Good Friday Morning, especially to those of you responsible for using the pandemic to break the cannonball run record time seven times in the last five weeks. For those of you unfamiliar with the cannonball run in cross-country road trip lore, go watch the Burt Reynolds American documentary of the same name. It’s stories like that make this country great.
This week, I’m following up on last week’s newsletter and podcast talking about the problems of the technocratic aristocracy. One reader asked me if I had solutions to the problem of a technocratic aristocracy. I do have ideas and potential solutions but ran out of space last week. If you have your own ideas, fill free to throw them my way! Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Nothing is inevitable with China, but preparedness should be – The Conservative Institute
A playbook is not the same thing as readiness – The Conservative Institute
Fixing the Technocratic Aristocracy
Fixing problems with the aristocratic levels of government and society requires understanding the basic framework of the problem. The nobility problem was front and forefront for the American founders. Thomas Jefferson believed that rooting out hereditary nobility, or the artificial aristocracy was imperative:
…there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents…There is also an artificial aristocracy, founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.
Aristocracy exists in all societies and governments, and always will unless there’s some cosmic leveling event where everyone gets reduced to the same level. To that end, there are natural and artificial aristocracies. In Jefferson’s time, the most apparent aristocrats were those who were born into their position by birth and then carried on the family legacy through inheritance.
Jefferson wanted a natural aristocracy, where anyone could rise to the level of aristocrat through talent, hard work, and virtue. He sought to end artificial aristocracy by stopping three practices: Entail, primogeniture, and the granting of titles of nobility.
Entail is a legal concept that settled “the inheritance of (property) over a number of generations so that ownership remains within a particular group, usually one family.” Landed nobility, in other words, would always remain landed nobility, and a family would never lose their status. Primogeniture meant that all property got left to the oldest son in an inheritance.
Jefferson specifically sought to end both practices, to allow property and inheritance to pass freely. No more landed nobility by birth. Finally, the Founders as a whole, placed in the Constitution the Titles of Nobility Clause, which states, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
The gist of that clause is that neither state nor federal governments could confer upon anyone a title of nobility, which they could then pass down via inheritance. Nor could any elected official accept any such privilege from a King, Prince, or foreign State, which they could then have Americans refer to them.
The point of this was to prevent governments from establishing a formal, artificial aristocracy. And for those who were wealthy at the time, it prevented the property from remaining in particular family’s hands and ensured birthrights didn’t dictate status in society. If you wanted to achieve the aristocratic level in America, you had to earn it and work to keep it.
In reexamining these proposals, the point for us is to see that the Founders looked for ways that aristocrats used to establish themselves and prevent others from challenging them. For the technocratic aristocracy, any solution should target similar areas. We should target laws or sentiments that block upstart challenges, especially political change that has the democratic will of the people (unless the people want to violate individual rights, which is a separate discussion). The key is to keep a natural aristocracy that is good and prevent artificial aristocracies from taking root.
I have defined the problem as one of the technocratic elite. I described that in last week’s newsletter and on the podcast, so I won’t belabor the point here. But as I see it, there is a new aristocracy that’s formed and is flexing its power to challenge the three central constitutional bodies. The main form of new aristocratic power rests in the administrative state. I will speak of solutions on a federal level, but most of these ideas are applicable to state governments.
The Non-Delegation Doctrine / Chevron Deference
In elite conservative and libertarian circles, the number one topic of the Trump era, besides a plethora of new judges, is scaling back the scope and size of the administrative state. That is, the alphabet-soup labeled federal regulatory agencies tasked with running the day-to-day affairs of the government. To that end, there are two primary attacks on this front.
The non-delegation doctrine
Simply put, the non-delegation doctrine states that “Congress cannot delegate its legislative powers to other entities. This prohibition typically involves Congress delegating its powers to administrative agencies or private organizations.” For the most part, Congress has passed its powers of rulemaking and budgeting towards executive agencies, while legislators exercise slight oversight. Many on the right would like to see this practice end or get severely curbed.
An expansive non-delegation doctrine would effectively require Congress to write more agency rules and fill in the gaps of the extensive legislation they pass. Often, Congress passes a framework of law, and agencies fill in the details of how the bill works. This delegation empowers the administrative state to exercise the powers of writing legislation and raising/spending money. Reducing the administrative state’s power by using an expansive form of doctrine above would shift power out of the agencies and back to Congress.
