PhilO

A method to check the power of bureaucrats

6 posts in this topic

I think a big part of public apathy is the fact that government bureaucrats, be they as low level as some small town up to the federal Congress, have all day long, year round, to plot, scheme, and toil at various incursions of our rights. Voting at lengthy intervals becomes the main means of trying to keep these power lusters in check. I think there's virtue to some kind of additional system that would keep these bureaucrats in check; such as the ability to having binding propositions in California (I don't know much about it but I know it exists and was used, e.g. Prop. 13 as I recall, to hold down the rate of property tax increases.) I think such systems should be more widespread and easily accessible, for the rest of the affected population that has a life and is being forced to pay for these schemes.

The thought occurs to me that there's one class of binding democratic proposals that would be an enormously powerful check against government power lusters, but have little probability of giving too much power to "the masses", which is the threat of true unlimited democracy (beyond simply voting): the ability of a popular vote to (1) remove from office any government official, elected or not, and (2) to repeal any law whatever. There should be no power to enact laws, but to repeal them. I think this would give an additional, immediately available, enormous check against these power lusters. Perhaps it would have to be a super majority in order to avoid overly casual actions. (Nor would there be a need to worry about repealing laws against real crimes such as murder - not in a semi-sane society anyway.)

I'd like to hear what people here think about this idea.

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The thought occurs to me that there's one class of binding democratic proposals that would be an enormously powerful check against government power lusters, but have little probability of giving too much power to "the masses", which is the threat of true unlimited democracy (beyond simply voting): the ability of a popular vote to (1) remove from office any government official, elected or not, and (2) to repeal any law whatever. There should be no power to enact laws, but to repeal them. I think this would give an additional, immediately available, enormous check against these power lusters. Perhaps it would have to be a super majority in order to avoid overly casual actions. (Nor would there be a need to worry about repealing laws against real crimes such as murder - not in a semi-sane society anyway.)

I'd like to hear what people here think about this idea.

Interesting, Phil. So, if I understand your idea correctly, everyone (perhaps over a certain age) actually becomes a part of the legislative branch, within certain limitations. My first question regards how this would function. In other words, can anyone at any time bring up a law for repeal or a government official for removal? It seems like there would have to be a procedure. Do you have one in mind?

Also, given the sheer number of people who might decide to raise some issue, it seems that it would create a whole profession devoted to understanding the process and getting individual's claims facilitated. Just as one often hires accountants for tax purposes, I'd bet a similar type of profession would be created to get these kinds of issues raised within the legal system.

Would the super majority be just in terms of the people that voted or of the whole population? And how often would one have to vote?

I like the spirit behind the idea, but I wonder if this it would actually be beneficial in the way one would hope.

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I think a big part of public apathy is the fact that government bureaucrats, be they as low level as some small town up to the federal Congress, have all day long, year round, to plot, scheme, and toil at various incursions of our rights. Voting at lengthy intervals becomes the main means of trying to keep these power lusters in check. I think there's virtue to some kind of additional system that would keep these bureaucrats in check; such as the ability to having binding propositions in California (I don't know much about it but I know it exists and was used, e.g. Prop. 13 as I recall, to hold down the rate of property tax increases.) I think such systems should be more widespread and easily accessible, for the rest of the affected population that has a life and is being forced to pay for these schemes.

There is some merit to that proposal, but it also has a downside. The merit comes from the fact that most bureaucrats and legislators are significantly more socialistic than the general populace. If that situation were reversed, as it was in the nineteenth century, it might lead to populism run amok.

My preferred way of dealing with power-lusting bureaucrats and legislators is to expose them. Let the spotlight of publicity hit them any time of the day or night without having to wait months and get signatures to put an initiative on the ballot. Publicity can make clear the reason why a policy or practice must be changed in a way that a simple "yes" or "no" vote simply cannot.

Notifying the media, calling talk radio, blogging, or writing letters to the editor are cheap and easy ways to get information out to the world and they can be surprisingly effective.

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(2) to repeal any law whatever. There should be no power to enact laws, but to repeal them.

I'd like to hear what people here think about this idea.

In Nebraska, in 1989, the legislature passed a helmet law for motorcycle riders.

Soon after, the general election contained an initiative to repeal the helmet law. It won in a landslide. The law was repealed.

The next legislative session, the b*#@%&ds passed another one.

Since then, the opponents of the law have been trying to get it repealed via the legislature.

