Thursday, 15 June 2017

Dismantling the Administrative State

A Stroll In a Fresh Green Park

It is fairly common these days to hear complaints about the "administrative state".  Most of the complaints emanate out of the United States.  The phrase refers to the burgeoning, ever growing list of rules and regulations ceaselessly promulgated by government agencies with which citizens must comply.

In New Zealand, this is not such a problem.  At least not these days.  It was once the case, however.  There were days, particularly in the 1960's--when our economy and society was more controlled by Wellington than was the case in Eastern Europe Soviet bloc states.  But New Zealand broke all that down when Roger Douglas pronounced that "there had to be a better way".  In addition, there is a wonderful advantage in being in a small country.  Our pollies, rulers, and bureaucrats are never far away.  They are accessible.  When the state does stupid things, or when bureaucracy runs amok, change and correction is possible.  But this is a function more of size and a small population, than our people being wedded to limited government and maximum freedom.

Things are so much worse in the United States.  The image of Jabba the Hutt, that gargantuan slug sitting upon and squashing those in his presence is not an inappropriate metaphor in the case of  "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

The problem goes back to the nineteen sixties.  The US Supreme Court had made a momentous ruling (the Schechter case, 1935) in which it stated that Congress could not delegate legislative and judicial powers to an agency it had created, the National Recovery Agency.  But it subsequently forgot about this ruling, and began to allow Congress to delegate its law-making powers to its own bureaucratic agencies.

This was the beginning of "alphabet soup" agencies that exercise quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial powers--as well as executive power, of course.  From the citizen's standpoint, there is nothing "quasi" about these powers.  They are more absolute  than ordinary criminal and civil law, and far less accountable.  Often, officials choose to impose via regulatory agencies rules that they have failed to impose through legislation.  [Angelo Codevilla, The Character of Nations: How Politics Makes and Breaks Prosperity, Family, and Civility (New York: Basic Books, 1997),  p. 250]
The morass of regulations mean that no-one can work out what the "law" is, let alone apply it properly.  As a consequence every citizen is vulnerable to the depredations of an officious bureaucrat. Under these conditions, the rule of law becomes a cruel joke.
The rule of law means that government is bound by rules known to all and administered equally "by the book".  But modern American bureaucracy has so many rules that not even the officials who administer them can know them all or apply them consistently, while those who live under them cannot possibly take refuge behind compliance.

The Federal Register issues 200 pages of densely written regulations every day.  The Internal Revenue Service manual consists of 260 incomprehensible volumes.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule book has some 4,000 chapters.  [Ibid., p. 250f.]
Codevilla was writing in the late nineties.  Now, more than fifteen years down the track, things will be much, much worse.  Donald Trump was elected in part becayse he promised to bring the Administrative State under control.  He has repealed a few of Obama's Executive Orders.  But the real challenge is to bring the administrative bureaucracy created over the decades by Congress to heel.  Repealing Obamacare would be a good start.  Oh, wait.  We predict that neither Congress nor the Senate will co-operate.  The reason lies along a critical fault line: the people do not want to be free.  Freedom means taking responsibility for oneself and one's family and one's neighbour.  Regardless of how odious the Administrative State has become, regardless of how oppressive it is, it still remains less scary than standing on one's own two feet.  That's why so many in the Republican controlled Congress want to keep Obamacare going, keep it alive and well, albeit it with a new name.  Their constituents, despite all the rhetoric, want it to be preserved.  It will work so much better, though, when it is called Republicare.

Here lies the real problem.  If society trusts in God, then it will strive to make its government first and foremost subject to Him.  If society trusts in Man it will look to the State to make everything all right.  No real progress will be made, we believe, until millions and millions more are brought first and foremost to the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Then dismantling the Administrative State will be a doddle, a stroll in a fresh, green park.

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