David Hines
Reform and function
By David Hines
July 31, 2012

Many people think that some straightforward reform will solve government's problems. As sympathetic as I am to such a desire, it is an illusion. Ain't gonna happen — and if it did the results would not be as expected.

Reform efforts often center on eliminating somebody's input from politics. Some would silence corporations; others would stifle unions. McCain and Feingold went after nearly everyone but professional politicians. Let's recognize the unspoken but obvious component. The advocate is saying, "Censor those who don't agree with me, then everything will be fine."

But laws and regulations are ubiquitous. They affect nearly everybody. In a democratic republic, some are telling fellow citizens, "Shut up and obey!" The advocate may not know a thing about the business being affected, but would issue the orders nevertheless. Would we want a nuclear reactor run without any input from nuclear engineers? There could likewise be adverse effects from reform programs, with less radioactive but still deleterious results.

Some would-be reformers argue for technocracy. They believe that if government were put on autopilot, all would be well. This posits robotic bureaucrats with no personal agenda. It removes democratic input, and trusts in those deemed (by whom?) to be "experts." The "experts" become a law unto themselves, with great power to enact their personal agendas.

But what of their purported expertise? Might that take us down the garden path? Recall, no less an "expert" than Ben Bernanke said the housing sector was fine — a mere month before the crash. Several years ago, "expert" federal forest rangers in Colorado set a controlled burn despite high wind warnings; they set much of the state ablaze. FEMA "experts" managed efforts after Hurricane Katrina, to the disgruntlement of many.

Who controls government? There is a fantasy that "we the people" do. But when was the last time you could get a private meeting with your elected federal official? If you bundled six figures in campaign contributions, you stand a good chance. Otherwise, you are on the outside lookin' in. Even wives of lobbyists, bureaucrats, and politicians have more input than you do; they hobnob with those making the decisions. The way their daily contacts see the world becomes the norm for officials within the circles of power — not the way you and I see it, no matter what they tell you at election time. Getting the money out of the process won't gain average people any more influence.

So long as there is money and advantage to be gained through government — as well as myriad constraints, taxes, and mandates applying to those with no voice in DC — there will be people seeking to influence. Real reform reduces government to its Constitutional minimum. With little lucre to be gained, the incentive to influence disappears. Government could then concentrate on its tasks assigned by the document, undistracted by the rent seekers.

Does such a reform stand a better chance than any other? A little — not because the rent seekers can be controlled, but because it may be forced upon us as the corrupt and bankrupt system breaks down. We shan't have much choice. We can choose the reform, or have it thrust upon us by events. At this time, most people are opting for the latter. Even worse, some are choosing more totalitarian approaches, hoping to stave off the day of reckoning a little while longer.

Many reform efforts seek to keep the reformers' preferred dysfunctions in place. This is an ad hoc approach, not a holistic one. It dooms the reform to its own dysfunction.

© David Hines


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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)


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