IRS Scandal: Our Nomenklatura

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In the old Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc satellites, those who administered the country through the vast byzantine bureaucracies that sprang up were referred to by dissidents as the nomenklatura.  In Marxist terms they were a privileged class, living off the work of others, ruling them and using their positions for their benefit and to attack those who oppose them.  Jay Cost wonders if we have not developed such a system in the US:



More reforms would follow over the years, giving rise to the (supposedly) apolitical bureaucracy that we have today. Indeed, the professionalization and autonomy of the bureaucracy was a prerequisite for the modern liberal state, which claims moral legitimacy through the disinterested application of “scientific” principles of management. It wouldn’t have been possible if the percentage of political appointees had not been scaled drastically downwards between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

That is how America ultimately addressed the principal-agent problem of the bureaucracy: We would hire only qualified people, free them almost entirely from politics, and insist they employ this new “science” of administration.

But is this solution still satisfactory? Today there is one member of Congress for approximately every 5,150 civilian members of the executive branch. How can the people’s representatives possibly keep track of all those bureaucrats? And if they cannot keep track, what is to stop the worst fears of Andrew Jackson from being realized? His “rotation in office” did not turn out to be a salutary alternative, but that does not negate his critique of the status quo. A bureaucracy that is too insulated from the people runs the risk of antirepublican corruption, regardless of whether it is staffed by “gentlemen” or those with master’s degrees in public administration.

The targeting of conservative organizations by the Internal Revenue Service suggests that this risk is not insignificant. Career bureaucrats there—presumed to be above politics—unduly went after Tea Party groups, effectively denying them their constitutional right to equal protection, for years. All the while, Congress did nothing. The agency’s inspector general failed to blow the whistle in a  timely fashion. The media overlooked the many transgressions. And now, the bureaucrat in charge of the division, Lois Lerner, has lawyered up, taken the Fifth Amendment, and thus will slow the investigative process to a crawl.

This does not appear to be an isolated incident, either. Last month, National Review reported that a longtime colleague of Lerner has known for decades that she harbored suspicions of conservative groups. The Weekly Standard has reported that while at the Federal Election Commission, she harassed the Christian Coalition in a similar manner. Far from being reprimanded for this, she was promoted—during a Republican administration, no less! Recent reports, moreover, suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency has been making conservative groups pay Freedom of Information Act fees while waiving them for liberal organizations.

The Declaration of Independence vested all sovereign power in the people alone, while the Constitution established a government to manage that power in a republican fashion. While the people still swear fealty to the founding ideals, they have not put much thought recently into the problems the Founders tackled. As society has become more complex, the government has, too; Americans have not reexamined the structure of government, in an age in which it accounts for more than 20 percent of the national economy, to ensure it still reflects the republican spirit. In fact, there has not been a serious public discussion about the organization of the bureaucracy since the 1880s, even as it has doubled in size many times over. And so today, it is a vast enterprise of millions of workers, with precious little oversight from the people’s elected representatives.

Go here to read the rest at The Weekly Standard.  The Democrats as the party of an ever more expansive government are the natural allies of career bureaucrats.  The legalization of federal public employee unions by the Civil Service “Reform” Act of 1978 effectively transformed the civilian federal bureaucracies into strongholds of organizations controlled by partisan Democrats.  The campaign contributions of those who work for civilian federal agencies overwhelmingly tilt to Democrats.   Small wonder that the Obama administration found the IRS eager to carry out targeting of conservative groups.  Democrat Presidents come and go, but the permanent government ensconced in the federal bureaucracies remains, and it is dedicated to carrying out the agenda of the Democrat party.

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  1. I think collective bargaining by federal employees was instituted during the Kennedy Administration, not the Carter Administration. Carter’s ideas for civil service reform came a cropper due to Congress.

    I am not sure what Cost’s point is.

    1. Government is financed through taxes and you have to have a tax collection agency. You hear ‘abolish the IRS’ here there and the next place; what you do not hear from these chaps is how they intend to garner revenue without it. Is theirs an argument for anarchy or are they expecting to finance the federal government through customs duties and liquor excises?

    2. I think it was late 19th practice that about 20% of federal offices turned over with a change in administration (at a time when federal expenditure amounted to less than two percent of domestic product and most federal employees were in the military or the postal service). Is Cost recommending a return to such practices? If that is the case, I take it he assumes that extant federal employees have little in the way of a skill set. One might note that the spoils system places a premium on political affiliation. Mike Royko offered he preferred the patronage system because you could fire a patronage worker; he did not elaborate on his understanding of what might be defined as a performance deficit in a patronage system.

  2. Sobering to say the least.
    How do we remove the festering PUss from the governing body?
    If they are entrenched as indicated, what form of medicine do you prescribe?

  3. As a federal employee, I leave work most days quite spent from stress and the demands of my job. I treat every person with respect and work to adhere to the laws and the Code of Federal Regulations which reflect those laws and govern what I do.

    On the personal level, I feel overworked. Immediate supervision is aware, as I am not alone in this “feeling”, as is the next level. Above that, however, there is “lip service” concern but I do not know their relationships with their “upline(s). As best I know our representatives and senators have no knowledge of rank and file issues, nor do I believe they care, regardless of political affiliation.

    However, I thank God for my job. I am sure that without collective bargaining this would be more like a sweatshop than it is at present.

    I do not trust the government, yet I am part of it. I do my best to live my faith and would very likely be “convicted” of being Catholic, were that the “order of the day”.

    I know very little of the function of agencies outside of mine and am so occupied that my “circle of understanding” is small, outside of my immediate surroundings. I am not an IRS employee.

    I am not paranoid but anticipate job persecution because of my open. Catholicism sometime in the future unless I retire beforehand. I have touched many lives and consider myself blessed for the experiences I continue to have. I would be happy to continue on this “ride” but at a lesser pace. I expect nothing of the sort.

  4. A class is defined by its relation to the means of production. The nomenclatura’s relationship is one of collective political control; in other words political control itself becomes a new form of property.

    It was the Anarchists, beginning with Bakunin who foresaw this development. “This buries the Revolution,” declared Kropotkin of the Bolshevik seizure of power in the October Revolution. He had already predicted in “The Conquest of Bread” that authoritarian socialism would inevitably lead to a collapse into capitalism. This prophecy was fulfilled by the appropriation of state property by the Russian oligarchs during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    This was also a leading idea of the Catholic Distributists.

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