’t storm the National Capitol as easily as they could their state capital or city halls. That damned Frenchman had designed the District of Columbia in such a way it’s almost impossible for a million people with a mean look in their eye to frighten anyone.
Legislators and Bureaucrats, whether elected or appointed, all act in accordance with their nature.
Legislatures find ways to find money and hire bureaucracies, while retaining a “finders fee” so to speak. Bureaucracies’ Prime Directive is to grow. The itch to grow is always there, but it still takes a temporary necessity as justification to turn that into a permanent problem area that requires tending forever.
For instance, the Public Health Service was created by act of Congress in 1798, and given responsibility of the existing Marine Hospitals for seamen along the east coast. There was no central office in Washington until 1870, after the Civil War.
This what that act of 1798 has given birth to:
Not that they aren’t important, mind you. But they are top-heavy by at least 30% in manpower, and anytime you see word “Policy” in a division title, you are seeing an entire office dedicated to creating new ideas as to how to grow the mission of the department, requiring new hires and larger offices.
I came out of a state environmental control division, mining, in the late 60s, and it’s principal mission, which was genuinely legitimate, one which the people of Kentucky will always need, is that some scientist needed to go down to every stream in Kentucky on a regular basis and draw a water sample, then send it to the lab to be tested for pollutants. That is called (in my words) an “eternal mission” for we will always need to be able to measure the quality of our running streams. But only a few hundred people are needed for that, even in a state where there are more miles of “shoreline” than any other state in the Union.
But in 1970 Earth Day happened, which I celebrate here on the occasion of Lenin’s birthday as that was what it was really about, only the citizens weren’t supposed to know. As I mentioned elsewhere, my ’71 law school class had less than 100 graduates, but the classes of ’72 and onward were 3-4 times that size, and the bulk of them were from earth science and engineering disciplines. After a 5 year stint in the Army, I returned to the state capital to that my old department had moved from a small office building next to the Kentucky River, occupying two floors dealing with all environmental and mining departments, including one departmental lawyer, and one law clerk, me….to a high rise office complex at a new government plaza where the legal department alone had more staff than the entire department did in 1971.
Still, the “eternal mission” of gathering water pollution data had not increased by a single sample bottle.
I can think of no better way to explain the imperative of bureaucracies to grow. Most bureaucratic missions are tertiary, which means having a life span which ends when the need for them no longer exists. Legal staffs never get smaller, and since the 90s, neither has “modeling staffs” where science is transmogrified into weather forecasting. The natural law of bureaucracies will not permit this as long as their “johns” in the legislatures will find the funds.
Seeing such out of control growth in the private sector, private corporations once upon a time would “reorganize”, and suddenly hundreds of executive VP’s would take golden parachutes and buy Hallmark Card franchises in strip malls. (The was even a Good Thing in many case, for the human free spirit still resists the “orcifcation” of the organization man process, and many of corporations’ best and brightest are happy to parachute out and become their own boss after 20 years inside. The same is also true about big law firm attorneys. At 45 or so, many walk away and form a small firm with a secure client base. In science, this is not so easy. So when you see a government “expert” who’s hung around for 25-35 years, it would be best to do a deeper profile to determine why, for while some were raised to pursue a life of public service, and can afford it, far more are simply seeking the path of least resistance. Food for thought.)
So when you look at the CDC today understand that somewhere buried in it is a primal imperative to grow and grow, which is often even larger than any underlying political bias.
Pruning their organizational tree of dead branches simply is not within their world view.
Only taxpayers can shut off this valve. But for that to occur we have to rely on our elected representatives, who are almost hopelessly in love with their hired bureaucracies, explained by this 5000 year symbiotic relationship between lawmakers, whether kings, dictators or legislatures, and the courts they keep around themselves.
This is what has to be undone. And only the people can do this.
Donald Trump can’t from the White House. even with the few “good Republicans” in Congress. The people have to be clear and unambiguous with the new members they elect that severing the chord between Congress and its bureaucracies and all that money will be a principle priority for at least a generation.
I’ve always been in favor of dark-alley tactics, hit-and-run, dead rosebushes and even bloody noses or eating bars of soap, but in the off-season between elections. Besides, that only requires a handful of people in any city. But in an election year, what needs to be done requires a Movement, one that sends a clear and unambiguous message that the majority of people are of one mind, and will not be moved.
I think the people need to stand up as one and present a different face to the political class and bureaucratic class than they have seen before. Just what kind of face is what needs to be determined, even as much as the voice.
In America’s past history these have been called “Great Awakenings” and a few have turned the tide for our country. We need one now, only again, Donald Trump can’t do this. The people have to convey directly to the state class, federal, state, and local, that things not only need to change but will change. And the state class needs to know this just by looking at us, with that irresolute look in our eye, and know we mean business.
Many of the things we do an say now actually make our Enemies feel better, not more afraid.
I’ll tell you my thoughts on that subject in Part II, next week.
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