Tag Archives: rights

Fukuyama’s Mandarins

Francis Fukuyama has a lengthy piece in Foreign Affairs this month called “America in Decay.” His diagnosis is that our government has too many checks and balances, too much diffusion of power, to get things done. This is a fashionable diagnosis, now that China is on the rise. Everyone wishes we had a decisive leader and a competent bureaucracy.

The explosion of interest groups and lobbying in Washington has been astonishing, with the number of firms with registered lobbyists rising from 175 in 1971 to … 13,700 lobbyists spending about $3.5 billion by 2009.

Fukuyama adds value to the discussion in two ways. He tries to prove his thesis from first principles, without aping China and Singapore, and he tries to show what changed in America to make a good system go bad. We write “tries,” here, because the argument has some inconsistencies, and his key recommendation is unpersuasive.

Fukuyama calls for a large, powerful, bureaucracy answerable only to the president. This would be a more or less permanent caste of well educated, professional administrators. Mercifully, he does not call them “mandarins.” You have to give him credit for proposing a solution which is inimical to American history.

Fukuyama provides good examples of overregulation, regulatory capture, and duplication of effort. He calls for a more professional bureaucracy, but it is not clear how handing control to the executive will accomplish this. This is where his argument leaves logic and turns to wishful thinking. There is no institutional fix that will magically make our bureaucracy competent.

There is also no guarantee that Fukuyama’s mandarins will work selflessly in the public interest. Look at land grabs in China, among other examples of pervasive corruption. Power corrupts, in proportion to scale, and America is already far down this road.

The American system of checks and balances compares unfavorably with parliamentary systems when it comes to the ability to balance the need for strong state action with law and accountability.

Fukuyama’s argument grows weaker as he casts about the globe for precedents. In America, he wants the bureaucracy to serve the executive branch, but in Europe he’s happy with it reporting to parliament. He gives a nice survey of parliamentary systems, but he overlooks a fruitful line of inquiry – what, exactly, makes European legislatures more worthy than ours?

We find the first clue when he moves from European states to the European Union. This is the unit of analysis comparable to our federal government, and it has the same problems. Americans generally feel they have some say in their state government, while Washington is a far off dictator – roughly how Europeans feel about Brussels.

Fukuyama begins with a good diagnosis of how Congress was made ineffective by judicialization, polarization, and special interests. This is the best part of the paper. He does an excellent root cause analysis of this problem, and then leaves it unsolved.

Fukuyama proposes greater reliance on the bureaucracy, despite acknowledging its failings, and more power to the executive. A simpler solution would be to streamline the federal bureaucracy and devolve power to the states.


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Little Red Book

Red BookWe have just received another copy of the Constitution, courtesy of the ACLU.  The office is glutted with them already.  Maybe we’ll hand them out for Halloween.  It’s nice that the left leaning ACLU still takes the trouble.  We have heard that only “tea party anarchists” make a fetish of this antique document.

Seriously, if you had just liberated your country last week, you could do worse.  The Constitution is a marvel of organizational design.  It solves the problem of representation, organizes the separation of powers, checks and balances, and protects civil rights.

America’s Constitution was based on the leading thinkers of the day, like Locke and Montesquieu, who have not been equaled since ­– and no one insults the First Law of Thermodynamics just because it’s old.

If you haven’t read it, you should.  As an aid to non English readers, Jeremiah presents a simplified text.  The original text is here.  If you listen to those who wish to sidestep the Constitution, they generally call for a powerful central government with few checks and no delegation.  They are reading that other little red book.

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Centrist Manifesto

We, the swing voters in the middle of the political spectrum, in order to encourage moderation among those on our left and right, hereby define our position.

Role of Government

We do not wish to elect a monarch, whether this is the President, the Chief Justice, or the Speaker of the House.  We would like our system of checks and balances to operate exactly as specified in the Constitution, which we still regard to be the best constitution in human history.  Elected officials who abuse the system must be replaced.

Because the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution, we expect Congress and the President to appoint judges who respect the Constitution in letter and in spirit, over and above the ideologies of the day.  Elected officials who look like packing the Court with ideologues must be replaced.