The next topic in Federalist Society circles is the problem of Chevron Deference, which refers to a legal doctrine first introduced by Antonin Scalia. Chevron deference came about when “Supreme Court set forth a legal test as to when the court should defer to the agency’s answer or interpretation, holding that such judicial deference is appropriate where the agency’s answer was not unreasonable, so long as the Congress had not spoken directly to the precise issue at question.”
In practice, what this has meant is that whatever an administrative state agency says is the final word on a law. Courts have not been willing to challenge an agency’s interpretation of a given statute, even when arguing in court. You get why power has shifted to the administrative state when you combine Chevron deference with all the power delegation of Congress. Many on the right want this deference overturned to allow the court system to challenge the administrative agencies’ expansive powers and their separate court system.
Scalia authored many opinions, most of them good, but Chevron deference and Employment Division vs. Smith are his two worst opinions.
Removing education as a title of nobility
In my piece last week, I noted that education status and the institution you attended had formed a quasi-title of nobility for this new aristocracy. The elites achieve their rank because of their university connections, and they maintain it by keeping doors open to others with similar criteria.
One way to challenge that is to prevent an educational institution from ever factoring into the hiring process, especially for government jobs. There are two ways to accomplish this approach. The first would be capping the number of people hired from a given university (no more than five people from Harvard in the FBI, as an example). Think of it as a form of institutional affirmative action.
The second would be to mask candidate resumes/applications from including where they went to school or other qualification screens. Stripping applications of identifiers would allow each candidate to stand on talent and merit, instead of where they went to school or other qualities. It’s like stripping titles of nobility from applications.
Create more political positions and fewer “career” options
One of the aims of the administrative state in producing career experts and bureaucrats was to get rid of the old “spoils” system in politics. At the outset of the American public, whichever party or President won the election got to then install their people up and down the federal government. Every position was a political position, and there were no career jobs.
Reducing the number of career employees, changing them to political positions, would help sweep bad actors out of government every 4-8 years. As we’ve witnessed in several OIG reports on the FBI and DOJ, politics play an outsized role for many bureaucrats. In effect, we’d be bringing the spoils system back, as a tacit acknowledgment that it’s impossible to separate politics from political institutions.
UBI to eliminate entitlement state agencies
Ultimately, the mere existence of these agencies is what gives them power and influence in the government. The path towards ending this impact is to get rid of the stations. The odds of getting rid of all these agencies while also removing welfare seems like a pipe dream. So I’m assuming that to eliminate these agencies, we’d also have to maintain a form of aid. My preferred path to doing that would be Charles Murray’s version of the Universal Basic Income (UBI), which sends out a check to every American in place of the welfare state. He wrote a version of this proposal in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, and for us, the critical element is:
The UBI is to be financed by getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, housing subsidies, welfare for single women and every other kind of welfare and social-services program, as well as agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare. As of 2014, the annual cost of a UBI would have been about $200 billion cheaper than the current system. By 2020, it would be nearly a trillion dollars cheaper.
My caveat to this plan is the same as Murray’s, “A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.” And for this piece, in eliminating the administrative state’s technocratic aristocrats, this is the crucial point: booting technocratic aristocrats out of government.
We’d have to structure the proposal to prevent these entitlement programs from ever coming back on the federal level. You’d likely have to ban federal agencies from returning via a constitutional amendment. If individual states wanted to continue with welfare programs, they’d be welcome to pursue them without federal funds. This proposal would signal the wholesale dissolution of the entire entitlement state and all the technocrats within it, which is most of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society.
This plan reduces the federal government considerably. It wouldn’t impact the bureaucracies of the DOJ, FBI, and Defense side of the government, but it does drop a hammer on most of the remaining agencies. Reducing the size and scope of the DOJ/FBI would require getting rid of federal crimes these agencies enforce and moving police enforcement back to the states.
Those are all the ideas I’ve got for eliminating the new artificial aristocracy. These proposals are high-level ideas and require filling in the specifics to get them to work. But it’s a start. Feel free to send me your thoughts, I’m happy to hear them out.
For more reading:
The Suicide of the West – Jonah Goldberg
The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy – Christopher Lasch
James Burnham’s Managerial Elite – Julius Krein
Links of the week
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – the data – Our World In Data
CDC now says coronavirus ‘does not spread easily’ via contaminated surfaces – Madeline Farber, FoxNews
The Railroading of Michael Flynn – Eli Lake, Commentary Magazine
Where Does Ron DeSantis Go to Get His Apology? – Rich Lowry, National Review
The COVID ‘Spike’ in Reopened Texas: CNN Gets It Wrong – Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Facebook To Begin Fact-Checking Misleading Avatars – The Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!