Friday, July 15, 2011

Careful With THE REASON

I always try to caution anyone looking for the reason behind any Federal policy or program. The Federal government acts outwardly like an empire, but the machinations behind closed doors in the Imperial capitol are much more complex than the will of Caesar. But, every day I read the reason behind something at least once. It is often amplified by writing the real reason. The articles that pretend to uncover the real reason usually touch one of many forces behind some asinine governmental action. But in order for there to be single, hidden reason behind Obamacare, or the Global War On Terror™, or the bank bailouts there would have to be an incredible behind-the-scenes organization of thousands that is capable of maintaining its deliberations and communication perfectly secret. That is but the most obvious of the reasons (small r) that THE REASON is a truly stupid notion.

As designed, the American political process is complex, in practice in the 21st century it is infinitely more complex than designed. The President does not rule by decree. As Ludwig von Mises explains in "Human Action", even a dictator rules only with the consent of the governed. And the President is, even today, somewhat constrained by the Constitution to make laws and obtain funding through the Congress. Nor is the President's rule simply a question of getting a majority of Congress behind him. The President must align divers powerful interests before he ever goes to Congress, or decides that he has enough power to ignore Congress.

In the American power structure there are legal, institutional interests, such as the Congress, court system, state legislatures and the Departments of the administration. We can know some of what they do. We know the legislation that they are discussing, we can see some of the court cases that are being adjudicated. We can read the reports that are published by all the different Departments and Offices and Administrations within the Federal leviathan.

There are also semi-legal institutions such as registered lobbies. The lobbies write many more laws than do the Congress because the lobbies have more resources, more professionals and more motivation to write good laws. (good for them, that is). The lobbies control the money that Congressmen and especially Senators need to be re-elected. The lobbies have become the real constituency of the US Senate. The lobbiest-Congressman conversations are not transparent. We the people have no idea what is talked about there.

Then there are extra-legal powerful interests. The most important extra-legal power groups are the big corporations acting through public employees. Americans are much more constrained and manipulated by regulations than by laws. Those regulations are written by bureaucrats who are frequently eyeing a lucrative job with one of the biggest corporations in the field that the bureaucrat is entrusted to regulate. But bureaucrats don't just write regulations, they also have great influence over law. When politicians decide to make a new law and they do not enlist a lobby to write it, then the politicians usually must count on bureaucrats to give them the data that will inform the new law. Bureaucrats can determine the nature of the law by carefully selecting the information that they provide or conceal. They have tremendous influence over the actions of government.

The media is another extra-legal source of real political power. The larger the medium, the more its opinions and desires are taken into consideration. FOX News has more weight in Washington than does (unfortunately). Editorials in important papers can change the course of what the government does. But media does not only influence government, it also aids the government by being its propagandists. The mainstream American media never challenges the primary precepts of the status quo in American government, and they actively broadcast lies designed to confuse and frighten Americans into malleability.

All this mess is woven together in an extremely complicated, dynamic and treacherous network. Decisions are only enacted when enough actors with enough influence push in the same direction. This does not mean that these interests are aligned on other issues, or that their motives to align on the issue in question are similar. But the interests that always seem to be pushing away from the consensus get marginalized and their power wanes. Power in Washington comes through networking and from making successful accords and partnerships. The art of the deal is the ability to align enough interests to get your agenda moving.

A small fraction of this network or matrix is visible. Congress holds some public discussions. The President announces his ideas for the future. Political pundits pontificate in the media. But most of the application of power and influence happens out of the public eye. For instance, we will never hear the discussions between Pfizer and upper level civil "servants" at the FDA, although these discussions are key to how drugs are regulated in America. The Secretary of Labor may suggest in a cabinet meeting that unemployment will spike if we end the wars, but we won't know that until years later when someone writes a memoir. The general that writes papers about possible alternative military strategies for the White House is counting on a job from Lockheed when he retires, but only he knows that the position is already waiting for him. AIPAC representatives dine with a Congressman and offer money and veiled threats for her support. These are examples to show that the hidden applications of influence are probably more powerful than the visible ones.

So there is no ONE REASON behind anything that happens in DC. I think that one of the reasons that so many people believe in THE REASON is that they can only see a fraction of the myriad deals and interchanges of support that impel government action. The reasons that are given to the public through spokesmen and through the media to explain government actions are often clearly untrue or just absurd. That leads to the search for THE REAL REASON. But its just not that simple.

One thing is certain, if we are to have any control over government, it needs to be more transparent. But that will not happen by working through the system. The system is designed by the powerful to keep us out of the loop. And that's why we all need to support these wonderful people.

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