The federal government is much like a cheating spouse: always promising that things will get better, but inevitably back in bed with whichever whore is most willing to put out. Voters from both sides of the aisle rationalize the behavior as somehow their fault, or the other guy’s, but never the cheater’s.
(S)he’s just not that into you
I know you love the idea of “U.S.” and the future you’ve imagined together, but it’s time for an intervention. Sure, go back to being acquaintances, or even friends … but you just plain can’t keep on as lovers, because things aren’t going to change.
The fundamental issue is that the federal government keeps making a big promise that it can’t possibly keep: that it won’t sleep around. Unfortunately, regulatory capture is an inevitable result of centralized control. The basic process goes something like this, in ten super slutty steps:
1. Well-meaning politicians propose government oversight
2. Politicians aren’t experts, and the new bureaucracy needs employees
2. The natural place to find this “talent” is to look to the industry itself
3. Corporations want influence over those in charge
4. They happily send employees through the revolving door
5. As the bureaucracy grows, it becomes more profitable to lobby it
6. The major players are required to “improve shareholder value”
7. So they band together and create the “Friendly Lobbying Group”
8. Between their connections and lobbying they slowly manipulate the government powers to their benefit
9. The increased complexity decreases the capacity for oversight
10. Citizens lose interest over time, making this manipulation easier and easier
Incentives are important
When compared to the average citizen, special interests will always have greater incentive to manipulate government; they will always have greater resources; they will always have greater resilience. The politician will always have greater incentive to pull strings in exchange for campaign donations. The bureaucrat will always have greater incentive to include a loophole in exchange for a cushy job or kickback.
But can’t these incentives be adjusted? Sure, a well meaning politician or citizens group can come clean up a mess or two. Unfortunately, the federal budget offers up an incomprehensible $4 trillion in spending every year; the federal register is over 3 million pages long (a record 81,611 pages were added in 2015); and the federal employment rolls exceed 2.7 million. This is the single largest, most powerful, and most complex entity to ever exist (or at least a close second to Donald Trump). Given these conditions, all those absolutes in the previous paragraph are absolutely true.
Perhaps father was right?
I don’t think the Founding Fathers are some fount of eternal wisdom, but I do think we should give credit where credit is due: they definitely warned us about the importance of setting boundaries in our relationship with the federal government. They carefully crafted Article I, Section 8 to designate explicit powers and the first ten amendments to designate explicit rights.
They never intended the Commerce Clause, nor any other portion of the Constitution, to enable the vast expansion of federal power that we’ve seen over the last century (even when measured as percent of GDP, we’ve seen a seven fold increase). If we look back to 1787, these warnings and limitations were put forth at a time when the U.S. population was only 3.9 million, less than 1/80th the size it is today. Inflation-adjusted real GDP was about $4.35 billion, less than 1/3750th the size it is today. Yet somehow we keep letting the federal government take more and more power? Even that harlot Hamilton would agree that we’ve been “giving it up” way too easily.
Regardless of your political inclination, I hope we can all agree that Washington D.C. is a total clusterf*ck … the solution will not be found there. If we want a marginally faithful federal government, we need to drastically limit its size and scope. It needs to be comprehensible, capable of oversight, and subject to audit. Most of all, it’s time to muster up some self-respect and take our fathers’ advice a lot more seriously.