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20170218 What Washington gets Wrong





The main idea of this book is that American system as it was evolved over XX and early XXI centuries is, for all practical purposes, an overwrite of constitution, which substituted the original system of power divided into legislative, executive and judicial with nearly all powerful administrative state run by professional bureaucrats with materially different believes and attitudes than general population. Authors suggest that remedy could be improvement in education of both population and bureaucrats by teaching both of them realpolitik attitude to governance and trying to instill in bureaucrats a notion that their role is to serve population not to lead population to whatever ends they consider beneficial.


Here is the gist of this book as described by author:

Chapter 1. Unelected Government: The Folks Who Really Run Things

Administrative agencies have become “relatively autonomous,” to borrow an idea from Marxist social theory. Though federal bureaucracies are, to some extent, overseen by Congress, the president, and the courts, America’s administrative agencies exercise a good deal of discretionary authority as they promulgate rules and regulations that have the force of law. For most Americans, in realms ranging from healthcare through air travel, encounters with federal authority involve interactions with administrative agencies. Do these relatively autonomous agencies have appropriate regard or sympathy for the citizens for whom they work?

Chapter 2. The Chasm between Us and Them

Using a statistical measure called propensity scoring, we compare citizens and officials along a number of dimensions. To summarize these comparisons, we introduce a measure we call “civic distance”. This measure is derived from another useful Aristotelian notion, that of Kowov (koinon, or political commonality), and is designed to statistically capture the extent to which citizens and officials inhabit similar political worlds on the basis of education, income, experience, and beliefs. We discover that when it comes to politics, the two groups actually live in rather distinct cognitive universes, viewing issues, policies, and events through disparate lenses.

Chapter 3. What Those Who Govern Really Think about You and Me

Many Washington officials have little regard for the citizens they nominally serve.

Inside the Beltway, ordinary Americans are seen as knowing very little about government and politics and as expressing outlandish and uninformed opinions.

In truth, the attitudinal difference between officials and citizens, though significant, is less than the officials think. Officials tend to exhibit a sense of false uniqueness, thinking themselves so superior that they cannot imagine that ordinary folks share their lofty thoughts. Viewing the public as benighted, officialdom seems more concerned with how best to induce citizens to obey, than with how best to serve the public. Hence, “enforcement” is a hot topic in official Washington.

Chapter 4. What the Government Does versus What the People Want

Officials’ lack of concern or even knowledge of the views of the general public does not leave us with much confidence that the interests of ordinary citizens will carry much weight in the process of administrative rulemaking. Using a data set drawn from the federal government’s Unified Regulatory Agenda, we present an analysis of the determinants of rulemaking by federal agencies. Some scholars assert that the impetus for the thousands of rules and regulations written every year by government agencies is extrinsic – that is, determined by political and other events outside the agencies. Other scholars, though, have argued that the agencies, perhaps working with their supporting constellations of interests and stakeholders, march to and govern according to their own drummers and rhythms! Our study would appear to indicate that the second group is closer to the truth. Congressional intervention into rulemaking seems to bring rules closer to public priorities. Left to themselves, though, administrators’ priorities and those of the more general public seem to diverge. It is no wonders that many Americans believe the government is out of step with their views and are willing to give their support to political outsiders in the 2 of 16 presidential elections.

Chapter 5. What Should Be Done to Make the Government Listen?

Given the findings presented in chapters 1-4, can anything be done to enhance the government’s “sympathy” for the people and the likelihood that policymakers will be guided by popular interests and preferences? Many institutional and procedural reforms are, of course, discussed in the policy and administrative literatures. Our focus is a bit different. We recommend changes in American civic education. Today, under the rubric of civics, American citizens are taught to be good and dutiful subjects. Fortunately, they are not taught very effectively and many quickly forget their classroom history and civics lessons. Officials, on the other hand, with one significant set of exceptions, are taught leadership skills but very little about the people whom they lead or their responsibility to those people. The one exception consists of military officers who do receive training in their duties to the people of the United States. Civilian officials, on the other hand, are taught little or nothing about their duties and obligations to the people. We propose that citizens be taught realpolitik, the German term for political realism, rather than civic mythology to prepare them to be actual citizens rather than subjects. The Athenians distinguished between citizens-individuals who had the capacity to debate in the agora, or marketplace and idiots who lacked that capacity. America could do with more citizens and fewer idiots. We also propose measures that might remind officials of their own civic responsibilities to the citizens whom they nominally serve.

Chapter 6. What If What Should Be Done Isn’t Done?

We conclude by pointing to the significance of our findings for more general issues of representative government. We also consider the relevance of our findings for understanding the major problems associated with the rise of bureaucratic governance in the United States. Bureaucrats are certain that they are more competent than ordinary citizens when it comes to matters of governance. This sense of superior competence, however, can become a dangerous delusion–damaging to both democracy and governance.

Here are a couple of tables demonstrating difference between population and bureaucrats:




This is a great collection of research and derived knowledge about America’s real ruling class of bureaucrats and politicians. It demonstrates all features typical for such classes: distance from population, arrogance, hubris, and, most important, dogged pursuit of their own interest at the expense of general public. There is no doubt in my mind that this ruling class, as many similar groups in history, would lead country to social disaster unless American exceptional quality of highly distributed wealth, power, and well armed and independently thinking population decisively come into play. Despite all negative developments of the last century and a half, these exceptional qualities of America made it impossible for ruling class of bureaucrats and politicians fully control information flow, discussion about issues, and even selection of issues to discuss. Even their stringent effort to instill Political Correctness as rigid framework limiting speech mainly failed at least so far due to the very strong believe of population in free speech. It also makes it all but impossible to fully control raw power, which is in America traditionally distributed between federal armed forces strongly indoctrinated to face outside of the country, state level forces, multiple police forces, and last but not least multitude of well armed individuals who could easily band together into significant force in case of perceived danger to their freedoms (however illusory these freedoms are). In short, every time in American history, when distance between rulers and population became too obvious and much resented, Americans used formal democratic procedures of election to find some outsiders to elect and at least temporary defeat and diminished the class of ruling bureaucrats and politicians. This was the case with Andrew Jackson 190 years ago and it seems to be the case with Donald Trump now. The key for understanding here is that the rulers’ defeat is only temporary and after all settled, the administrative state would start its growth again – that is, until complete system will change so that all resources would be in full ownership of population in such way that nobody is left behind without resources and therefore no redistribution is possible.

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