irresistable force

By Charlie Johnston
14 AUGUST 16

When I wrote the second installment of the “Rules of Regency,” I seriously pondered softening my description of what government work is. In the end, I only softened it by noting that some parasites are beneficial, even necessary, in symbiotic biological systems, but that a profusion of parasites, even of the beneficent kind, ultimately kills the host. I left it pretty stark because a little shock can be useful to provoke new lines of thinking; to get out of ruts we unconsciously get stuck in. It was entirely true and reflects my thinking on the matter, but I wanted to see what type of response I would get from readers to gauge how well I am getting across the concept of a dramatically different framework of thinking. The results gave me more optimism than I actually expected, but there are three areas where I encourage you to contemplate a little more:

1) The difference between administrative and systemic change. Some commenters decried the bureaucratic regulatory regime, then turned around and suggested which regulations they would prefer to impose. My point is that if you have a large regulatory regime at all, you have a constant contest over who will hold the whip hand. I do not propose a reversal of who imposes their will on the unwilling: rather, I propose everybody minding their own business and leaving each other alone except in those areas where it is absolutely necessary for the public safety. The ability to impose regulations is a source of power. Any source of power is like the body of a dead animal on the side of the road – it draws the intense interest of carrion, those whose miserable lives have no meaning unless they can boss others around to feel better about themselves. I am not interested in refining the existing system, but in dismantling it. This is important for you to internalize. As Ronald Reagan once said, “A government big enough to give you all you want is also big enough to take everything you have.” I do not think in terms of how to domesticate the beast, but how to defang and declaw it, then put it on a chain.

2) The efficient organization of society, with concern for the good of all. I was a little shocked at how many people cannot imagine a society that does not have federal bureaucracies micro-managing every aspect of everyday life. Some in fearful tones asked how I would keep tainted milk and food products from being sold to the unwary. Really!? Do you not know for the great majority of its history, America did NOT have a large regulatory regime? Yet even so, people were not dropping like flies from tainted milk and such. In a true market economy, it is an the interest of a merchant to maintain quality, lest he lose his business and investment entirely. It takes a lot of work to build a reputation – and only a few slips to destroy it. People are generally decent in small, every day transactions – both because it is in their interest to be so and because they are basically decent. Even so, for those who cannot imagine life without authorities from on high policing everything, I left substantial regulatory authority to the states, though with the proviso that it must be reasonably related to a genuine and compelling public interest, not just raising a governmental revenue stream. Abuses of the latter can give rise to a citizen lawsuit against local authorities for denying individuals’ rights in property. I read a few years ago that in New York City you must get 32 permits to open a hot dog stand. I’ll guarantee that at least 29 of those have little – or no – connection to public safety, but are just bureaucratic ATMs. Under my system, citizens may sue the governments both for damages and to rid themselves of such a proliferation of legalized extortion. I do not suggest some new-fangled dangerous theory, but a practical system that worked for most of American history and kept the carrion at bay.

3) The phrase that drew the most ire was my description of public workers as parasites. Actually, that was not new for me. I first used it when speaking at a political dinner in Southern Illinois 10 or 15 years ago. I was representing some candidate and was one of a host of speakers. Those before me seemed to all wax eloquent on the subject of public service and the sacrifice they make. It grated on my last nerve. So when I got up to speak I said:

4) “I am a parasite. Like all government workers and political operatives, I depend on the active productive capacity of all of you who work in the private sector to survive. I, too, want to congratulate and thank all the public servants here tonight – the public servants who are builders, contractors, carpenters, restaurateurs, shop owners – the people who produce things that make our economy grow and create real jobs that do the same. You take risks in order create something useful. If you succeed, it is right that you should enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you fail, the failure is yours. You take the risks and should reap the rewards when you succeed, for you surely suffer the consequences when you fail. People like me are dependent on you, not you on us. Now a parasite can be – and often is – a useful thing, but it always must feed on the active productive capacity of its host. I would not for a minute rid ourselves of the parasites who wear the uniform of this country and keep us all safe, nor the first responders who rush into danger when the rest of us rush out. But let us be clear, without the public service you provide of producing the goods and services that make this society work, we could not even afford those vital parasites. As for sacrifice, certainly our military and our first responders live sacrifice every day. But most of us who work in government get a job, can’t be fired, get a gold-plated pension you can only dream of, and are set for life regardless of whether we do a good or bad job. Some sacrifice! I work in the political end of things, so I don’t have that sort of security – but it has been offered me many times. I live off of your political donations. I endeavor to be a useful parasite – to work full time to give you an effective voice in public affairs that is useful to you. But I never forget that, at bottom, I am a parasite, not a master of the universe. So I thank all you public servants out there who live sacrifice and risk every day. I seek not to overburden you and to continue to be a valued parasite to you. But I know my place in the scheme of things. Thank you.”

5) I got a standing ovation for that impromptu little speech. Even better, during a campaign season, I would speak to an average of about 100 events per cycle. After that, every politician who was at an event at which I was scheduled to speak took great care to go easy on patting themselves on the back about their public service and sacrifice – at least until I had already spoken and was safely seated.

In the work I have done the last nine years in developing these principles, I have endeavored to avoid chopping away at the branches of the problems facing us, instead getting right to the roots. To get the full implications of them, try to avoid overlaying what you expect from the existing system and see it from a completely different perspective. I have great sympathy for those who objected that they work very hard. But if you actually work very hard and keep the needs of those you serve at the forefront, you will thrive in almost any system – and a system designed to reward merit and initiative rather than treat everyone the same will be a godsend, not a curse, to you – but it will be different than what, in part, you are already comfortable with..


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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