Greater Power, Less Accountability?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I don't agree with George Will that regulation (i.e., interference with the economic decisions of individuals) is a legitimate government function. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the point he makes in his latest column, to the effect that government regulation and the opaque funding mechanisms for many regulatory agencies are mutually reinforcing, all other things being equal:

Legislative leaders -- particularly, committee chairs -- have lost power as Congress has become more porous and responsive to importuning factions using new media. Congress, responding to the increased difficulty of legislating, has delegated much lawmaking to specialized agencies that have fewer internal conflicts. Congress's role has waned as that of autonomous executive agencies has waxed. The executive has driven the expansion of the consumption of benefits that are paid for by automatic entitlement transfer payments, by government-mandated private expenditures and by off-budget and non-transparent taxation imposed by executive agencies.
Two conclusions I would not draw from this -- but that I could see others making -- are: (1) The solution to expanding executive (bureaucatic) power is to make such agencies more directly accountable to the voting public; or (2) We are in a politically hopeless situation. Both conclusions are manifestations of the same error, which is to discount the role of political philosophy in shaping politics.

A public with much more influence, but operating under bad premises or misinformation could well decide to make a given agency even more powerful. Conversely, a public that has realized that it should weed out any and all inappropriate uses of government will, sooner or later, become aware of such shenanigans, and, when it does, elect legislators and executives who will correct these problems. Often, the correction would be in the form of abolishing such agencies.

The real problem is that too many people are willing to take small bribes from the government in exchange for being a little bit less vigilant, as we saw with the Republican congressional majorities of the nineties that reduced taxes -- but without exactly dismantling the welfare state "brick by brick".

-- CAV

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