Features Versus Bugs, and the Double-Edged Sword

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How many of you have, lately, complained about how Congress is constantly bickering and never gets things done of any real substance? If your hand is raised, this article is for you. It’s to explain to you exactly why you’re what’s wrong with America.

Let’s turn the clocks back to 1787…

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

The Founding Fathers had a bit of a quandary on their hands when it came to designing how Congress should work.

Virginia suggested a two-chamber legislature, both of which would contain representatives apportioned out by population, with the upper chamber’s members nominated by state governments and approved by the lower chamber. Deleware objected, feeling this would give the larger, more highly-populated states dominance in both chambers.

New Jersey put forth the idea of a single-chamber legislature, with each state having equal power.

The Connecticut delegation came up with an artful solution: a lower chamber, the House of Representatives, with delegates directly elected by the people and apportioned by population, and an upper chamber, the Senate, with each state having equal representation and with delegates appointed by state governments.

And with the plan in place, the Constitution could be written to properly delegate responsibilities; the House dealt with all financial matters, since matters of taxation directly affected the citizenry. And the Senate would approve Presidential appointments, since they would often be the liaison between the President and the state governments.



And so, this solution worked for many, many years, until 1912, when someone got the harebrained idea that senators should be directly elected by the people and introduced it as an amendment, which was ratified and codified in 1913 and announced with masturbatory glee by pro-inflationist (and KKK-favored candidate) William Jennings Bryan.

He chose...poorly.
He chose…poorly.

You see, the whole point of having the states determine their own methods of appointing senators was to give each of the state governments a voice in Congress. And it also made it easier to remove entrenched politicians: since senators served at the whim of the state governments, they could easily be recalled and replaced, either through legislative acts or by throwing the bums out of your state house and putting a new regime in control.

But, more importantly, was the blessing of gridlock. Every taxation or spending bill that came out of the House had to be ratified by the Senate, because it was ultimately the state governments who would have to deal with enforcing the law or modifying their own on the state & municipal level. This meant that not only would the people have to be in favor of a policy, but the state governments would have to be as well. And not just a simple majority of the states, but at least 60%. Thanks to that wonderful thing called the FILIBUSTER. If a bill couldn’t reach the 60% needed to end debate, the browbeaten minority could simply talk a bill to death. Computer wizard John Carmack put it better than I could

So much of the government just grinds up money, like shoveling cash into a wood chipper.  It is ghastly to watch.  Billions and billions of dollars.  Imagine every stupid dot-com company that you ever heard of that suckered in millions of dollars of investor money before leaving a smoking crater in the ground with nothing to show for it.  Add up all that waste, all that stupidity.  All together, it is a rounding error versus the analogous program results in the government.  Private enterprises can’t go on squandering resources like that for long, but it is standard operating procedure for the government.

Well, can’t we make the government more efficient, so they can accomplish its tasks for less, or do more good work?  Sure, there is room for improvement everywhere, but there are important fundamental limits.  It is entertaining to imagine a corporate turnaround expert being told to get the federal house in shape, but it can’t happen.  The modern civil service employment arrangement is probably superior to the historic jobs-as-political-spoils approach, but it insulates the workforce from the forces that improve commercial enterprises, and the voting influence of each worker is completely uncorrelated with their value.  Without the goal and scorecard of profit, it is hard to even make value judgments between people and programs, so there are few checks against mounting inefficiency and abject failure, let alone evolution towards improvement.

Even if you could snap your fingers and get it, do you really want a razor sharp federal apparatus ready to efficiently carry out the mandates of whoever is the supreme central planner at the moment?  The US government was explicitly designed to make that difficult, and I think that was wise.

So, the federal government is essentially doomed to inefficiency, no matter who is in charge or what policies they want it to implement.  I probably haven’t lost too many people at this point – almost nobody thinks that the federal government is a paragon of efficiency, and it doesn’t take too much of an open mind to entertain the possibility that it might be much worse than you thought (it is).

Given the inefficiency, why is the federal government called upon to do so many things?  A large part is naked self interest, which is never going to go away — lots of people play the game to their best advantage, and even take pride in their ability to get more than they give.

However, a lot is done in the name of misplaced idealism.  It isn’t hard to look around the world and find something that you feel needs fixing.  The world gets to be a better place by people taking action to improve things, but it is easy for the thought to occur that if the government can be made to address your issue, it could give results far greater than what you would be able to accomplish with direct action.  Even if you knew that it wasn’t going to be managed especially well, it would make up for it in volume.  This has an obvious appeal.

Gridlock. It’s magical. Because it kept Congress from doing anything more than what it was absolutely forced to do by the Constitution. Gridlock was not a bug. It was a feature. It was how the government is SUPPOSED to work.

Now, Harry Reid (who may be a pederast) and his drones in the Senate had officially changed the rules of the filibuster so that it can no longer be used against non-Supreme Court nominees. Okay, fine. Let’s talk about PRECEDENT.

Government powers are a lot like the evils kept within Pandora’s Box…once you let them out, you won’t easily rein them back in again. And, especially in recent years, government party alignment has swung like a pendulum. From the doldrums of the Bush administration and its recession (caused by Carter and Clinton, I note!) the people of America voted in Barack Obama and the Democrats. Now, after tasting the double-decker shit sandwich that is Obamacare, the momentum has shifted back to the conservatives.

Figure 1: Shit Sandwich.
Above: Shit Sandwich.

That’s the inherent danger of expanding government power in order to match your own moral alignment, and of expecting the feds to do something “for me”. Every power you grant the federal government can and will be used against you as soon as an opposing regime takes over. Oh, so you Democrats was to get rid of the filibuster for lower-level nominees? Okay. So what happens if the next President is a Republican (which becomes more and more likely by the day) and wants to stack his judiciary with hardcore pro-lifers? Or if we get a more libertarian one who wants a drastic audit of the Federal Reserve? Yeah, that sandwich tastes good, doesn’t it?




You heard the kid.

Shut up, kid.

If we give the government the power to tax, they will tax everything they can. If we give them the power to regulate (in the sense of control and manipulation), they will regulate everything they can. And if we give them the power to legislate morality…


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