Dangerous power shift
The regulatory, administrative state, which progressives champion, is generally a servant of the strong, for two reasons. It responds to financially powerful and politically sophisticated factions. And it encourages rent-seekers to exploit opportunities for concentrated benefits and dispersed costs (e.g., agriculture subsidies confer sums on large agribusinesses by imposing small costs on 316 million Americans).
Such government inevitably means executive government and the derogation of the legislative branch, both of which produce exploding government debt. By explaining these perverse effects of progressivism, the Hudson Institute's Christopher DeMuth explains contemporary government's cascading and reinforcing failures.
Government power is increasingly concentrated in Washington, Washington power is increasingly concentrated in the executive branch, and executive branch power is increasingly concentrated in agencies that are unconstrained by legislative control. Debt and regulation are, DeMuth discerns, “political kin”: Both are legitimate government functions, but both are now perverted to evade democratic accountability and transparent taxation.
Today's government uses regulation to achieve policy goals by imposing on the private sector burdens less obvious than taxation would be. These often are goals that could not win legislative majorities — e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gases following Congress' refusal to approve such policies. And deficit spending — borrowing — is, DeMuth says, “a complementary means of taxation evasion”: It enables the political class to provide today's voters with significantly more government benefits than current taxes can finance, leaving the difference to be paid by those too young to vote or not yet born.
Two developments demonstrate, DeMuth says, how “delegation and debt have become coordinate mechanisms of legislative abnegation.” One is Congress' anti-constitutional delegation of taxing authority to executive branch regulatory agencies funded substantially or entirely by taxes the agencies levy, not by congressional appropriations. For example, DeMuth notes, the Federal Communications Commission's $347 million operating expenses “are funded by payments from the firms it regulates,” and its $9 billion program subsidizing certain Internet companies is funded by its own unilateral tax on telecommunication firms.
A second development is “the integration of regulation and debt-financed consumption.” Recently, a Washington Post headline announced: “Obama administration pushes banks to make home loans to people with weaker credit.” Here we go again — subprime mortgages as federal policy. This illustrates DeMuth's point about how unfettered executive government uses debt-financed consumption and “regulatory conscription of private markets” to force spending “vastly beyond what Congress could have appropriated in the light of day.”
Government used to spend primarily on the production of things — roads, dams, bridges, military forces. Now, DeMuth says, government spends primarily for consumption:
“The possibilities for increasing the kind, level, quality and availability of benefits are practically unlimited. This is the ultimate source of today's debt predicament. More borrowing for more consumption has no natural stopping point short of imploding on itself.”
Funding the welfare state by vast borrowing and regulatory taxation hides the costs from the public. Hence its political potency. Until the implosion.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Clues to Chief Justice John Roberts’ thinking on new ObamaCare case
- 5 arrested on firearm, drug charges in Spring Hill
- Pirates enter Plan B with Martin off market
- Derry water outage may be resolved by 5 p.m. Sunday, authority says
- For Steelers, a fight to finish for playoff berth
- Governor signs death warrant for convicted Fayette killer
- Allegheny County adoption event joins 40 children with families
- Leak of grand jury information could cost Attorney General Kane
- Mears savors success, credits legendary Lange for guidance, inspiration
- Boy with fake gun dies after being shot by Cleveland cop
- Starkey: No explaining Steelers, AFC North