It may not be hopeless, but they seem to be able to wear down the opposition.

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I think a big part of public apathy is the fact that government bureaucrats, be they as low level as some small town up to the federal Congress, have all day long, year round, to plot, scheme, and toil at various incursions of our rights. Voting at lengthy intervals becomes the main means of trying to keep these power lusters in check.

We don't vote, even at lengthy intervals, at all on bureaucrats and their rules. Almost all votes are directly about what elected officials -- from a local mayor to the President of the US -- will be in office. The bureaucrats are appointed or hired into state or the Federal agencies where they write the rules and regulations. We vote for or against legislators who pass broad legislation, which is then codified and made more specific in regulations written and adopted by the bureaucracy. At the Federal level this law is in the mammoth Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). States have analogous rule-making procedures. That is one big reason why voting has so little effect on power seeking bureaucrats. And for the Federal bureaucracy, except for political appointees in top positions, the bureaucrats have "civil service" status making them immune from almost kind of removal from their jobs.

The cancerous growth of this bureaucracy at all levels and its impact on us is like sinking into quick sand -- once it starts you can't get out. The bureaucracy has been called the unelected "fourth branch of government" for good reason.

I think there's virtue to some kind of additional system that would keep these bureaucrats in check; such as the ability to having binding propositions in California (I don't know much about it but I know it exists and was used, e.g. Prop. 13 as I recall, to hold down the rate of property tax increases.) I think such systems should be more widespread and easily accessible, for the rest of the affected population that has a life and is being forced to pay for these schemes.

Many states have a procedure for popular referendums, authorized by their constitutions. In some cases this allows citizens to initiate amendments to their state constituion, not just enact or repeal laws. These procedures have become less effective as state legislators have added regulations to make citizen iniative petitions more expensive and more difficult by such measures as tightening the time allowed to obtain signatures, requiring more signatures for a question to be put on the ballot and putting more stringent requirements for publicizing and verifying signatures and additional personal information required for each person signing. State legislators have also been increasingly voting to significantly modify or revoke laws passed by direct ballot. In Massachusetts for example, the legislature has ignored a constitutional requirement for the state legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment before it can go on the ballot after signatures have been obtained, thereby effectively killing proposed amendments without a vote or stalling until enough votes can be lined up and timed to kill it.

The thought occurs to me that there's one class of binding democratic proposals that would be an enormously powerful check against government power lusters, but have little probability of giving too much power to "the masses", which is the threat of true unlimited democracy (beyond simply voting): the ability of a popular vote to (1) remove from office any government official, elected or not, and (2) to repeal any law whatever. There should be no power to enact laws, but to repeal them. I think this would give an additional, immediately available, enormous check against these power lusters. Perhaps it would have to be a super majority in order to avoid overly casual actions. (Nor would there be a need to worry about repealing laws against real crimes such as murder - not in a semi-sane society anyway.)

I'd like to hear what people here think about this idea.

Against the background above you can see what it would involve. For the Federal government and for some states the constitution would have to be changed to allow an iniative petition of any kind. In others it would have to be changed to rule out petitions for new laws while retaining the right to repeal laws. The constitutional changes would have to include the right to eject elected officials (beyond existing impeachment provisions) and civil servants who have the equivalent of "tenure".

Any such structural change to government would be immediately assessed for its impact on political power and would be rejected just as almost any other improvement reducing power is -- such as limits on taxes. Every political pressure group would come out of the woodwork to defeat anything that would threaten their power.

All kinds of proposals for improvements to government would surface if there were enough popular, explicitly principled support for a limited constitutional republic, but without that fundamental change to the culture no such major improvements are politically possible for the same reasons the problems exist which your proposal is intended to fix.

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There is no way to check the power of bureaucrats except to abolish their agencies. This is currently my cause celebre, and I am in a dialog with the Atlas Economic Foundation to get a grant to study how many lives (or parts of lives) are lost every year because of bureaucrats.

The principle involved is that for every decrease in the cost of living, years are added to your life. A study was done some years ago (by the U of SC, I think) that tracked life spans since the middle ages. The results: for every 15% reduction in the cost of living adds 5 years to your life.

Bureaucrats cost the US citizen at least 30% in cost alone. That means that every citizen has his life shortened by 10 years! I am not a statistician, but by my rough calculations, 600,000 lives are lost each year by having non-productive people on our payroll.

Ayn Rand said it best: Production = life. Mooching, Looting = death.

Paul

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