American News

America is a Bureaucratic Nightmare. We Need to Break Free.

It’s no longer a crackpot conspiracy: The administrative state controls the lives of US citizens. Career bureaucrats in the executive branch who apply the law hold real governmental power over the populace. The deliberately sluggish officials have ensnared nearly every personal or business venture in red tape. Can we correct the administrative state before it grows to a truly dystopian level?
Deep state American

Deep state American politics concept and United States political symbol of a secret underground government bureaucracy with 3D illustration style. © Lightspring /

April 12, 2024 04:21 EDT

To paraphrase one of the most unfairly maligned presidents of the 20th century, “The administrative state is the enemy, the administrative state is the enemy, the administrative state is the enemy. Write that on the blackboard 100 times and never forget it.” What is the administrative state, you ask? It is what is colloquially called the “deep state.” 

Everything you learned in high school civics class about how the US government operates is wrong. Maybe Schoolhouse Rock!, Scholastic Books and your teacher meant well. Maybe they were already commandeered and didn’t even know it. Or maybe they were maliciously trying to get you to buy into a smokescreen. Whatever the case, they were wrong.

Our government has three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Technically speaking, the legislative branch is supposed to be supreme. Congress writes all the laws, and the other branches just apply them. The legislature is where the power is supposed to be. But is it? No.

Our government’s power really resides in the hands of the career bureaucrats who administer the application of the law throughout the various agencies of the executive branch. Many otherwise intelligent, powerful people seem not to know that this bureaucracy is part of the executive branch. They seem to believe it is its own branch.

The simple explanation is that power actually resides here because it matters much more who decides how the law is applied than how it is written. Police let speeders off with warnings despite them breaking traffic laws. District attorneys choose whether or not to prosecute depending on political goals instead of what the law explicitly says. It matters who decides how the law is applied and executed.

Unpunishable federal lethargy

Seven years ago, it was our priestly caste’s dogma that the deep state didn’t exist. Four years ago, they acknowledged it to exist but said it was inconsequential. Last month, they heralded it as the greatest thing. This phenomenon is called “celebration parallax.” It is where a phenomenon is first denied, then acknowledged but asserted to be unimportant, then celebrated as an ever-present, beneficial force.

The administrative state reveals itself in how the vast majority of the leaders running our supposedly democratic republic are completely unelected. They are accountable to no one but themselves and have interests diametrically contrary to its people. The 438 departments, agencies and sub-agencies of the executive branch employ roughly 4 million people. Almost none of their jobs are dependent on who won the last election. 

Proponents of the administrative state believe this is ideal. The administration trudges along, processing people’s paperwork all day, every day. However, many federal employees have a “property interest” in their jobs — their very employment is considered to be like property. Property cannot be taken by the government without due process. Since these workers are often unionized, and unions seek to keep their members employed, it is notoriously difficult for even the most despicable federal employee to be fired.

This all contributes to a do-nothing inertia, whereby the worker has every incentive to drag their feet on a task, and faces minimal chance of consequences for incompetence. The bureaucrats’ financial and political interests are different from ours — theirs rely on our continuing to be productive, while they have no incentive to be productive themselves. That’s the mindset of a farmer and his cows.

It’s abhorrent that millions hold these cushy government sinecures. As a competent, accomplished professional with a select set of skills, I’m revolted that my tax dollars pay an entire class of parasites to check a box on a form and then move it to a drawer. It’s maddening that we have to wait for them to sluggishly finish this process before we can achieve our own goals. I personally say the current administrative state — consisting of both the federal bureaucracy and the 50 parallel state ones — is uniquely oppressive compared to every government that has come before it. The Department of Motor Vehicles exercises more control over citizens, and in the most mind-numbing ways, than Nero ever could’ve over the Roman Empire.

