The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was immensely powerful. Entrance was theoretically open to anyone, from any walk of society—as long as they could pass a very tough examination. The number of passes was tightly restricted to keep the bureaucracy at optimal size.
Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life. And there is something to like about a system like this … especially if you happen to be good at exams. Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is … a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?
The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever. But they’re also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow. The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them. To the extent that the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon is actually real, it’s arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system.
That system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs. A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking:
The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values.
All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it’s meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.
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[T]his ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it—as I believe it also did in Imperial China.
And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there’s anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.
Washington, [DC,] though, is something else. It is now the nation’s leading consumer per capita of fine wines, and while the price of housing there hasn’t quite hit Manhattan and San Francisco levels, it is among the nation’s most expensive, far outpacing expensive California locales such as Los Angeles and San Diego and almost anything between the coasts.
The District of Columbia, the wealthier precincts of which are disproportionately populated by young professionals not averse to taking the subway, is not an especially remarkable automotive market. But Virginia and Maryland, where those Millennial apparatchiks will move once they’re making real money, are fairly rarefied: One in five new vehicles sold in those states is from a luxury marque (about a third higher than the national average) with BMW leading the way, because D.C. is exactly that douchey, and Mercedes-Benz in second place. Aston-Martin is unusually popular in Virginia; Bentley sells unusually well in Maryland.
We know what drives California’s lifestyles of the rich and famous: technology, and for that we are grateful, which is why people admired Steve Jobs even though he was as much of a hard-assed capitalist as Henry Ford or J. P. Morgan. We know what drives New York City, too: finance, to no small degree, but also advertising, publishing, media, and fashion. Maybe you do not admire those industries as much as you do Silicon Valley’s technology innovators: Nobody says you have to, but those Wall Street jerks and book-peddlers and fashionistas do perform a useful — and, indeed, irreplaceable — role in the modern economy. Miami is doing well, too, and we know what drives that economy, too — the DEA is no doubt on the case. (Kidding! But not entirely kidding.) Houston has an economy that makes sense when you understand it, and so do Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver.
What drives Washington?
One thing that drives the capital and its environs is those very large federal paychecks, which now amount to about $90,000 a year in money wages and just under $125,000 a year in total compensation. Washington pay has long been above the national average, but it is pulling away. In 2000, the median compensation for an American worker at large was about 74 percent of the median compensation for a federal employee; today, the average working taxpayer makes only 55 percent of what the average federal tax-eater makes. Our would-be class warriors talk about “transfers of wealth” and “transfers of income” when they mean mere changes in those metrics, but in this case, there is a literal transfer, with the most fearsome agency of the federal government — our corrupt and politicized IRS — raiding our households and businesses to support $1,000-a-night La Tur habits in Washington.
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The problem is that if you add up everything legitimate Washington does in the way of keeping the peace, securing property, and enforcing contracts, you can account for — if you’re really generous – maybe 20 percent of federal spending, which is the real measure of federal activity. The rest is straight-up transfer of income and wealth from one political constituency to another and a whole lot of Harry Reid cowboy-poetry festivals and research involving getting monkeys high on cocaine. All that money sloshing through the pipes creates conditions where it is easy — and irresistible — to siphon a little off, legally and or otherwise. And that is why you see Hill staffers who put in ten years at modestly-paid jobs and then go to work at lobby shops that pay them enough to drive a Bentley and live in one of those horrifying weird $3 million suburban piles in Arlington.
The conspiracy theory about the woefully misnamed Affordable Care Act is that the architects of Obamacare intended their program to fail, thus creating an opening for a so-called public option which would then be expanded to a full-on British-style government health-care monopoly. That’s a fun story, though it isn’t true.
The truth is worse: These idiots thought this would work.
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Obamacare was intended, in theory, to enhance competition. The Democrats were never quite clear on how that was going to work, but that’s what they said. In Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth-largest city, those shopping for health insurance have a grand total of two insurers to choose from. Until recently, the state of Pennsylvania had 13 insurers; today, it has eight.
It is worth keeping in mind that the people who brought you Obamacare want to apply the same model across the commanding heights of the U.S. economy.