We believe in a strong national defense and an active foreign policy, not because we wish to impose our values on the world, but because active engagement is the best defense.  We believe that our foreign policy should consistently be based on our values, not the interests or the personalities of the day.  We expect our officials to defend our values firmly in all circumstances.  Elected officials who are unclear about our values, or unwilling to defend them, must be replaced.

Funding the Government

We believe in balanced budgets.  Congress has the duty to submit a balanced budget, timely, each and every fiscal year.  Congress should also maintain an audited five-year budget, updated annually, and make provision for retiring our national debt.  We do not excuse deficit spending unless there is a true emergency, such as war.  Elected officials who have difficulty with budgets must be replaced.

As consumers of public services, we would like to be frugal.  We observe that the States are more efficient than the Federal government, and private enterprise is more efficient than either.  Even where the government may fund the service, as with education, we do not require the government to deliver the service.  Government at all levels should conserve tax revenues by outsourcing to private enterprise wherever possible.

We believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.  We accept that, in a free society, some citizens will achieve more than others.  We reject the desire to equalize outcomes, not because we are uncharitable, but because any government with such power is the enemy of liberty.

We do not wish to promote any public good, however good it may be, using the tax system.  This only complicates the tax system and invites corruption.  We support root and branch reform of the tax system.

We believe in sound money.  This should be the only responsibility delegated to the Central Bank.  All other fiscal policy, such as stimulating employment, is the responsibility and duty of Congress and should not be delegated.  Elected officials who delegate their duties to other officials are simply not doing the work.  They must be replaced.

We would like the States to enjoy more rights and more tax receipts.  States should not depend on the Federal government for grants and reimbursements of money which originated with the States’ own citizens.  We are willing to fund the Federal government only for those services which the States cannot provide, such as defense.

Each of us may someday need the social safety net, and we are always ready with help for those who honestly need it.  We are willing to fund public assistance programs, administered by the States.  We do not trust a Federal government that turns simple charity into a vast and costly administration.

We observe that the Federal government has a propensity to expand in scope, scale, and cost, and we wish to check this propensity.  We consider that an unchecked Federal government is the enemy of liberty.

Regulating Trade

We believe in free trade, but we also demand fair treatment.  If foreign producers can supply goods more cheaply, through some natural advantage, then we are happy to have the cheaper goods.  If the advantage is merely that they observe lower standards than our domestic producers, then we consider it to be unfair.  We do not require our officials to protect domestic producers, but we do expect them to uphold our standards.

We believe in the system of free enterprise.  Companies should be free to complete among themselves without interference or favoritism.  The role of government in commerce is only to uphold certain standards, and to ensure a level playing field.

We support the right of workers to form trade unions as they see fit, and negotiate collectively with business owners.  In this, the rights of the individual worker are paramount, to join or not, without prejudice.  Just as the government should not take sides between businesses, the government should not take sides between business and labor.

As consumers of public services, we do not support the right of workers to negotiate collectively with government.  Our government is not a business, and we do not expect our elected officials to deal with trade unions.

Civil Rights

Our principal value is liberty, broadly construed, and including both personal rights and property rights.  Liberty means that citizens may exert their energies in any manner they choose, so long as this does not impose a burden on other citizens.

We do not accept that our rights are granted by the government.  Our rights are ours by nature, and we cede only such rights as are needed for the government to perform the duties we assign to it.

Justice is operation of ensuring that one citizen’s exercise of rights does not interfere with another.  We believe that this operation should produce very few restrictions on our rights.  Liberty includes the right to try and to fail, and to activities that others may deem unwise, so long as the consequences fall only on ourselves.

We enjoy freedom of religion, but we would also like freedom from religion.  We do not care to know the religious background of our elected officials.  We would like to know that they have some kind of moral compass, but policy issues should be settled on the basis of what is best for America, in terms of positive outcomes for America, and with reference to American values.  Elected officials who hold religious bias above sound policy must be replaced.


We would like our government to do certain things, as described here, and no more.  We would like a smaller Federal government, and more rights for the States.  We do not see government as having a central role in our lives.  We accept responsibility for ourselves and our destiny.  This responsibility is not a burden.  It is liberty, our birthright.

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