How the total state conquered us

Only part of my problem with the administrative state is bloat and graft. This is more of a symptom than a root cause. The administrative state is terrible because it is a total state. The total state cannot tolerate competition — it must “red light, green light” everything within its jurisdiction. It does not grant that any other power has jurisdiction. The 438 executive agencies, departments and sub-departments administrate ever more of our lives. The number of life events that don’t involve the government’s permission or acknowledgment is rapidly shrinking. Family, business, religion, medicine, building, landscaping, hunting, et cetera have been ensnared in red tape. Tragedy of the commons or not, the total state cannot allow any of these parts of human living to go on as usual without administering them in some way.

How did this happen? It started with mere laziness on the part of Congress and the perennial truth that the government ever expands. The constitution tasks the executive branch with enforcing and executing the laws Congress makes. But the document provides precious little guidance about how it’s supposed to do that. The judicial branch helps some, but the “case or controversy” clause severely limits the federal judiciary’s proactivity. The judiciary can tell someone when they have done wrong but cannot warn them when they are about to do wrong. The constitution prohibits Congress from delegating its “essential legislative functions” to anyone else, and as much as it’d like to, it can’t put a hall monitor in everyone’s homes.

This left the executive branch with skeletons of tasks, no knowledge of how it’s supposed to execute them and no way to know it’s succeeded until after the fact. So the executive branch needed to enforce the law without being able to know how to do that, but could not take the authority to make public changes where Congress didn’t foresee how to do things. Their ad-hoc solution: rule-making!

Any time the government realized it needed to perpetuate itself into some new area of banal tyranny, it asked Congress to create a new department or agency. That agency then decided “rules” and interpreted and enforced them with its own agents and administrative law judges. This way, it could announce it was complying with the law.

What is the difference between a law and a rule here? Don’t ask questions.

No court battle can fix the problem

The other parts of the government are inordinately deferential to the administrative agencies thanks to the verdict of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837. This established the doctrine of “Chevron Deference.” In brief, this 1984 Supreme Court ruling deterred the judiciary from prying into an executive agency’s actions unless absolutely necessary. I’m hopeful but unconvinced that the pending case of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo will upend Chevron Deference. Even if it does, it would make little difference; the inertia would remain.

No court case will undo the hackneyed despotism the agencies get up to every day. It could not without those agencies agreeing to kneecap themselves, which will never happen. The judiciary has no men at arms and no ability to enforce its judgments, even when it tells the executive it has gone too far. In the immortal words of Andrew Jackson, “[Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

Let’s presume that Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch successfully overturns Chevron Deference. An order is eventually issued saying all the sinecures are unconstitutional and hereby disestablished. No one from the Supreme Court will make the clerks and sub-vice-deputy-acting-director of whatever leave their cubicles, as there is no one to enforce it. Unlike previous Chief Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts is not regarded as a brave man who tangles with the other government branches. No, he prefers to guard the Court’s “legitimacy” by angering everyone equally rather than executing a particular vision of jurisprudence. These people won’t clean this mess.

The administrative state’s ludicrous bureaucracy sees the average person committing three unwitting felonies a day. If we are to be freed from this legal nightmare, more direct and assertive action needs to occur. We can look to Argentinian President Javier Milei for inspiration. When he took power in December 2023, he issued pink slips to half of Argentina’s government, collapsed agencies and departments and damned the consequences. This didn’t solve the country’s problems overnight, but sometimes ripping off the proverbial bandage is a critical step. 

The United States’s wound is much larger than Argentina’s. Implementing a radical reform on par with Milei’s would be painful. But it should be done, because the situation will only worsen with time. Government is neither solid nor liquid, but a gas — it expands to fill the available space. The administrative state will expand and administrate more and more available space, creating more absurd agencies and dystopian policies. How would you feel if someday a hypothetical Department of Respiration texted you, claiming you’ve exceeded your allotted breaths for the day and your taxes will reflect the increased carbon credits you’re using?

This farce needs to end. Any pain we suffer now is worthwhile if it helps us avoid that dystopian future. Who will pick up the crown laying in the gutter and gut the administrative state?

[Lee Thompson-Kolar edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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