When law in America can be made by executive “pen and phone” alone — indeed, by a White House press release — we’re faced starkly with a fundamental constitutional question: Is administrative law unlawful? Answering in the affirmative in this far-reaching, erudite new treatise, Philip Hamburger traces resistance to rule by administrative edict from the Middle Ages to the present. Far from a novel response to modern society and its complexities, executive prerogative has deep roots. It was beaten back by English constitutional ideas in the 17th century and even more decisively by American constitutions in the 18th century, but it reemerged during the Progressive Era and has grown ever since, regardless of the party in power.
In this nation, we have a problem where Congress no longer represents the people. Because our representatives are more concerned about re-election, they have abrogated their authority to an unelected bureaucracy that passes rules We the People have no say over but that have a real effect on our daily lives. When we complain to Congress about these regulations, our representatives can play the good cop and claim they agree with us but there is nothing they can do because regulations are passed by the bad cop, bureaucracy.
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It is time for We the People to stand up and let our voices be heard. No longer can our elected representatives allow an unelected bureaucracy do the job they were elected to do. We live in a republic, which means We the People are entitled to have our representatives vote on the laws that affect our lives.
The new slogan for this movement should be “No regulation without representation.” While some are pushing for a constitutional amendment that requires Congress to have a say in the regulation process, this effort should be extended to all 50 states. Each state should not allow its bureaucracy to pass rules absent the consent of the state legislature.
“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton
It should come as no surprise that President Obama told Ohio State students at graduation ceremonies last week that they should not question authority and they should reject the calls of those who do. He argued that “our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule” has been so successful that trusting the government is the same as trusting ourselves; hence, challenging the government is the same as challenging ourselves. And he blasted those who incessantly warn of government tyranny.
Yet, mistrust of government is as old as America itself. America was born out of mistrust of government. The revolution that was fought in the 1770s and 1780s was actually won in the minds of colonists in the mid-1760s when the British imposed the Stamp Act and used writs of assistance to enforce it. The Stamp Act required all persons in the colonies to have government-sold stamps on all documents in their possession, and writs of assistance permitted search warrants written by British troops in which they authorized themselves to enter private homes ostensibly to look for the stamps.
These two pieces of legislation were so unpopular here that Parliament actually rescinded the Stamp Act, and the king’s ministers reduced the use of soldier-written search warrants. But the searches for the stamps turned the tide of colonial opinion irreversibly against the king.
The same king also prosecuted his political adversaries in Great Britain and here for what he called “seditious libel” — basically, criticizing the government.
Thomas Jefferson . . . warned that it is the nature of government over time to increase and of liberty to decrease. And that’s why we should not trust government. In the same era, James Madison himself agreed when he wrote, “All men having power should be distrusted to a certain degree.”
What intrigued such gentlemen [the press corps] in the compositions of Dr. Wilson was the plain fact that he was their superior in their own special field – that he accomplished with a great deal more skill than they did themselves the great task of reducing all the difficulties of the hour to a few sonorous and unintelligible phrases, often with theological overtones – that he knew better than they did how to arrest and enchant the boobery with words that were simply words, and nothing else. The vulgar like and respect that sort of balderdash. A discourse packed with valid ideas, accurately expressed, is quite incomprehensible to them. What they want is the sough of vague and comforting words – words cast into phrases made familiar to them by the whooping of their customary political and ecclesiastical rabble-rousers, and by the highfalutin style of the newspapers that they read. Woodrow knew how to conjure up such words. He knew how to make them glow, and weep. He wasted no time upon the heads of his dupes, but aimed directly at their ears, diaphragms and hearts.
But reading his speeches in cold blood offers a curious experience. It is difficult to believe that even idiots ever succumbed to such transparent contradictions, to such gaudy processions of mere counter-words, to so vast and obvious a nonsensicality. Hale produces sentence after sentence that has no apparent meaning at all – stuff quite as bad as the worst bosh of the Hon. Gamaliel Harding. When Wilson got upon his legs in those days he seems to have gone into a sort of trance, with all the peculiar illusions and delusions that belong to a frenzied pedagogue.
Karl Popper blamed Plato for the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century, seeing Plato’s philosopher kings, with their dreams of ‘social engineering’ and ‘idealism’, as leading directly to Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler (via Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx). In addition, Ayatollah Khomeini is said to have been inspired by the Platonic vision of the philosopher king while in Qum in the 1920s when he became interested in Islamic mysticism and Plato’s Republic. As such, it has been speculated that he was inspired by Plato’s philosopher king, and subsequently based elements of his Islamic Republic on it.