Pulling Aside the Curtain on Stupid Government

If anyone deserves a lifetime achievement award in the liberal virtue of “speaking truth to power” it would have to be Charles Murray. Back in the 1980s he wrote Losing Ground to tell the truth that liberals knew, by the mid-1970s, that their Great Society programs weren't working. But they did nothing to fix them.

Then Murray wrote The Bell Curve with Richard Herrnstein, telling the truth about IQ. For that he got branded as a racist.

So Murray confined his statistics in Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 to telling the truth about white people. He showed that today's white cognitive elite is doing fine, but the bottom 30% of whites in “Fishtown” is not. The women don't marry much and the men don't work much.

Now in his latest, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Murray is advocating that liberal evergreen: a campaign of “civil disobedience” against a lawless state. Of course, he's not proposing a conceited liberal campaign of marchin' and protestin'; he's just proposing that we gum up the works of the cruel and corrupt administrative state and intimidate its wussy bureaucrats: a reverse Cloward-Piven strategy.

By the People comes in three parts. First Murray tells us why the current political and legal system can't be reformed, even by a Republican government. Then he tells us what to do about it. Finally he assures us that in a rediversified America, full of people from all over the world, liberty is the only thing that's going to work, and it probably will.

Part I is about recognizing the mess we're in. The Constitution is broke, Murray writes, and politics won't fix it for a host of reasons, including the fact that you can't roll back the benefit state. He retells the story of the failed Progressive fantasy of a state led by “disinterested experts.” It's developed into the regulatory state with unlimited power to sweep down on any individual or business and drop the hammer on him. If you fight the Man he can destroy you; any mid-level bureaucrat can say to you: “You do that, and we'll put you out of business.” If you want more details, I'm blogging By the People here.

Part II of By the People lays out Murray's cunning plan to fight back and gum up the works of the government's regulatory machine. He wants to turn the tables on that mid-level bureaucrat, and say to him: You touch me and I'll make your nice secure job a hell. The big idea is to establish a “Madison Fund” to protect “ordinary Americans who are being victimized by the regulatory state.” It would operate on the model of conservative outfits like the Pacific Legal Foundation. It would tell the government:

We are taking over this man's case. We will litigate it as long as it takes. We will publicize that litigation in ways that will embarrass you and your superiors. None of this will cost our client a penny, and we will reimburse him for any fine you are able to impose.

All it needs is “just one wealthy American... and a few hundred million dollars.”

The cunning of the Madison Fund idea is that the government can't descend on all of us at once. It only has limited enforcement agents to execute on the terrorist principle of destroying one person to frighten a million. The Madison Fund would reverse the process, humiliating one bureaucrat in order to frighten ten thousand of them.

I'd say the only question is the old one. Which one of those billionaire mice is going to be the one to bell the regulatory cat? He'd better be a guy with unimaginable cojones. If you wonder why, just say “Koch Brothers” to yourself.

In Part III in By the People Murray wants to talk about what's in our stars in the big picture, beginning with the return of a diversified America. Murray reminds us that North America started with a diverse crew of Puritans, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Scots-Irish that hated and despised each other. The only time the U.S. was not diverse was in the wake of immigration restrictions between 1925 and 1965.

Murray is optimistic about the future. He thinks that the internet and the Ubers are undermining the power and the attractions of the administrative state.

Murray looks forward to a time when conservatives, liberals and “Madisonians” like himself could combine in “common cause against stupid government.” Because stupid government is “ridiculous” in all kinds of ways.

Is all this happy talk just a pipe dream? Probably, but a successful push-back by a Madison Fund against the regulatory state could be a strategic move that alters the correlation of forces. And that would be a start.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also see his American Manifesto and get his Road to the Middle Class.