I hate to comment on the circus which is currently entertaining the masses, but I can’t resist commenting on this article (which was passed along by a commenter).

The article, by Conor Friedersdorf, is perfectly wrong – almost incredibly so. I still can’t quite believe someone actually wrote this and got it published in a respectable place.

Here’s the meat of the article:

For him [i.e. Newt], specific policy improvements can’t just be undertaken. It is first necessary to "fundamentally" change the federal government, or whatever piece of it is performing sub-optimally — in this case, the State Department. Of course, if Bolton kicked off his tenure as Secretary of State [in a Newt administration] by attempting a "complete, thoroughgoing transformation" of the agency, including the culture of its employees, the certain outcome would be that he’d accomplish nothing.

Take a moment to savor the "be undertaken" in the first sentence. Everything written about "policy improvements" should be written passively, so as to not betray the real actors (i.e. the bureaucracy).

The situation here is (presumably) that Newt wants to have some policy improvements "be undertaken" and his favored policy improvements run counter to those favored by the State Department. If Newt has some policy ideas that he wants to be undertaken in the area of foreign relations, and if these policy ideas run counter to the positions of the State Department, we all know whose policy ideas will triumph. In case you’re confused, the State Department’s ideas will be undertaken, Newt’s ideas will not. Since Ronald Reagan, Republicans have tried to work with entrenched bureaucracies whose ideas of policy improvements are counter to their own. The results are in, and the bureaucracy wins in the end.

Gingrich then, far from being crazy, is correct. If he has policy improvements that must be enacted by the State Department, and if these ideas would be opposed by the State Department, enacting them is a waste of time. Even if they were nominally enacted, they would not be implemented or enforced.

Interestingly, Friedersdorf in part stumbles on the correct conclusion when he says that Newt would accomplish nothing if he set out to change the State Department. After all, as President, Newt could only replace a few State Department employees. The vast majority of the employees of the Department would not change and it’s impossible to change an institution whose membership you cannot change.

This is why voting is a waste of your time. Even if you like Newt’s policies, he can’t possibly enact them.


10 Responses to Gingrich

  1. aretae says:

    Question…that’s entirely theoretical, save for Divine Intervention on behalf of Ron Paul/Gary Johnson/Herman Cain.

    What would happen if a president repealed the executive order allowing federal employee collective bargaining…and 3 years later (After bargaining agreements lapsed) started firing folks?

    • Foseti says:

      I have absolutely no idea what would happen.

      Congress does occasionally get rid of an agency (for example, it just got rid of the OTSlast year). However, when it does it always ensures that the employees of the agency are hired by other agencies. It actually required other agencies to hire former OTS employees.

      Assuming that Congress didn’t get involved, I suppose it’s possible to eliminate collective bargaining for federal employees and starting firing people. If you wanted to get anything done though (even repealing existing regulations), you’d need to hire people and I believe the Federal hiring rules are statutory and give preference to existing and former federal employees. So, you might be stuck firing them and hiring them all back. I guess you could leave existing regulations on the books and just not enforce them. Maybe that’s your only option.

  2. Jehu says:

    You’d have to repeal the civil service acts to do that. I favor that actually, but a return to the spoils system would be a very hard sell.

  3. I believe Moldbug has written about this, but I’d like your perspective if possible. What could Ron Paul do if elected? He is uncompromising, principled and I believe he absolutely understands the system unlike any other idiot on stage. Can such a knowledgeable, principled man with nothing to lose do something effective or not? Remember, he would not care about the press. He would not care to make himself likable like all Republicans eventually do.

  4. Gian says:

    That bureaucracies win is a law for normal times, in abnormal times an individual can dominate them eg. Hitler 1933.

    People thought that the State apparatus would tame Hitler but they were proved wrong.

  5. sardonic_sob says:

    The infamous Libertarian author L. Neil Smith wrote an alternate history novel called “Hope” in which a thinly-disguised and more personable Bill Gates ends up as the Libertarian president of the US. (He might be a thinly-disguised and less-aggressive Larry Ellison.)

    The hero then proceeds to issue Executive Orders implementing Libertarian policy on a grand scale along with using the clemency power to essentially undo all enforcement of various kinds of laws (notably gun laws.) For instance, he orders all ATF agents to sit quietly at their desks during working hours, forbidden to answer the telephone or leave their offices.

    While I think that the established system would be a much more fearsome opponent than the hero faces in the story, it is made clear that the reason that this works so well is that neither of the established parties is willing to implement the kinds of restrictions on Executive Orders that it would take to stop him. Because when he’s out, they’re going to want their guy to come in and redo everything, and if they do that openly all at once through legislation, the game will be up. I think that this argument has a certain logic to it. Whether it would actually work, I doubt, because I think self-preservation would be a much stronger incentive than Machiavellian scheming when push came to shove. But it’s not entirely irrational.

  6. Borepatch says:

    You could do it, but it would take guts. It goes like this:

    1. President Newt announces he will slash government spending to address the deficit, and (as a sop to the leftards) fund some feel-good program for poor kittens in Siam or something.

    2. 20% of State Department is laid off 2 weeks later. Which 20% is probably more or less unimportant.

    3. President Newt announces restructuring/major Newt initiative at State. SecState lets top managers know that anyone who jumps on this train before it leaves the station will not be in the next round of 10% cuts.

    4. Whether cuts ever happen or not is probably more or less unimportant.

    Of course, all Right Thinking People will be appalled, but with carefully chosen window dressing programs (say, health insurance for poor children), Newt can always bash his critics as supporting highly paid SWPL bureaucrats at the expense of poor sick children.

    But he’d have to tough it out, and have secretaries who would tough it out.

  7. CyniCAl says:

    “This is why voting is a waste of your time.”

    I have written this many times. It is only mass non-voting that can expose the true nature of the system. If no one voted, the government would lose its popular sanction and the totalitarianism would be plain for all to see.

  8. james wilson says:

    Unlike most other departments of government, constituted since Agriculture, State cannot be merely eliminated and bulldozed into a memorial park. It was Jefferson’s idea that to destroy a rogue department of government or application you only need to stop funding it. A 20% reduction at State would be ineffective, but 80% would be very effective.

  9. Jehu says:

    I think Borepatch’s point is that the 20% indiscriminate cut is just needed to get the attention of the bureaucracy. The succeeding rounds of cuts (10% or so each time) are intended to progressively demoralize the bureaucracy and to identify those segments of it that are willing to be YOUR whores (i.e. to knuckle under and be servants rather than masters). I could see this working with enough will. But I still favor the repeal of the civil service act and the wholesale dismissal of the bureaucracy. Every bureaucrat should be the faithful minion of whatever party/person who is in power.

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