Friday, July 29, 2016

Balance of Powers

I recently read something by a right wing pundit claiming too much power has accrued to the Executive Branch over the past number of decades. He made the argument that federal agencies should not exist and that everything they do should be done instead by Congress. In his view, all of the rule-making that specifies the nitty-gritty of running a complex society should be spelled out in our laws.

Hmm. It took Congress two years to pass the Affordable Care Act, and even then the Right complained that no one read the 2,000-page bill. How long does this guy think all of those pages of agency rules are?

Imagine the necessary complexity of the rules we have in place currently. Details on how to build a road with federal money, for instance, so that contractors have to bid apples to apples and deliver a road that won’t fall apart. Specifications on how to keep food safe in production and distribution. Details on chemical waste output from factories.  The list is close to endless, and I don’t know anything about all of these details, but the engineers and managers who work in these fields do.

The Right and people who think that Congress — our purposely hamstrung and dysfunctional Congress — should take back control of these details are fooling themselves that we live in a Jeffersonian agrarian dream of subsistence farming, with dirt roads and mule caravans. We stopped being that a long time ago, when Jefferson lost to Hamilton on banking and federal debt. The change only accelerated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and now we’re part of an international web of complexity that takes daily attention from experts in a huge number of fields.

Government can do all of the things we need it to do, if it’s given the chance. Congress can make laws that guide it, but it can’t be part of the day-to-day operation of everything. Time to get with the 21st century.

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