The Bureaucratization of Elected Representatives

Q: How many psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Just one but the lightbulb must want to change.

What will it take to bring some sense of fiscal sanity to the federal budget? Bob Bixby, Executive Director of the Concord Coalition, has an idea:

The answer may rest with three key players—President Obama, Rep. Paul Ryan [ed. incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee], and Sen. Kent Conrad [chairman of the Senate Budget Committee]. Each has the responsibility of presenting a budget early next year. If these three men decide not to turn back, the era of deficit denial will indeed be over.


If Obama and Ryan join Conrad’s call for a summit to negotiate a joint budget plan—building on the solid groundwork of the two commissions—they may be able to achieve a game-changing breakthrough. That assumes, however, that they want the game to change and that they could get other party leaders and partisan guardians and to go along with the idea.

They must want to change.

Another of my favorite wisecracks: a committee is a group of people, none of whom can do anything individually, who get together to agree that nothing can be done.

In Federalist #35 Alexander Hamilton, in musing on what sort of elected representatives would best serve the new republic, wrote:

It is said to be necessary, that all classes of citizens should have some of their own number in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be the better understood and attended to. But we have seen that this will never happen under any arrangement that leaves the votes of the people free. Where this is the case, the representative body, with too few exceptions to have any influence on the spirit of the government, will be composed of landholders, merchants, and men of the learned professions. But where is the danger that the interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens will not be understood or attended to by these three descriptions of men? Will not the landholder know and feel whatever will promote or insure the interest of landed property? And will he not, from his own interest in that species of property, be sufficiently prone to resist every attempt to prejudice or encumber it? Will not the merchant understand and be disposed to cultivate, as far as may be proper, the interests of the mechanic and manufacturing arts, to which his commerce is so nearly allied? Will not the man of the learned profession, who will feel a neutrality to the rivalships between the different branches of industry, be likely to prove an impartial arbiter between them, ready to promote either, so far as it shall appear to him conducive to the general interests of the society?

How far we have come since Hamilton’s day! Today all but a token few of our federal elected representatives are lawyers (“men of the learned professions”) and, contrary to Hamilton’s characterization, lawyers now comprise their own interest group, intent on rent-seeking and preserving the dwindling prerogatives of their profession.

Worse still, far too many of our elected representatives are career civil servants, apparatchiks and bureaucrats, inherently dedicated most of all to preserving and expanding the civil bureaucracy. I sincerely doubt that the lightbulb wants to change.

1 comment… add one
  • Todd N Link

    I must say that this is the best post you have written. You have summed up exactly what is wrong with our government and why it no longer serves the interests of the people of this great country. The bureaucrats are to busy trying to protect or expand their fiefdoms and our elected representatives are only interested in maintaining their positions of power that one wonders how much longer the center can hold (to quote Lincoln)?

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