Posts tagged with: bureaucracy


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People often criticize the vast size and scope of the bureaucracy in the United States, but there is another critical issue involving the administrative state that is seldom discussed: the breakdown of the rule of law. The procedural rights that are necessary for a strong rule of law and are so often taken for granted are not guaranteed in the administrative state today.

Strong rule of law is one of the necessary elements for a free and virtuous society, and for a free and functioning market. There are many definitions and nuances in the principle of the rule of law, but the central tenets require that laws apply to all people equally and are enforced consistently and fairly. Proper rule of law precludes arbitrary enforcement, inaccessible or unclear laws, and inconsistent application. The breakdown of rule of law leaves political, religious, and economic freedom vulnerable, endangering the very foundation of our republic. Where rule of law is weak, tyranny and oppression reign.


farmhouseThe global economy is ever-growing in its complexity and interconnectedness, leading to a range of positive and transformative effects. Yet even as this web of human relationships expands and intensifies, many of the latest innovations are prodding us back to the simple and personal.

Whether we look to the various offspring of the “sharing economy” (e.g. Uber, Airbnb) or the range of bottom-up trading tools and crowdfunding platforms (Craigslist, Kickstarter), we see an eager appetite for simple and direct exchange.

In some reflections on his neighborhood’s online community marketplace (“The Swap,” as it’s called), Chris Horst notices much of the same: (more…)

coolidgebAs we read about the increase of scandal, mismanagement, and corruption within our federal agencies, it is essential once again to revisit the words of Calvin Coolidge. Recent actions at the IRS, Veterans Administration, and the ATF gunwalking scandal all point to systemic problems that come from an entrenched bureaucracy. As more and more of the responsibilities of civil society is passed over to centralized powers in Washington, federal agencies have exploded with power and control, leading to greater opportunities for abuse. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, a favorite stump speech line of former presidential candidate George Wallace was, “When I get to Washington, I am going to throw the briefcases of the pointy headed intellectuals into the Potomac.” Wallace was of course speaking about the entrenched bureaucracy in the nation’s capital.

Bureaucracy of some form is necessary under government. But we live in an era where constitutional constraints are eschewed and the bureaucratic machine is becoming more politicized. “Bureaucracy is undoubtedly the weapon and sign of a despotic government, inasmuch as it gives whatever government it serves, despotic power,” declared Lord Acton. Bureaucracy, by its nature, is problematic to the notion of self-government.

Bureaucracy is a threat to liberty and it’s not accountable to the people, that is the main point Coolidge is reminding Americans in the excerpt from a speech he gave as president at the College of William & Mary in 1926:

No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. Being irresponsible they become autocratic, and being autocratic they resist all development. Unless bureaucracy is constantly resisted it breaks down representative government and overwhelms democracy. It is the one element in our institutions that sets up the pretense of having authority over everybody and being responsible to nobody.

According to James Madison, when lawmakers exempt themselves from the legislation they pass, “The people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty.” Over 1,200 organizations and companies have already secured ObamaCare waivers. However, currently making big headlines is a deal worked out by the President and Congress that exempts congressional members and staff from the full effect of the law. In actuality, lawmakers had to go back and secure the hefty subsidies for Congress and staff as that was set to end when the health insurance exchanges are implemented on January 1, 2014. The Wall Street Journal does a good job of covering the details of the exemption and stressing the point once again that Washington lawmakers voted on and passed a bill they didn’t bother to examine. The lack of oversight and vetting of the bill has led to the subverting of the legislative branch, as the executive branch has been rewriting portions of the law to make it even more favorable to Washington.

Arguing in favor of ratifying the U.S. Constitution in Federalist #57, James Madison made this argument:

I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty.

Those are weighty words by Madison, but now they point not to the optimism of a new country trying to secure a lasting liberty, but the kind of despotism that should be feared by the people.

From India comes this tragic headline:

As India’s kids starve, $1.5 billion worth of grain rots

How does a country have starving people while it is producing so much food that it is literally rotting from being left outside in the open? The depressing answer is that it’s the result of government intervention in the agricultural market. The article from MSNBC goes on to detail how government policies produce too much grain relative to other agricultural products such as fresh fruits or vegetables. Worst of all, the price supports that the country puts in place are a major contributor as well.  The natural outcome of a market subverted by the government to serve some groups interest, in this case the farmers, is too often a catastrophe. Sadly, India’s poor are often the target of someone’s “good” intentions, as Joe Carter pointed out a couple months ago.

When people consider our mandate to help the poor, let’s keep in mind what happens when we let the government subvert markets. It’s hard to think of a more morally outrageous proposition than having tons of grain rot while people are starving in the same country.

Blog author: rnothstine
Thursday, February 16, 2012

I’ve tried to stay on top of the federal government’s response to natural disasters here at Acton. I’ve written a number of commentaries, blog posts, and a story in Religion & Liberty covering the issue. “Spiritual Labor and the Big Spill” specifically addressed the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. For extensive background on this short clip of Bobby Jindal at CPAC 2012, see my post “Bobby Jindal on Centralized Disaster Response.”

Director of Research Samuel Gregg has written a special report for the American Spectator about Benedict XVI’s upcoming trip to Germany. The recent World Youth Day in Spain may have looked like a bigger challenge for Benedict, but Gregg says that Germany, while its economy looks good, is facing rough seas ahead.

Germany finds itself propping up a political experiment (otherwise known as the euro) that’s tottering under the weight of its internal contradictions. As the German tabloid Bild put it: “Will we finally have to pay for all of Europe?”

Looking beyond the present, however, grave challenges lie ahead for Germany—not all of which are economic.

Germanyhas, for instance, one of Western Europe’s worst birthrates. That spells trouble for Germany’s future productivity and its welfare state. A second issue is Germany’s struggle with the questions of immigration and non-assimilated Muslim minorities and the subsequently-inevitable always-awkward debates about what it means to be German in modern Europe.

And the institution whose clarity of thought and moral influence should be guiding the country as it faces those issues—the German Church—is weakened.

On the surface, the German Church’s problems are manifested in the large numbers of German Catholics who say they’ve left the church in recent years (the very liberal Protestant German churches are shedding members even faster). Then there are the sex abuse scandals which emerged when ugly stories began circulating about what had really gone on in a now not-so-prestigious Berlin-based Jesuit school in the 1970s and ’80s.

There is, however, another dimension to German Catholicism’s present problems: a story of the follies of accommodation to whatever counts as “modern” or “contemporary” at any given moment.

The German Church has become heavily bureaucratized (and staffed by many unbelievers), and its response to Vatican II has been less to engage with modernity and more to accommodate it. The Church has lowered its focus, Gregg says, to two worldly concerns:

The first is power within the structures of German Catholicism because (sotto voce) “we all know” life is really about acquiring power rather than knowing truth. The second is upon changing Catholicism to make the Church look much more like “the world” because (sotto voce) “we all know” the fullness of divine truth is “out there” rather than in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Gregg does not despair, however, for

Younger bishops, priests and laity are far less worried about upsetting those tenured theologians who aren’t sure if Christ is God but who are absolutely convinced no sin could possibly be mortal. The epicenter of German Catholic life is shifting away from what Benedict once called “the spent and tired” bureaucracy and is increasingly with what he describes as initiatives that “come from within, from the joy of young people.”

And that, perhaps, is what Benedict will bring to the German Church: a sense of the joy of living a full Christian life, a message that contrasts sharply with the Götterdämmerung of a fading generation of Catholics in perpetual rebellion against anything which suggests modernity doesn’t have all the answers. And in the contest of hope versus despair, we all know who ultimately wins.