December 31, 2009

A Commission (a "Panel," if You Will)... That's the Ticket!

Justin Katz

Thomas Sowell puts it pretty starkly:

The appointment of White House "czars" to make policy across a wide spectrum of issues — unknown people who get around the Constitution's requirement of Senate confirmation for cabinet members — is yet another sign of the mindset that sees the fundamental laws and values of this country as just something to get around, in order to impose the will of an arrogant elite.

The problem is that it isn't just the political elite who lack a sufficient understanding of the real value of democratic processes. Sowell blames "dumbed-down education in schools and colleges that have become indoctrination centers for the visions of the Left," although the reference to political direction might obscure the essence of the poorly formed vision — namely, that it is possible for people to figure out and design broad social programs that will improve life for all if they're only given the power to implement them. And so, we get this disappointing, but not surprising, editorial from the Providence Journal:

Neither Congress nor the Obama administration (nor that of George W. Bush) has shown the gumption to act honestly to confront these costs. Perhaps commissions will give them adequate cover to take on the "special-interest groups." (We're all de-facto members of several such groups; one man's pork is another man's national treasure.) ...

So a bipartisan congressional committee should pick the members of these commissions and give them as much power as possible. Such panels would probably feel compelled to recommend higher taxes and sharp cuts in some programs.

In the Projo's telling, such a plan is all up-side: giving an unelected panel as much power as possible (to break some eggs) with adequate immunity to push elected representatives to do that which the public does not want. That attitude is a recipe for totalitarianism and a collapsed nation, but it's frighteningly pervasive. Everybody, after all, has a vision that would clearly work... if only it could be forced on the nation.

As if to prove its own incoherence, the editorial shifts gears to complaints that people are heeding ideological sympathizers whom they trust to specialize in sensing political winds, rather than giving rein to Congressional "staffers specializing in the subject at hand" as they craft complex legislation. The essay ends thus:

Representative democracy is a terrible system, but, as Churchill noted, better than all the others.

One might get the erroneous impression that the editorial writers are supporters of representative democracy, even after they'd spent a few hundred words advocating for rule by unelected groups and behind the scenes staff experts.

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Sounds like Sarah hit the bull's eye:

Death Panel

Posted by: SeanOD at December 31, 2009 10:11 AM

"Representative democracy is a terrible system, but, as Churchill noted, better than all the others."

Actually Mr. or Ms. Editorial Writer, the quote you give is inaccurate and misleading. It is that democracy is "better than all the others that have been tried." This is an extremely important distinction. It is the difference between "democracy is the best form of government" and "democracy is the best form of government that has been experimented with SO FAR." I would agree with the second proposition, but disagree strongly with the first. There are many, many forms and variations of government that have not yet been tried, voluntaryism and minarchism being two big ones that will likely be seen over the next couple of centuries, if not in the next. People have been experimenting with forms of less direct governance and some would argue that those are the natural progression after monarchy -> representative democracy -> ?.

Posted by: Dan at December 31, 2009 11:13 PM


The forms you mention above are in fact modern philosophies that have significant numbers of adherents. Unfortunately fallen human nature precludes these utopian forms or philosophies from succeeding on a large enough scale to have a meaningful impact.

There may be societies or cities somewhere that could pattern themselves after these means but as a pattern or model for the masses they simply will not work.


Posted by: Sol Venturi at January 1, 2010 10:14 AM


There is truth to what you say, but no system of governance scales well. That's the whole point of the minarchist movement, that top-down one-size fits all approaches to large groups of people are inherently inefficient and unjust.

For example, look at what has happened to Representative Democracy as the United States has swelled to 300,000,000 people, something the founders most likely never considered. Yes, it started off with your local attorney or shoemaker being your representative, totally accountable and in touch with his constituency, but now we have all career politicians like Patrick Kennedy representing nobody but themselves because their constituencies are too large and diverse, and nobody even knows what goes on there anymore. Maybe if they hadn't capped the size of Congress it would be somewhat more representational, but at some point it becomes unworkable. In NH the state legislature is 1 representative for every 3,000 people, which is why the state hasn't been as overrun by special interests and there is more turnover than in Rhode Island.

Posted by: Dan at January 1, 2010 12:31 PM

Dan, I don't think the problem with our government's failure to represent the people is one of scale so much as one of purpose. The Progressivist transformation of our government's role in society, turning it away from the original concept as defined in the Constitution, is the real culprit.

Posted by: BobN at January 1, 2010 9:23 PM

BobN, I think returning to the original limited scope of government as outlined in the Constitution would be a huge improvement over the "Progressivist transformation" that we are dealing with now, so I agree with you there. Of course, at the end of the day, it's just a piece of paper written by a bunch of dead guys, and I don't see any reason to treat it as some sort of holy document as many people do or to assume that it is the "one true way" or perfect on civil rights.

All that is really academic though, since to get to the limited and consent-based government that I want, we will have to go back through the limited Constitutional government that you want anyway. so I guess we can discuss any further changes when and if we get there!

Posted by: Dan at January 1, 2010 10:56 PM
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