This episode of Liberty Law Talk welcomes a truly gregarious man of public administration, John DiIulio, on his new book, Bring Back the Bureaucrats. That title might well lead to a collective sigh filling the air; however, DiIulio argues that we’re dishonest about the federal government in two significant ways: (1) The federal government spends lavishly, but we borrow it from the wealth of future generations rather than tax ourselves. (2) We actually administer most federal government programs not with federal bureaucrats but with a host of intermediaries: nonprofit entities, for-profit companies, state and local government employees that DiIulio refers to as…
Earlier posts have painted a grim picture of our Constitution of Affluence. We can no longer afford our institutions, but they are too deeply entrenched to be dislodged by ordinary political means, in ordinary times. The upcoming election promises to be inconsequential: no reform program commensurate to our predicament is even on the table, let alone in any danger of being enacted.
My point isn’t to preach doom and despair; it is to suggest a more fruitful direction for our political-constitutional debate. That debate is polarized not only in an ideological sense but also in a substantive sense—between mere policy at one end and the formal Constitution at the other. It would be good to find middle ground.
The New Deal Constitution, I argued in an earlier post, depended on rising affluence to support and sustain pluralist interest group politics. However, it still featured institutional, quasi-corporatist limits, reflecting a residual recognition that affluence requires production. Our Constitution of Affluence, in contrast, recognizes no such limits. It takes affluence for granted and then stages an all-encompassing pluralist festival, on the unspoken premise that we can afford it.
Let’s skip the fact that the premise is no longer tenable (duh!) and, for the time being, the excellent question of what happens next. The point of today’s demoralizing sermon and well-rehearsed litany is that mere policy initiatives, from tax cuts to block grants to tort reform, will make little if any difference. Our unsustainable policy and fiscal commitments are anchored in institutional arrangements that we can change only with very great difficulty, if at all.